Appalachia Folk Dancing

Kentucky Running Set

Mountain folk festival berea ky 2013 seabury gym

Each year participants of the Mountain Folk Festival in Berea, KY are given an opportunity to take part in a dance workshop of their choice. Various workshops are offered-things like Morris Dancing, English Country Dancing, Jump Rope Clog, Square Dancing.

This year the girls signed up for Kentucky Running Set. Neither me nor the girls had ever even heard of the style of dancing. We thought it sounded like fun since the description said the dance is performed with no music-only the rhythmic sounds of the dancers feet and hands are heard along with the caller’s voice.

Jennifer Rose Escobar led the workshop. Before the kids got started dancing she shared the history of the dance style with them.

Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) is most well known for collecting English folk songs and folk dances. According to Escobar, Sharp discovered what he termed Kentucky Running Set at the Pine Mountain Settlement School.

The Square Dance History Project offers this information regarding Sharp and his discovery:

The name “running set” comes to us from the work of the great English song collector Cecil Sharp, founder of the English Folk Dance Society and, in 1915, what became Country Dance and Song Society. During the years 1916–18, Sharp and his colleague Maud Karpeles spent more than 40 weeks traveling throughout the southern Appalachians, collecting ballads and other songs.

It was at a school in Pine Mountain, Kentucky, that Sharp first encountered dancing. No musicians were present, but someone commented, “Let’s run a set,” and people started clapping hands to set a beat for the dancers. (That casual comment became solidified as Sharp dubbed the observed dance form the “running set.”) Sharp was entranced by the dancing and took detailed notes that form the basis of his description in his Country Dance Book. He wrote in his diary (October 8, 1917), “This dance is as valuable a piece of work as anything I have done in the mountains.”

As Jennifer began teaching the dance, the calls seemed really difficult at first. But once they went through them a couple of times the kids had them down pat. The calls were things like ‘shoot the owl’, ‘wild goose chase’, ‘grapevine twist’, ‘uptown downtown’, and the girls’ favorite the ‘Georgia rang tang’.

Watch the video below to see the dance.

Chatter and Chitter really enjoyed learning the dance-and of course they fell in love with the song-Killy Kranky. (If you missed the post about the origin of Killy Kranky-click here).

Hope you enjoyed the dance too!


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  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    May 17, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Makes me wish I hadn’t stopped dancing when my back started hurting so. Oh well, life goes on. LOL
    God bless.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    So great to see Chitter and Chatter performing a dance from my home state of KY! Their talent is truly amazing!

  • Reply
    Jeanette Minix
    May 17, 2013 at 6:36 am

    Watching this tired me out as much as watching Zumba.

  • Reply
    janet pressley
    May 16, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Very interesting! Love the footwork and sounds.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I just wanted to add that after
    the dancing video, I watched the
    25 minute video of Charles Fletcher.
    (a Blind Pig regular and we all
    admire his talents)…Ken

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    May 16, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I love the dances. Thanks for the video. Glad the girls had such a wonderful time at the festival. Sounds like a wonderful event. I would love to attend sometime.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Great dance. As I understand it Cecil Sharp came to the Appalachians hoping to find more pure versions of old English and Scottish ballads; he found ’em too. The song you know as Killy Kranky has the same tune (more or less) as the Scottish ballad “The Braes Of Killiecrankie” so another link there. There are some versions of the song to be found on Youtube.

  • Reply
    Ron Perry, Sr.
    May 16, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Wonderful. The girls are real pros.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

    I’ll have to wait ’til we get home to watch the dancing, as there’s no internet here; meanwhile, I’m trying to understand a dance with no music in the mountains, where fiddles literally grow on trees!

  • Reply
    May 16, 2013 at 9:02 am

    That was so fascinating; incredible! I can’t imagine how they kept the rhythm as well as stepping that looked so organized. I really enjoyed this.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2013 at 8:40 am

    That was nice! All I can say is I
    bet all the guys look forward to
    getting to dance with those pretty
    things from Brasstown. I was out of
    breath just watching…Ken

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 16, 2013 at 8:38 am

    That’s interesting, a dance without music, but it certainly was not without rhythm. I love the drumming rhythm of their feet it reminds me of life and the many sounds of life in the barnyard.
    Don’t you suppose that dance was invented for dancing when there is no musicians available. Just one more example of the ability of Appalachians to adapt to their circumstances.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2013 at 8:34 am

    I enjoyed the dance. I have programed myself to look for a girl with boots whenever I watch these videos and see these pictures.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2013 at 8:05 am

    That would not be a dance for a girl like me that can’t walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. As usual, the girls did great.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 16, 2013 at 7:29 am

    I was fascinated by the dance. How they did all that, with no breaks, bruises or headbutts, I will never know. I noticed they allow subbing on the fly, like in hockey. You could keep a dance going for a long long time if you could bring in fresh dancers and let others sit on the bench for a while.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 16, 2013 at 7:20 am

    I love the dances, thanks for the video

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