Appalachia Folk Dancing

Arnold’s Circle Dance

Mountain folk festival berea ky 2012

Each year the Mountain Folk Festival offers Saturday morning dance workshops for the attendees. It give the kids an opportunity to learn a new style of folk dancing, a new dance, or both.

The girls took the same workshop this year, and they learned a new dance called Arnold’s Circle. The dance was written by a Dutchman named Cor Hogendyk and was originally published in Holland. It may have been introduced to America by Pat Shaw. The mtn folk festival class danced Arnold’s Circle to a Canadian jig called Little Burnt Potato.

The girls are wearing their clogging dresses. Chatter has on her trademark cowboy boots; Chitter has on dancing shoes-both have braids.

I love the lightness of the dancer’s feet-to me it’s part of what makes this type of dancing so pleasing to the eye. While I enjoy folk dancing immensely-I’m no expert on the history, the styles, or even the actual dancing. A couple of years ago I got Bob Dalsemer (a.k.a. Best Dance Caller Ever!) to explain the different styles of folk dancing performed at the mountain folk festival each year. I think he did an excellent job-see if you don’t agree:

When we choose required dances for MFF we try for a mix of “country dances” that include mainly American squares (including Appalachian squares) and contras, English country dances with at least one Danish dance and a singing (Play Party) game. Morris, garland, rapper and clog are display dances (rather than social dances) and are usually included only in the workshops and performances.

The term “contra” these days refers to a contemporary form of American country dance, most often danced in two long lines of couples, divided into sub sets of two couples.

I define “country dancing” as follows:

What is “Country Dancing?”

The term “country dance” has existed in the English language for more than 400 years and refers to social dancing performed by groups of couples in a “set.” Despite the rustic connotation, country dances were popular in cities and towns as well as rural areas, and were danced by all classes of society. In 1651 the first book of instructions for country dances, The English Dancing Master, was published by John Playford in London and dedicated to “the gentlemen of the Inns of Court,” the legal fraternity who were known for their enthusiastic dancing and lavish balls. It described dances in a number of formations (squares, circles, lines, etc.) for anywhere from two couples to “as many as will.”

Country Dancing spread in popularity from England to the continent, and thereby to most of the western world. In 18th century England the most popular form of country dance was the “longways for as many as will”, while in France the most popular “set” was the four couple square formation, which evolved into the Cotillion, and later, the Quadrille. Remnants of the 19th century quadrilles can be found in the folk dances of Eastern and Western Europe and North, Central and South America, including our American square dances. The English longways formation eventually evolved into today’s American contra dances. In fact the term “contra” is derived from “country dance” by way of the French term “contredanse.”

At the beginning of the 20th century little was known about England’s dance history. English musician, scholar and collector, Cecil Sharp began by investigating folk dancing in England’s rural villages. Later, he discovered the 17th and 18th century publications of  Playford and others. Sharp and a group of interested dancers began to work out dances (and their accompanying tunes) from Playford’s notations. Thus began a revival of interest in English Country Dancing that continues worldwide today.

In 1915 Sharp visited the U.S. to choreograph dances and arrange songs for a special New York production of Shakespeare’s “A Mid Summer Night’s Dream.” During his stay he gave a number of dance workshops in various cities which led to the founding of the American Branch of the English Folk Dance Society, later to become The Country Dance and Song Society. CDSS has a broad range of interests that includes country dancing in it’s many historical and contemporary forms as well as related music, songs and folklore.


I hope you enjoyed the video-and Bob’s historical explanation about the dance styles. This past year, Bob was the recipient of the 2011 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award.

Wish you could see the different folk dancing styles performed at this year’s festival? Check out the short video below-made by one of the other moms who went on the trip with us. You can see a sneak peek of Chitter and Chatter’s clogging routine in the video-and you can even see me-if you look quick enough near the beginning.

Have you participated in any type of folk dancing? If so-please leave a comment-I’d love to hear about it.

Drop back by for an outstanding clogging performance in the next few days.



