HELVETIA - Inspired through the Augusta Heritage Center, the Mountain Dance Trail's annual Dare to Be Square event attracted both national and international attention last weekend with more than 170 attendees as it moved from last year's event at the Rich Mountain Battlefield to one this year in Helvetia s Historic District.
The project, organized by Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps representative, Becky Hill, aims to not only revive Randolph County music and dance traditions through workshops, but to document the valuable traditions of all communities, both big and small, so that they may live on for future generations.
said. "We had small attendance at the Elkins square dances. Things were just struggling. So I've been working on it now. It s the third year of the Dance Trail and I've seen a giant increase in some communities. In other communities I've had a harder time."
Over the course of three days, the project hosted 19 classes teaching flatfooting traditions and calling traditions along with various dance styles to beginners and old-time callers.
By holding events such as these, Elkins and the state of West Virginia have become a source of revival. With a decrease in exposure throughout the past few decades, a large square dance movement is beginning to sweep the nation.
After explaining how different the dances were when she moved to Elkins several years ago, Hill said, West Virginia is the only state even within Appalachia that has such a rich tradition. Other states like Kentucky or Virginia have three or four dances. Hill said there are 16 in West Virginia.
Even the demographics surrounding these dances are changing, and are proving more important to Appalachian youth.
"What's so great about it is that it's a community dance," Hill said. "There are different ages. You go to a dance and see middle schoolers and high schoolers, who are dancing with someone much older or younger. It's about bringing people in the community together."
Elkins High School student Patrick McKay said, "I feel like it s a good way to expose yourself to different people and get into the Appalachian culture. I think it s really important to find your roots and get involved."
With hopes that more and more people will rediscover dance traditions, Will Mentor, a Saint Michael's College drawing and painting professor from Northern Vermont, agreed with McKay saying that through personal experience, he has observed how dance communities help with the development of social skills, comfort, and self-esteem within participating youth.