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Square dancing tradition coming back to Harman

June 5, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

A longstanding tradition of square dancing in Harman is about to be rejuvenated thanks to the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College's new heritage tourism project "The Mountain Dance Trail."

This project, which is bringing back the square dance tradition throughout the state, includes its first Harman dance at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Harman Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall.

Square dancing was first documented in the Harman area in 1872 by author Porte Crayon for the Harper's New Monthly magazine. Back then, fiddler Dilly Wyatt provided music. "A few rounds with the inspiriting strains of Dilly's music warmed their blood and started the wheels of gayety buzzing," according to an article from that time.

At these "Dry Fork Assemblies," people danced jigs, reels and square figures. For more than 100 years, square dancing was an active part of the Harman social scene, until about 10 years ago, when it then became very sporadic.

Ron Mullennex, who graduated from the Harman School in 1967, remembers when "the whole community came out for square dances; we had a couple hundred people. Even the senior prom was a square dance."

The dances would take place on an open-air platform around 8 p.m. and go late into the evening with hot dogs and coffee provided by the volunteer fire department, he said.

Local musicians provided all of the music at these dances.

"There were banjos, fiddles, guitars, mandolins and a piano as the main backup instrument for the fiddling," Mullennex said. "Carl Huffman would call big mountain circle dances and once he'd get them started, he'd go and get a cup of coffee. And when he thought it went long enough he ended in a large circle. Everybody knew how to square dance and if you didn't, you would learn on the fly because the caller never explained the dances."

Square dancing has changed significantly over the past decade.

"It was really well received and attended. It was part of the area's culture. It isn't so much now," Mullennex said.

Gerald Milnes, folk art coordinator at Augusta Heritage Center and organizer of The Mountain Dance Trail, said, "West Virginia has a real treasure in its old-time square dance traditions, and it would be a shame to let them die. This project attempts to invigorate and preserve those traditions across the state. It's a family-friendly, healthy activity."

The Mountain Dance Trail connects a "trail" of community square dances from the borders of Virginia to Ohio. Several communities are getting a huge response to the new schedule of dances, with dancers realizing how important these events are to the host communities. The dances are bringing people together. The participating communities, from east to west, are Franklin, Dunmore, Riverton, Harman, Elkins, Helvetia, Ireland, Sutton, Glenville and Henderson.

During this Saturday's Harman dance, Jack Hedrick will be on the fiddle, with Alan Crossland on guitar and Judith Lazier on bass. Local callers will call from the floor, and refreshments will be provided by the Harman VFW Ladies Auxiliary. There is an admission fee of $5 adults and $2 for students. People can dance or just witness an authentic West Virginia tradition: mountain-style square dancing to live string music.

A complete schedule can be found at Information also is available by calling Augusta Heritage Center at 304-637-1349. The West Virginia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Arts lend support to the project.



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