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    susie swanson
    April 6, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    They sure can dance, wish I could do that..Always had to many feet when it came to dancing.I know you’re very proud of them..Happy Easter.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 6, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Tipper—I’m late checking in for the simple reason I just now got to your blog for today. Now those young’ins of yours are sho’ ‘nuff doing some high steppin’. I’m mighty envious because it makes me long for the days when clogging was a fairly big part of my life. There was a dance in Cherokee and Maggie Valley every Friday and Saturday throughout the spring and summer months, and I spent many a happy hour at them. Occasionally there would be one up in the “old gym” at Swain High as well.
    You mention a great modern caller and it reminded me of Saw Queen from over Maggie Valley/Waynesville way. I wonder if Miss Cindy or the Deer Hunter ever heard of or knew him. I’m pretty sure a son, nephew or some such is a locally active politician today (maybe named Joe Sam Queen but don’t hold me to that—I met him one time when I was talking at some fishing festival or the other).
    Those were good days, and I could clog or buck dance for hours without so much as a second thought. Today I’m good for a minute, tops, and I already know that the folks in the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association will expect an impromptu (and very short) performance come our annual conference this fall. It’s in Johnson City, TN so I know there will be some good mountain musicians there.
    One of the high points (in fact, maybe the only one) of my dancing life came eight or ten years ago at Cataloochee Ranch. I had been hired to serve as a sort of fishing guide, local historian, or maybe just a character to deal with a bunch of visiting outdoor writers and travel journalists. The gig included a meeting and greeting with the late Popcorn Sutton, but that’s another tale. Suffice it to say he was something else. Anyway, one night we had supper at Cataloochee Ranch and they had a good band from over on Jonathan’s Creek there. Both of the daughters of the founders of the ranch (Tom Alexander and his wife—anyone who hasn’t read his book, “Mountain Fever,” has a treat awaiting them) were there, and one of them took pity on me in my wall flower status and said “you’ll be my partner.” To her considerable surprise I actually knew what was going on and once the round was finished I joined a couple of much younger women (in their 30s in a bit of real clogging). Once it was over my partner (who was likely older than me) came up and said, where in the world did a flatlander learn mountain dancing? I proudly told her I was from just across a few ridges in Swain County. She then said, to my inordinate delight, “I might have known you had mountain in you. Your feet gave you away.” I was pleased as punch.
    Incidentally, while on the subject of mountain dancing, Don’s wife, Susan, is a passin’ fair hand at kickin’ up her heels. You need to get Don to tell the tale of a family “do” at the pre-nuptials party held when his youngest son, Will, was about to marry Meredith. We had some wonderful fun at the expense of some city folks who no doubt left the barbeque convinced that their adored daughter/niece/cousin and the like was marrying into a tribe of barbarians who would make the family from the Andy Griffith Show, the Darlings, look like upscale sophisticates.
    In short, thanks for evoking all sorts of fond and fine memories.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I used to square dance until I got to college. My classmates thought it was “backward” so I began to pretend I didn’t like it or country music either.
    Here in Brevard we have Dancing in the Streets every Tuesday night during the summer. Bluegrass music and Appalachian Square Dancing. I love the fact that it is on Tuesdays and is not geared toward the tourists, although they are welcome. It is so wonderful to see young and old learning and dancing together. Volunteers wear bright red tee shirts and help teach the moves to anyone who wants to learn. And the square dance caller is great. It’s all volunteer.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    April 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    The girls are so good….I keep missing you in the video..wish I had slow motion on this thing…My old eyes can’t catch a blink like they used too…LOL
    When I was in high school we had different projects in gym…One month we had gym with the boys..and the teachers taught us square dancing…It was fun plus you got to dance for a second or two with someone you liked or didn’t like..The only way you could get out of it was with a note from the parents…Sometimes the (clowns of the class) boys mostly, would make it miserable for the girls. By turning the wrong way dp a do-si-do with the wrong pardner, (until the teacher caught’em), leaving the girl standing there going in circles by herself..LOL..What is that dance called, where as you promenade and someone catches the couple about in the middle…No, I didn’t make that up…or maybe it was a set up..LOL At least that was always fun…
    I took tap lessons for two weeks and the teacher moved..My parents never could find another one…I loved tap…but didn’t learn much in two weeks…LOL
    Enjoyed this post Tipper and wish I could contra dance myownself…
    One of these days I might just be tiptoeing around somewhere…who knows, stranger things have happened…
    Thanks Tipper, PS The girls are dancing better and better. It wears me out just watching…I think it is wonderful that they are learning all the different folk dances as well as keeping up their clogging.
    B. Ruth

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    My daughter was in the local square dance club when she was in grade school. It is so good to see the old folkways carried on in the next generation, and your girls are wonderful dancers, cowboy boots and all!

