Creating Community in a Crisis

This past week, I had the pleasure of being a part of the community that surrounds food and music here in eastern Kentucky. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the resilience of our community shone through during Hindman Settlement Schools virtual Dumplin’s & Dancin’ Festival.

As much as I missed being able to dance the night away with lots of friends and family in the Great Hall here on campus, with some creativity and careful planning, we were able to fill that space some some music and dancing last week.

On Wednesday evening, myself, Randy Wilson and a small band of local friends and musicians gathered together to perform an Appalachian Family Concert (for the young and the young at heart!) in the Great Hall. This concert was broadcast live on Facebook and we were able to interact with folks through the comments; it almost felt like they were really in the room with us and singing along! We played fiddle tunes, sang silly songs, and Ethan Fullwood even did a little flatfooting. We ended the evening with a song about all the things that we love about living in Eastern Kentucky and everyone contributed their own verse. Redbud’s in the springtime, finding mushrooms in woods, eating Randy Wilson’s cornbread, and hearing the old time stories were all things we sang about. Listen to our performance here and write your own verse about something you love about living in Eastern Kentucky! A big thank you to community members who came out to be a part of the “House Band”: Dave Sykes, Mark Flanagan, Yoko Nogami, Caroline and Cathy Rehmeyer, and Ethan Fullwood.

Friday evening, I had the honor of being part of a lovely conversation and riveting presentation by dance historian, old-time musician, and dance caller, Phil Jamison. Phil has called dances at a Dumplin’s festival in years past and I was thrilled to learn from his expertise and insight into the history of Southern Appalachian dance forms. He joined us virtually from the campus of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina where he teaches traditional music and dance. In 2015, Phil Jamison published a book entitled “Hoedowns Reels and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance”. Phil’s timely book breaks down long-held assumptions about Appalachian dance forms and tells the true and diverse history of a far too long white-washed tradition. In the words of Ron Pen, a dear friend to the Settlement School, “His book re-wrote our entire concept of traditional called dance in our country.”

Phil Jamison

In this live Facebook event, Phil examined the multicultural roots and historical development of these dances and identified the components of earlier European, African, and Native American dance forms that combined to make Appalachian dance so uniquely American. Southern Appalachian square dance is a hybrid dance form that developed in the American South during the nineteenth century, and like many Appalachian musical traditions, these dances reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the region. Phil summed it up so beautifully at the end of the evening when he said, “Clearly, Appalachian dance forms are not some pure Anglo-Saxon “racial inheritance” (as previously assumed by folklorists like Cecil Sharp) but American hybrids as they developed during the nineteenth century. These are true, American dances.” Phil’s presentation was followed by a time of questions from viewers. I was honored to facilitate such an important conversation about our diverse traditions in Appalachia.

I came away from the Dumplin’s and Dancin’ festival overwhelmed by an enduring sense of community that continues to thrive here in Knott county, in spite of these difficult times. Let’s all continue to take care of ourselves, take care of each others, and look forward to better days ahead, when we can gather together to eat real-life dumplin’s and dance a square dance here in the Great Hall.