ELKINS - The Mountain Dance Trail is kicking off its third season, with more than 100 square dances slated for 2014. Locals and visitors are invited to join in the fun with live music and callers from throughout the region.
"Square dancing never really went away; it's always been here," says The Mountain Dance Trail Coordinator Rebecca Hill. "A new demographic is just now discovering it, and because of that local community square dances are flourishing."
Since its inception in 2012, hundreds of tourists and locals have flocked to these dances. A project of Augusta Heritage Center and Davis & Elkins College, The Mountain Dance Trail works with 16 communities that have an existing tradition of community square dances. Extending from just over the Virginia line to the Ohio border, communities involved are Marlinton, Dunmore, Monterey, Franklin, Upper Tract, Riverton, Harman, Thomas, Morgantown, Elkins, Helvetia, Pickens, Ireland, Sutton, Glenville and Henderson.
Hill started working with former Augusta Folk Art Coordinator Gerry Milnes on The Mountain Dance Trail project as an AmeriCorps VISTA in fall 2011.
"We realized that West Virginia is the only state in the Appalachian region that has such a rich square dance tradition," Hill says. "We believe this tradition is important and were determined to help preserve it."
Hill is not alone when it comes to believing in this project. A team of dance coordinators, musicians, callers and volunteers help keep the project afloat.
"We have high hopes that the traditions will catch on, that it will strengthen communities and become an outlet for joyous celebration," Milnes says. "Isn't that what dance has always been? We think that is how it should be."
The Mountain Dance Trail has been featured in The New York Times, on NPR's "All Things Considered," West Virginia Public Radio, Goldenseal and in local and regional newspapers. The project has received a $9,000 Challenge America Grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and a $6,876 grant from West Virginia Humanities Council to create a film about the community dances. Hill expects the film will be available to the public in the near future.
"This project has come a long way in two years, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to grow in years to come," Hill says.
Upcoming dances are today in Sutton, Sunday in Thomas and March 1 in Helvetia, Riverton and Dunmore.
To keep track of square dances near you, a complete dance schedule is available online at www.mountaindancetrail.org and in the 2014 brochure. Please call the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College at 304-637-1209 if you would like to share brochures in your community.
A Center of Excellence for more than 40 years, the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College offers several week-long programs featuring instruction in many traditions of music, dance, craft and folklore.