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Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics

Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance

Phil Jamison
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics
    Book Description:

    In Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics , old-time musician and flatfoot dancer Phil Jamison journeys into the past and surveys the present to tell the story behind the square dances, step dances, reels, and other forms of dance practiced in southern Appalachia. These distinctive folk dances, Jamison argues, are not the unaltered jigs and reels brought by early British settlers, but hybrids that developed over time by adopting and incorporating elements from other popular forms. He traces the forms from their European, African American, and Native American roots to the modern day. On the way he explores the powerful influence of black culture, showing how practices such as calling dances as well as specific kinds of steps combined with white European forms to create distinctly "American" dances. From cakewalks to clogging, and from the Shoo-fly Swing to the Virginia Reel, Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics reinterprets an essential aspect of Appalachian culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09732-4
    Subjects: Music, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Introduction. Appalachia and Appalachian Dance
    (pp. 1-8)

    The place known as “Appalachia” refers to the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountain Range. This highland region, located in the southeastern United States, includes the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Valley, the Alleghenies, the Cumberland Plateau, and the Smoky Mountains. Appalachia does not have a clearly defined geographical border; it spans a number of states, and over the years its boundary has been drawn in several different ways. One of the first to delineate the region was John C. Campbell, who in a study for the Russell Sage Foundation in 1921 defined it largely based on elevation. Campbell’s Appalachia...

  6. 1 Diversity and Cultural Transmission in the Southern Mountains
    (pp. 9-19)

    Since the late nineteenth century, when local-color writers first popularized many of the common stereotypes now associated with the southern mountains, Appalachia has been perceived as an isolated and backward place that retained old-fashioned customs and lagged behind mainstream America. In 1899, however, Berea College president William Goodell Frost portrayed the southern mountains more favorably, as “one of God’s grand divisions.” In an appeal to Northern donors and philanthropists, he described the “highland stock” of eastern Kentucky as predominantly English and Scottish, but also “Scotch-Irish.” Frost characterized these “mountain whites” as patriotic “Sons and Daughters of the Revolution” who had...

  7. 2 The Southern Square Dance
    (pp. 20-23)

    During the mid-nineteenth century, two separate but related square dance traditions became established in America—one in the Northeast and one in the South.¹ In both traditions, the dances are executed in closed formations, with all couples facing the center of the set—partners beside each other, the man on the left and the woman on the right.² Both have a verse-chorus structure in which a main figure, usually performed by two couples at a time, alternates with a chorus figure involving all of the dancers. A number of dance figures, such as the “Grand Right and Left,” are likewise...

  8. 3 Square Roots
    (pp. 24-43)

    When European settlers first came to the southern mountains in the eighteenth century, the Southern square dance did not yet exist, and the dancing that took place at rural frolics consisted mainly of Scottish and Irish reels and jigs. The prevalence of these dances is not surprising, given the large number of Scots-Irish settlers who came to the region. Legendary frontiersman David Crockett (1786–1836), whose great-grandparents were among those who had immigrated to America from northern Ireland, wrote of dancing a “reel” at an all-night frolic in East Tennessee in 1805.¹

    In America, as in Scotland and Ireland, the...

  9. 4 Transforming Tradition
    (pp. 44-59)

    When Cecil Sharp visited Kentucky in 1917, he wrote, “It is customary for one of the company, not necessarily one of the dancers, to ‘call’ the dance as it proceeds.”¹ Dance calling (the verbal prompting of the figures during the course of a dance) was not a part of the European dance tradition, and Sharp was not familiar with it. Instead, it was a New World innovation, a product of the confluence of the European and African American dance traditions that led to the development of the Southern square dances, which would not exist without it. Dance calling, though, did...

  10. 5 Cecil Sharp and the Kentucky Running Set
    (pp. 60-74)

    In the summer of 1917, English folksong collector Cecil Sharp, along with his assistant and colleague Maud Karpeles, traveled to the southern mountains in search of survivals of old English ballads and folksongs. In late August they arrived at the Pine Mountain Settlement School in eastern Kentucky, and while they were there, one of the teachers, knowing of Sharp’s interest in old English dances, assembled a group of students to perform a square dance, known locally as “set running.” May Ritchie Deschamps (Jean Ritchie’s eldest sister), who was among the students dancing that evening, later recalled that this demonstration included...

  11. 6 Sharp’s Legacy
    (pp. 75-81)

    Although Sharp and Karpeles spent only five days at Pine Mountain in 1917, their brief visit had a lasting effect at the school. While they were there, they taught English dances to the school’s staff, and the following year the school instituted a “traditionally correct May Day” celebration, with English country dances, morris dances, and sword dances.¹ Beginning in 1923, these annual celebrations were directed by one of Sharp’s young protégés, Dorothy Bolles of the American branch of the English Folk Dance Society, who would arrive from Boston each spring and spend the month of April at Pine Mountain teaching...

  12. 7 “Barn Dances with Calls” (1924–1933)
    (pp. 82-90)

    Cecil Sharp’s visits to the southern mountains preceded the birth of the commercial country music industry by only a few years, and soon Southern square dance music could be heard on the radio throughout the country. In 1922 Fiddlin’ John Carson began performing on WSB in Atlanta, the first high-powered radio station in the South, and within a few years radio stations powerful enough to be heard across the nation were broadcasting “barn dance” programs that featured old-time fiddling. The first of these barn dance shows, on WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas, went on the air in 1923. The following...

