Appalachian Mountain Dance Symposium Is Resounding Success!
By Yndiana Montes
Source: Center for Appalachian Studies press release
Appalachian State University’s Center for Appalachian Studies launched its first Global Roots of Appalachian Mountain Dance Symposium from March 31 to April 2, 2022. The diverse traditions that make up the global roots of Appalachian dance were on display through performances, workshops, jams, film screenings and discussions, lecture demonstrations, a keynote panel, dances, and social dances, all of which created a special ambiance of multiculturalism on campus throughout the event.
Dr. Julie Shepherd-Powell, assistant professor of Appalachian Studies, was organizer of the symposium. She worked in conjunction with the Center for Appalachian Studies to include internationally renowned lecturers and performers from both within and outside the Appalachian Mountains throughout the weekend. In addition to lecturing and performing, the artists led opportunities for symposium participants to experience these dance traditions first hand.
“I’m full of joy from the Global Roots of Appalachian Mountain Dance Symposium— dancing and talking with old and new friends, making connections, and building community,” Dr. Shepherd Powell posted on her Twitter account. This is the first time the university has hosted the symposium, which had over 60 performers in the three-day event.
Some of the workshops and demonstrations took place at the Jones House in Boone, as well as the Florence Thomas Art School in West Jefferson, but the majority took place at Plemmons Student Union, I.G. Greer Auditorium, Varsity Gym, and Sanford Mall on Appstate campus. Participants enjoyed a variety of dance and music traditions including West African, Afro-Caribbean, Cherokee, and Irish dance traditions. Additionally, Appalachian dance traditions such as flatfooting and buck dancing, and their close “cousins” such as tapping were featured throughout the weekend.
The kickoff Thursday was the Appalachian Square Dance, with Jeff Atkins and John Turner calling, and music by the Heel Raisers. On Friday, dance jams were held throughout the day, and the festive and collaborative vibe continued.
Rodney Sutton’s Beginning Flatfoot workshop set the tone for a full day of dance, music and joy, with the Irish Dance Tunes of Justin Bridges and Jeremy Wade, the Intermediate Flatfoot Dance with Phil Jamison, the popular Square Dances for Parties with John Turner, and the Beginning Sean Nós Dance with Allison Duvall coming right after.
Filmmaker Cara Hagan presented virtually her short documentary “Sound and Sole” on Boone native Arthur Grimes, a clog and buck dancer. The short documentary was presented at the Greenbriar Theater in Plemmons Student Union by Trevor McKenzie, director of the Center of Appalachian Studies.
Friday night couldn’t have been better. The performance “Dancing through Our Mountains: The Global Roots and Contemporary Traditions of Appalachian Dance” took place in the I.G. Greer Auditorium, with live music and dancing by Tommy DeFrantz, Allison Duvall, Phil Jamison, Sherone Price, Aaron Ratcliffe, Raven Rock Dancers, Green Grass Cloggers, and others.
On Saturday morning, Dr. Thomas DeFranzt convened the Early African-American Dance. The Global Roots of Appalachian Mountain Dance Symposium wouldn’t have been the same if Tommy, professor of Dance, African and African American Studies, Theater Studies, and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University, hadn’t been with us. He has a special charm. His way of performing and interacting with the public was mind blowing. He has published several books on topics ranging from African American Dance to a Performance Meditation on the Life and Music of Thelonious Monk, and he can talk and go over history while displaying his great qualities as a showman. The last afternoon, Saturday, when things were all in place, even Dr. Shepherd Powell – who is also a dancer– took some time to dance in an impromptu workshop, with Tommy DeFrantz and a few guests. It was so much fun!
The Cole Mountain Cloggers, lead by Jeff Atkins, are a team of sixteen cloggers between the ages of five and fifteen, and have deep roots in this region’s traditional culture. The audience showed lots of enthusiasm with the work of the group, which received resounding applause. The Mars Hill-based Cole Mountain Cloggers sparked the enthusiasm of the clapping audience. Atkins (in yellow), is an alumnus of the Bailey Mountain Cloggers of Mars Hill College, and is doing wonderful work with this Appalachian youth dance group.
