The tradition of square dancing in Helvetia is coming to the forefront with dances scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday July 7, Aug. 4, Sept. 1 and Sept. 8 for the Helvetia Fair in the Community Hall.
Music will be provided by the Helvetia Star Band, headed up by Joe McEnroy. It also occasionally includes Vernon Burky, the elder fiddler of Helvetia who knows and plays many of the older Swiss tunes. Several local callers fill the bill and instruct from the floor.
"The Mountain Dance Trail," is a new cultural tourism initiative of Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College. The Mountain Dance Trail promotes and connects old-time square dance communities throughout the state. People can participate in or just watch an authentic West Virginia tradition - mountain-style square dancing to live string band music. The trail highlights 10 communities, from east to west, Franklin, Riverton, Dunmore, Harman, Elkins, Helvetia, Ireland, Sutton, Glenville and Henderson.
Community dances have been happening in Helvetia since around 1875 when people danced under a local sawmill shed. Since then, two dance halls have been built in Helvetia - the Star Band (Red) hall, built in 1901, and the community hall, built in 1939. Square dances in Helvetia here when Swiss and German music traditions met fiddle tunes brought to them by lumber and sawmill workers. Dances took place on the first Saturday of every month and vary between mountain circle square dances, waltzes, polkas and always includes the Helvetia Polka, a schottische.
Burky says that "the whole community comes out to the dances."
Gerry Milnes, who works at the Augusta Heritage Center and directs the Dance Trail Project, said, "We're bringing the dance traditions back, and square dances are scheduled through November at various sites in central West Virginia. If you want to, dances can be found on most every weekend."
Dances are also hosted in Helvetia to celebrate Fasnacht, Helvetia Ramp Supper, Helvetia Day, The Swiss National Holiday and the Helvetia Fair.
A short walk from the dance hall is the Hutte, a restaurant where Swiss food has been served since the late Eleanor Mailloux started serving more than 40 years ago.
A full schedule is available in the Mountain Dance Trail brochure and online at www.mountaindancetrail.org and at http:helvetiawv.com. Information also is available by calling Dance Trail coordinator at 304-637-1349.
The West Virginia Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Country Dance and Song Society have supported this project.