Appalachia Games

Play Party Games In Appalachia

Play Party Games In Appalachia

Have you ever been part of a play party game? I bet you have even if you think you haven’t. Play party games involve singing, clapping, and other rhythmic moves. Generally, in the old days play party games did not involve dancing-but between all the walking, singing, and clapping I’d say most of them came pretty close to it.

In days gone by, some churches in Appalachia frowned upon any type of dancing. Play Party Games were a way to get around the dancing part-but still allow for socializing between the opposite sexes.

In Old Time Dancing Friedland explains the issue like this:

Throughout the region the dance tradition has had to contend with objections from certain religious groups to both dance and instrumental music. Appalachians have come up with a variety of strategies over the years to try and resolve this tension between dance and religious beliefs. In many communities, individual dance figures were often transformed into play-party games. Though play-party movement patterns were similar to or, in some cases, identical to dance figures, they were not considered offensive because performers would sing their own accompaniment. In other communities, people would refer to dancing as “playing games,” even though it was accompanied by instrumental music.

Although the religious restraints have loosened considerable over the years, many play party games are still played at community centers, schools, and square/contra dances. In a few weeks, me and the girls will head up to Berea KY to participate in the 77th Annual Mountain Folk Festival which was designed to ensure the youth of Appalachia remember the music, the words, and the movements of play party games as well as other traditional dances.

As the month of April marches speedily forward, I’ll be sharing all sorts of children’s games from Appalachia-so stick around.





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  • Reply
    April 5, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Reminds me a little bit of Duck, Duck, Goose or Spin the Bottle. I can’t remember ever taking part in anything like you describe though.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    jose Luis
    April 5, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Hi Tipper,
    It’s a shame that only now I see this invitation, and I’m a little out of Martin Creek, but I’m going to ask for email, which is nice travel month and spend about 15 or 20 days between NC, Brasstown and Murphy, and Kentucky (Owensboro), without going so cold and Bluegrass jam festivals. I am planning a trip with my daughter Veronica, and perhaps also her husband.
    Best regards to all, José Luis, Argentina.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    April 4, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    I have many memories of Appalachian religion, taboos such as dancing and movie shows, working on Sunday. But, the main thing I want to say is, and I’ve told you many times, Thank you for preserving an important heritage, the Folkways of our Southern Highlands.

  • Reply
    April 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    The talk about getting churched reminded me of this fellow (a deacon) in the local church was dead against Rock and Roll or other popular music. He did not approve of it at all. He happened to be good in electronics and made for himself a rather nice stereo (only for gospel music). Someone saw the stereo and had a fit over it so he sold it to him. The deacon then took the money from the stereo he got and bought a big color tv. Go figure!

  • Reply
    April 4, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    In the comment Gina S. made, I was
    reminded that my two first cousin
    sisters got Churched, and for wearing shorts…at home…and their daddy was a Preacher…Ken

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 4, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Tipper–When I went off to college in 1960 (to a fine Presbyterian-related institution, King College, in Bristol, TN), I got a rude shock in one of the early chapel services I attended. They were required, by the way. The president of the school, a gangling scarecrow of a man who was more than a bit absent-minded by the name of Dr. Robert Todd L. Liston, caught my attention in a major way.
    “Dancing,” he pronounced, “is a vertical position for horizontal desires.” For a mountain boy who had grown up attending square dances almost every weekend, not to mention participating in plenty of them at school, that was a shock.
    I don’t think he meant square dancing, since there was a bit of it during my undergraduate years, but in general he was decidedly serious. I wonder whether some of your older readers (and I reckon I fall into that category whether I like it or not) every heard that description of dancing.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo aka Granny Sal
    April 4, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I remember dancing,and card games being frowned on in my mom’s church.They were pretty strict,back in the day. And like Gina I had heard toys referred to as play pretties.

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    April 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Tipper: my folk’s when they came out west,brought play parties with. that’s how my mom and dad met.but they did dance, my mom said those tarheel’s were an exciting bunch. she spotted my dad right off,and thought to herself i,m going to marry that handsome brute.and they were married 51 years. k.o.h

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    April 4, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Olive Campbell and Marguerite Butler used the term “singing games” in their early days so as not to offend any in the Folk School community who did not approve of dancing.

  • Reply
    April 4, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Play party games are not familar to me. This writing was a new learning for me. Thanks!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 4, 2013 at 8:42 am

    PS……I mean’t to say in my comment about “Swing the Cymblin” that this is supposed to be a play-party game as well as the other two. Not a dance, but if the “cymblin” is a scalloped squash..I can see it can be adapted to a dance move, say the girl in the swinging, scalloped dance skirt goes to the middle and then the boy swings the cymblin around….Does that make sense?
    This is really strange that your post came up today as I have been reading about mountain games. I tell you that you send out vibes, mountain magic.
    Thanks Tipper, I will love all your thoughts about this subject, games and dance.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I remember my grandmother sayin’ “Why don’t you have a play-party?” We’d just looke at her with a “what’cha talkin’ bout’, Willis look!” She also used to say “Oh, you have a new play-purty.” Then during all this noise and conversation, I was too young and uninterested to question what a play-party was. I thought in my mind it was like a tea party and the boy brothers, cousins were’nt having no part of that…Of course it was obvious what play-purty was if I was holding a doll or hula-hoop, yep they were poplar in the fifties!
    Do you know what “Swing the Cymblin” is and or “Weavilly Wheat” ? I know what “Skip-t’m Lou” is, I think at least what I’m thinking it is..sorta like “Ring a’round the Rosie”…
    Remember we discussed “Cymblin” last year…squash, gourd egg and scalloped egg squash…
    Thanks Tipper,
    I know I am going to enjoy these next few posts about mountain games…PS…My Grannie didn’t think kids should be dancin’ either!

  • Reply
    Gina S
    April 4, 2013 at 7:38 am

    I’ve heard of toys referred to as play-pretties, but never of play party games. Two of my great-aunts were churched for following the fiddle. I suppose that meant they had been dancing. Their conduct is recorded in the minutes of a Buncombe County Church. I stumbled across the record of it, but never heard any mention of it in the family. One of the ladies was Daddy’s favorite aunt for she had a great sense of humor as well as a love for mankind. Later in the church minutes I found the record of the aunts repenting and once again being restored to fellowship with the church. I suppose my skeletons in the closet are rather mild ones.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 4, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Interesting. I don’t recall music or dancing ever being frowned on around here.

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