The Raven Rock Dancers of Cherokee, North Carolina, a group founded by Cherokee elder Walker Calhoun – who passed away in 2012 at the age of 93 – are a family dance group with 30 grandchildren. They perform and teach ceremonial and social dances, being very vital to the resurgence of the stomp dance as a part of Cherokee spiritual practices. They performed the Buffalo Dance, the Bear Dance, the Horse Dance, the Bullfrog Song, and invited the audience to join them at the end. These social dances have been passed on by generations, and their Master of Ceremonies Frankie Bottchenbaugh explained each one of them. He also referred to the suffering of the Cherokees with the removal from their ancestral lands and the ominous so-called “Trail of Tears.” I acknowledge, as my alma matter does, that “Appalachian State University occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East) and Moneton peoples.”
Professor Emily Daughtridge teaches Dance Studies at Appalachian State University, and offered an Afro-Caribbean Dance workshop on Saturday, April 2nd. This session introduced participants to Cuban-style salsa dancing known as Rueda de Casino. It is danced by couples in a circle, exchanging partners via movement sequences that are signaled by a caller. The workshop was vibrant and well attended. Saturday night's closing event featured live music and dancing; Afro Caribbean, céilí, and square dances as well as a round robin style social dance.
Phil Jamison, Appalachian dance performer, caller, and historian, and author of Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance; John Turner, a renowned Watauga County flatfoot dancer, square dance caller, and dance board maker; the Green Grass Cloggers of Asheville, NC, a traditional Appalachian dance collective celebrating their 50th anniversary (2021); Sherone Price, a West African dancer and Associate Professor of Dance at ASU; were some of the notable artists and performers who made this first edition of the Global Roots Of Appalachian Mountain Dance Symposium a real success.
The North Carolina Appalachian Folklife Apprenticeship at The Jones House Community Center in Boone, with Rodney Sutton and Willard Watson III., and the History of Appalachian Dance, also in Jones House Community Center, with Phil Jamison were a highlight on the schedule as well.
“This was a great event to catch up with so many friends and colleagues,” said violinist Maako Shiratori ( 白鳥まあこ ) from Japan. Shiratori has an M.A. in Appalachian Studies, Music and Culture from Appalachian State University, and currently studies music and folktales in western North Carolina. In Japan, she received her B.A. with her thesis on Appalachian ballads. “I didn’t miss an opportunity to play Old Time Appalachian music with many of the renowned musicians during the nights and jams at the symposium,” Shiratori said. She is heading to Duke University for doctoral studies.
Saturday night was social dance, featuring Square, Two-Step, Waltzes, Afro-Caribbean, and Céilí dances in Parkway Ballroom, PSU, called by Phil Jamison, Rodney Sutton, John Turner, Aaron Ratcliffe, Allison Duvall, and others.
The first Global Roots of Appalachian Mountain Dance Symposium was made possible by support from the North Carolina Humanities Council, the North Carolina Arts Council and combined efforts of the ASU Center for Appalachian Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, and local music and dance groups and participants. The entire three-day symposium was free and open to the public as well as students and ASU faculty and staff.
As fantastic as the symposium was, there’s always room for improvement. Dr. Shepherd-Powell acknowledged that the project was so ambitious that in its first edition, it could not present every group from the whole community. For example, Latinx or Latinos were not represented this year, as I and others noticed.
“I hope that in its next edition, the Global Roots of Appalachian Mountain Dance Symposium can include a once ‘invisible’ group, the rapidly growing Hispanic population in Appalachia,” said Dr. Jim Fogelquist, a Spanish professor from the Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures of Appalachian State University, who attended several of the functions. “As the largest minority student population at Appalachian State University, Latinos would be happy to be represented in a subsequent edition of this wonderful event, with their traditional dances and even a musical group,” he concluded.