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    We had to square dance in gym class when I was in school and I always enjoyed it. Really loved the video, thank you for sharing! Those kids move like well oiled machines. I’m sure that takes more effort than it appears.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you and the other Mom for
    sharing the videos from Berea, Ky.
    Chitter and Chatter are such
    beautiful girls and they’ve added
    that graceful swing and twirl and
    just in their mid-teens. Everyone
    did a wonderful job and Bob really
    deserves his Lifetime Contribution

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Thank you for sharing the videos. As always, the girls are so beautiful. Just watching them makes my feet hurt and my head spin. I have never done any folk dancing but I love to watch others. I did lots of 60s dances that requied little talent or practice. Dances like The Mashed Potato, The Limbo, The Swim and The Twist were such silly moves that could have caused great bodily injury. LOL!

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Tipper – I ain’t that quick nowadays but I saw you (had to play the video twice though). I have never danced but, my brother square dances all the time so we know about it and we like it. I loved the videos.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I saw you!!
    That Arnold’s Circle dance is adorable. And I’ll bet it is a lot of fun, too.

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    April 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Thanks Tipper! That was nice! I’ve never tried any thing like that-it’s always been a challenge for me just to put one foot in front of the other–then repeat! I saw you–you were the short one–in the green skirt!

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    April 5, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Wow! That was wonderful! I hope the girls keep up the talent they have to dance and keep the old dances alive.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 5, 2012 at 8:33 am

    Tipper, I don’t know where to start. This post is so full of different things.
    Thanks to the “other mom” for the video summary. It really gives an overview of the many and different types of dances there were. Yes, I got a glimpse of you dancing…as fleet of feet as your daughters.
    Nice little preview of the performance by Chitter, Chatter and Brian …quite impressive!
    Bob’s explanation was helpful. There are just sooo many different styles of this type of dancing.
    I’m glad that Bob got the 2011 CDSS Lifetime Award. He has contributed so much to the community through his work as the Folk School in Brasstown.
    The dance on your video was different than I’ve seen the girls do. It has a smooth floaty feeling to it.
    I must confess, in true grandmother fashion, I couldn’t wait to see the full video of the girls and Brian’s dance. I went on YouTube and watched it. It is awesome!!
    I’ve never done clogging but I did some folk dancing. When I was in the fourth grade, a long time ago, we had a folk dance festival. We learned several dances including a polka. It was great fun.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 8:33 am

    i watched both videos, you did a great job of capturing the dancing.the first one looks like fun, but the second is my favorite because i love the sound of the taps on the shoes and the sticks hitting each other. all this fun they have and it has to be really good exercise for them. i got tired watching.

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    April 5, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Neither of the videos are working at the present time will have to come back later for them, as for the dancing my wife and I took square dance lessons from my cousins club back years ago then ended up joining the club for a few years and loved it am too old for it plus have one new knee and a bad knee so I guess that is over with.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    April 5, 2012 at 7:49 am

    thanks, Tipper, Chitter, Chatter and all the participants who put a light step into my morning!

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 7:45 am

    My first (and only) time with such dancing was in 7th grade gym class. It wasn’t horrible, except for having to hold hands with a girl. For most of us guys, it was the first time for that. Lots of sweaty palms.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 7:33 am

    hello Tipper –tell Chitter and Chatter I so enjoyed the watching of all the different dances===in response to your question of dancing –well as a young child I attended some square dance sessions for about 3 years and then as a young adult I found myself teaching tap baton and jazz for one of our recitals we had a “country theme” so we did our remendition of clogging which I truly did enjoy–so watching all this makes me smile and my feet a tappin’

  • Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Thank you so much for sharing these videos, I love to watch all the different dances! Your girls make it seem so easy, so graceful, makes me wish I was 45 yrs younger so I could enjoy dancing like they do!!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 5, 2012 at 5:48 am

    Shoot! The music player ain’t working for me this morning. Maybe the needle is broke.
    I really enjoyed the dancing videos. Especially Chatter in her Colorado @!#$kickers. She’s way cool!
    I remember when I was in school we had to dance like that. I dreaded it because I had to touch a girl. Things have really changed since that time. I still can’t dance though. I wish I had known ahead of time that this morning would have twirling and spinning. I coulda took a Dramamine.

  • Leave a Reply