  13. 8 The Virginia Reel
    (pp. 91-101)

    In a fictional account, set in 1850, an antebellum ball in Eastern Virginia concludes with the Virginia Reel:

    Then the chairs and tables were cleared away, and Pompey, the coachman, with his fiddle, was installed in one corner to do the orchestra for us. Waltzes, polkas, galops, and quadrilles, followed one another in quick succession, until Uncle Albert announced that the ball would end with a Virginia reel … the favorite dance of the “good old days.”¹

    The Virginia Reel has often been portrayed as a beloved dance from colonial times—George Washington’s favorite dance—but in fact, that is...

  14. 9 Religion and Dancing
    (pp. 102-111)

    As a teenager growing up in rural western North Carolina in the 1940s, Loyal Jones found himself caught between two worlds: his church, and the temptations of music and dancing at the nearby John C. Campbell Folk School. Jones, who later became the founder and director of the Appalachian Center at Berea College, was born in 1928. His parents were tenant farmers, and as fundamentalist Southern Baptists, they “looked with some suspicion on dancing.” He recalled, “I think people were uneasy with the whole business of sexual maturation, with young people being too close together. With their arms around each...

  15. 10 Couple Dances
    (pp. 112-121)

    Rebecca Latimer Felton (1835–1930)¹ grew up in the frontier settlement of Marthasville (renamed Atlanta in 1845) in northwest Georgia. Recalling her childhood in the early 1840s, she wrote:

    It was a cold day in the late fall and my father and mother, with my small self, reached Thompson’s Hotel in Decatur, where the excursionists assembled and where a fine dinner was provided…. Maria Gertrude Kyle took a seat in our barouche on my mother’s invitation, and she was well known as authoress and poetess, in our few Georgia papers. She had lately married and her new clothes interested me,...

  16. 11 The Cakewalk
    (pp. 122-128)

    At community dances in Appalachia today, it is not unusual for a cakewalk to take place during an evening of square dances, flatfooting, and two-steps. A cakewalk is a fundraising activity, and, for a small fee, participants have a chance to win a donated cake. How the winner is determined varies from community to community. Sometimes numbered paper plates are arranged in a large circle on the dance floor, and as the music plays, the participants walk (or dance) single file, moving counterclockwise around the circle. When the music stops, as in the game “Musical Chairs,” each dancer steps onto...

  17. 12 Appalachian Step Dance
    (pp. 129-149)

    Following his visit to eastern Kentucky in 1917, Cecil Sharp wrote, “The only kind of dancing other than the Running Set [square dances] that we have as yet seen in the mountains is a species of step- or clog-dance, locally known as the hoe-down … i.e. a heel-and-toe, shuffle, or clog-dance step.”¹ This type of step dancing, now known as “buckdancing,” “flatfooting,” or “clogging,” is still common in rural Appalachia today, and every Saturday night, dancers of all ages fill the dance floor at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia.² Traditionally performed to old-time and bluegrass music, this is...

  18. 13 Clogging: Appalachian Step Dance on Stage
    (pp. 150-166)

    On Saturday evenings during the summer, “long about sundown,” musicians and dancers from throughout western North Carolina gather in front of the Buncombe County courthouse in downtown Asheville for Shindig-on-the-Green. This free outdoor celebration of traditional music and dance has been in existence for almost fifty years (since 1967), and each week thousands of spectators, locals and tourists alike, turn out to enjoy the old-time and bluegrass music, known locally as “mountain music.” While some of the musicians sign up to perform on the stage, others are simply there to socialize and participate in the many informal jam sessions that...

  19. 14 Community Dance in Appalachia
    (pp. 167-176)

    Throughout the nineteenth century, dancing served an important social function in rural communities in Appalachia and throughout the South. Harden Taliaferro recalled the dances that took place following “grubbings, log-rollings, reapings, and corn-shuckings” in Surry County, North Carolina, in the 1820s: “As soon as night came, or the work was done, the fiddle sounded, and they danced and courted all night.”¹ These “workings” (work parties) and the dances that followed were not public events but gatherings of family, friends, and neighbors, and they fulfilled the needs, both work and social, of the local community. Dancing at these events and at...

  20. 15 The American Square Dance
    (pp. 177-192)

    A few years ago I was asked to call a square dance for a group of counselors at a summer camp in western North Carolina. When I arrived, it was immediately apparent that these young people were familiar with the common stereotypes associated with these American folk dances. Half of them came to the dance dressed up as hillbillies, with bib overalls, funny hats, and blacked-out teeth, and the other half showed up wearing cowboy hats, red bandanas, and Western boots. When I called, “Do-si-do” (the back-to-back type), they instinctively crossed their arms across their chests as they had no...

  21. Appendix. “Barn Dances with Calls” (1924–1933)
    (pp. 193-200)
  22. Glossary of Dance Terms, Figures, and Steps
    (pp. 201-208)
  23. Notes
    (pp. 209-240)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-264)
  25. Index
    (pp. 265-276)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-284)