Folk Dancing In Brasstown

contra dance practice

Contra Dance practice for Mountain Folk Festival

In yesterday’s post, Bob Dalsemer described the different types of folk dancing that are performed at the annual Mountain Folk Festival in Berea. While the girls and I enjoy seeing all of the styles in action-the field narrows considerably when it comes to the ones we actually dance on a regular basis.

Contra Dancing and traditional Appalachian Clogging are the styles we are most familiar with. The girls have clogged on the John C. Campbell Folk School Clogging Team for almost 5 years-and the Folk School offers weekly and twice monthly community Contra Dances.

The first time we went to a Contra Dance, we discovered the best way to learn, is to partner with someone who knows what they’re doing. One of the first people who helped us learn the steps was Robert Forsyth. Robert is one of the Folk School’s Sticks In The  Mud Morris Dancers as well as an amazing Contra Dancer. I recently discovered Robert attended the Mountain Folk Festival in Berea during the 70s. After realizing folk dancing has played a role in most of Robert’s life, I couldn’t wait to interview him about the tradition of folk dancing.

How old where you when you first started folk dancing?

I was around 16. I became friends with newly arrived Thomas Kelischek at Murphy High and later began to date his sister Sabine. I was a close friend of Martin Ramsey, who was the son of the director of the Folk School. It was c1971.

Did you come to the folk school on your own or through a school program?

All of these guys danced, so I really had no choice but to dance. I never, ever, never, ever would have otherwise. I was too shy/conventional/nerdy to even consider such a thing, but it changed my world. Sure I was still s/c/n, but dancing opened my mind to new things and gave me confidence.

Did you ever go the the Mountain Folk Festival at Berea?

We had been drilled in Cotswold Morris and English Country Dance by then JCCFS Director John Ramsey, who led the trip to Berea where we competed against other teams, and won first place. Our team included Martin and Lauren Ramsey, Mike, Thomas and Sabine Kelischek, Robert, John, James, Jennifer Anderson, Mike Honeycutt, and others.

I know you didn’t dance for many years-what brought you back to it?

When I graduated from Murphy High and left home for college, like many small town kids I “swore I’d never be back.” After college I lived in Atlanta for 20 years. My good friend and Folk School CFO at the time, Phil Mattox, kept trying to get me to come to a Saturday dance. He finally wore me down on one of my visits home in 1995 and I was hooked all over again.

In the years since you started dancing again, have you noticed an increase in the popularity of folk dancing?

Contra Dancing has bloomed from an isolated curiosity to a national phenomenon. There are more callers, more bands, more dancers, and more places to dance. There are dances in every  major city in the country now, and it is possible to drive to a dance every night of the week (and we have). I like to call it the coolest thing that most folks don’t know about.

Do you think it’s important for programs like Mountain Folk Festival to continue-do you think it’s important for the older generations to encourage the youth to participate in folk dancing?

I love the difference that dancing has made in my life, the friendships I’ve made, and the community I now share…all because I had the opportunity to dance in my youth. And that opportunity was only there because someone was taking the time to care enough to do the hard work to make it happen. I am forever grateful to the Ramsey’s and the Kelischeks, and I’m proud that current Director of Dance at the Folk School, Bob Dalsemer, is carrying it on. I know it’s a good thing because I can see it on the faces of these young dancers.

I hope you enjoyed the interview with Robert Forsyth-Folk Dancer Extraordinaire. For those of you, who don’t have a clue what Contra Dancing looks like-here is a video made during Summer Dance Week at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

So have you ever been Contra Dancing? Are you familiar with other styles of folk dancing?



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  • Reply
    October 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Contra dance rocks

  • Reply
    Jeanna M
    April 10, 2010 at 10:34 am

    I have probably seen your dd dance before at Scottish Day in Franklin. I love to watch the dancing. I too am a mountain girl. Born and raised in Franklin. So much of what you write about is so familiar to me. I love your blog. It is good to know that others out there are as proud of their heritage as I am.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Becky, I contra dance-but I leave the clogging to the girls : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
    All at http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    March 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Looks like a lot of fun. I can see why the girls love it so much.
    But all that twirling would make me dizzy.
    Do you contra dance, Tipper? Or clog?

  • Reply
    March 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    B.-I’m not sure of the exact dates of the ramp festival-maybe someone else knows?
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
    All at http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    March 25, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Great inteview of Robert Forsyth. I always enjoy the folk dancers and Stick in the Mud at the John C. Campbell Folk School. My mother just loves to see the clogging. Great posting!!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    March 25, 2010 at 7:35 am

    Great post…..
    Can’t wait to see the video of the girls clogging…
    I always wanted to go to the Mountain Folk Festival….maybe next year….sounds like such fun…
    By the way…when is the Ramp Festival?….

  • Reply
    March 24, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Oh that looks like so much fun. I would love to try it.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    March 24, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    LOVE this video…thanks for sharing. I actually took folk dance a million yrs ago, but wasn’t good at it as I recall. But oh how I would LOVE to learn how to flat-foot. I enjoy the dancers at the Carter Fold so much…cloggers and flat-footers. I love the “mix” of the older folks and the itty-bitty youngsters, the ones who are talented and those are just enjoying themselves, and the music of course.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 24, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I love that the girls, Chitter and Chatter, are involved in folk dancing and carrying on a very fine tradition.
    I did some folk dancing as a child and a little square dancing but not very much. It really wasn’t available where I lived then.
    I met Robert when I came to see the girls dance. I didn’t realize he had such a history with the folk school but I enjoyed watching, he is a very good dancer.
    I’m so excited to see the next post with Chitter an Chatter dancing!!

  • Reply
    March 24, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    I have never been into dancing much, Tipper, although I did a rock-n-roll type dance when I was a teen. We also did Square Dancing when I was younger. I’ve never done Contra Dancing –but enjoy watching it. (Liked the video).
    I love to watch clogging too…
    Thanks for sharing. It’s all such good exercise– and a great social event.

  • Reply
    March 24, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    thanks, bob! looks like i’ll be able to hit both, then! 🙂

  • Reply
    March 24, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    the dancing on the video looks like a mixture of square dancing and line dancing. looks like tons of fun, I love watching cloggers, so am waiting to see chitter and chatter clog

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    March 24, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I have never been Contra dancing.
    I have decided you have a fun life.
    : )

  • Reply
    March 24, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    So interesting! Thank for taking the time to teach us new things.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    March 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Great post, Tipper. We have enjoyed dancing at the Folk School for over thirty years–and don’t see the end in sight…
    Rooney and Marolyn Floyd

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    March 24, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    The Folk School has two weeks during the summer when we have free dances every weekday evening. The first is during Little/Middle Folk School (June 21-25 this year). The second is the week of our Dance Musicians’ Course (July12-16).

  • Reply
    March 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    and there’s robert dancing, in the last one, dancing with nettie in the lower left:)
    tipper, when is summer dance week? i’ll be there for little middle week, is it then? or is it dance musician’s week in july? i want to come up another week in summer and i’d like to hit summer dance week!

  • Reply
    March 24, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Music just kinda get’s your toe’s tappin don’t it.

  • Reply
    barbara gantt
    March 24, 2010 at 11:39 am

    I remember that we contra danced and clogged in elementary school music class. That was in Lenoir, NC Morris dancing is big here in Vermont. There are groups that dance in costumes with swords and such. Always in town on May Day. They will perform at Farmers Markets. Also many Square dances at the Granges. The Sat night activity….Barbara

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