Folknotes: August 2010

A western caller, Fred Feild, came across this in the March 1941 Recreation Magazine. The overall article is called “The Square Dance Goes to College.” After talking about the University of North Carolina it says this:

At John Gould Goddard College in Vermont

Assisted by teachers from the Washington County Folk Dance Association, young Vermonters study the old country dances at a mid-winter school at Goddard College.

Skiing in Vermont’s snow-covered hills and old-time dancing were friendly rivals for popular favor immediately after Christmas when the Washington County Folk Dance Association brought its summer activities up to date with a three-day school of country dances at Goddard College. And the same spirit pervaded the school as that which prevailed at the annual Vermont Folk Dance Festival in August on the college campus in Plainfield.

The city ballrooms of the nation have lately adopted country dancing with all the vigor of a new-found diversion, but to this group in Vermont folk dancing is something as old as the early “pitches” when settlers first brought cows into the Winooski valley. And since the attendance at the school turned out to be better than half school-age youngsters, it is likely that the country dances will remain a form of Saturday night recreation throughout Vermont long after city folks have taken up some new idea.

Vermont has a set of country dance traditions all its own, and several intricate dances unknown to the rest of the nation. To keep these traditions safe, the Washington County group organized many years ago for the purpose of searching out techniques and teaching them to other groups gathered solely for amusement. When the group heard that the folks down in Chelsea had a different twist on the promenade forward of a Boston Fancy, they sent someone down, and now the Chelsea tradition is known throught Vermont. During the year the group stands ready to send teachers, equipped with phonograph records and source material, anywhere in Vermont to teach country dancing – a free service that arises from a genuine love for the dance.

Throughout the year the group has bi-weekly dances at some small hall or farmhouse in Washington County, where the program is part recreation, part study. Every summer they call out competing teams from all over the state, and the lawn tennis court at Goddard College is the stage where men in white trousers and girls in peasant skirts and aprons strive to win the big silver cup. A couple of thousand Vermonters and summer visitors come to watch and applaud Money Musk, Hull’s Victory, Merry Merry Milkmaids, and dozens of similar dances done in the correct Vermont fashion.

Last summer the rising interest in this form of dance brought many out-of-staters, and Goddard College followed this success with the offer to sponsor a winter school with dormitory facilities for those coming from a distance. Emerson Lang of Danville directed the school, and its success assures annual repetitions.

Last night in Nelson, we danced a tremendous Money Musk to Dudley Laufman’s calling and the joyful accompaniment of four fiddles (Jacqueline Laufman, Dudley, Hunt Smith, and Sophie Orzechowski) and piano (Neil Orzechowski). Young and old, those who know the dance by heart, those doing it for the first time, we moved to the same notes and rhythms as the thousands who have danced before us. A good time was had by all.