Sunday, October 15, 2017

When I signed up for Country Dancers, I didn’t exactly picture myself winding through a dark room to the tempo of some eerie violin music, wearing all-black clothes and a giant horse costume…but you know, it happens.

This is my first semester as a Berea College Country Dancer, and I can honestly say that in spite of moments like the one I just described (or perhaps because of them…) I am having a blast.

Let’s recap: This past weekend was our 2017 Fall Tour and our first big performance. We drove up to the Pine Mountain Settlement school (elevation 1,800 feet above sea level) and bunked down in a dorm that used to be a hospital. On Saturday morning, we fueled up on oatmeal and coffee and rehearsed our performance. Then we spent the afternoon listening to various speakers.

If you don’t know who Cecil Sharp and Maude Karpeles are—well, you’re not alone. I didn’t know until I joined Country Dancers, and I still didn’t know much until last weekend. But here’s the scoop: Cecil Sharp, an Englishman, and Maud Karpeles, an Englishwoman, dedicated a great deal of their lives to traveling around the Appalachian region recording traditional songs and dances that they encountered. Basically, they’re a large part of the reason we get to be in Country Dancers today.

The speakers at Pine Mountain talked all about their work and even showed some photographs and journal entries. One of them even had a voice recording of a man who worked with Cecil Sharp! History is so cool.

Okay, it’s nerdy. But when you’re twirling around in a breeze of violet-flowered dresses, making tunnels and chains and baskets of your arms—or when you’re watching your friends polka-step through stars and reels, the garlands held over their heads a shifting, mesmerizing kaleidoscope—well, it’s kind of hard not to be thrilled at the thought that people have been doing this for hundreds of years. That someone came up with this in a village in Yorkshire. That people got together and danced like this on the weekends.

After our own performance, we got to see the Berea Festival Dancers perform. It’s fun to be on the other side sometimes, too. And even after all the officially sanctioned dancing was over, some of us spontaneously danced Kerry Sets in the basement of the old hospital-turned dorm.

It was a whirlwind weekend, and I won’t lie, I was exhausted by the end. But also incredibly happy that I made the decision to become a Country Dancer. I feel closer to my fellow dancers. I feel closer to the dances. I feel closer to Appalachia.

And I can’t wait for our next performance.

-Noelle Hilpert, Berea College ’17.

(Next week, on Wednesday, Oct. 18, Berea College Country Dancers are performing for Mountain Day—come see us!)