Group keeps Appalachian square dancing tradition alive

Huntington Old Time Dance and Music hosts its last dance of the year on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, at Heritage Farm Museum & Village in Huntington. (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP)

By TRAVIS CRUM, The Herald-Dispatch undefined
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Couples were promenading, swinging and do-si-doing at Heritage Farm Museum & Village in Huntington.
It was the last gathering of the year Nov. 16 for participants with the Huntington Old Time Dance and Music (HOTDAM) group. The group gets together regularly to square dance to traditional Appalachian and bluegrass music, complete with a caller who prompts people into different dance formations.
Before the night was finished, people performed moves to “dive for the oyster and dig for the clam,” “chase the rabbit and chase the squirrel” and “put the bird and crow in the cage.”
The group started about two years ago as an effort to keep the tradition of square dancing alive, which has its roots in Appalachian culture. The music and dancing predates recorded music, said Dennis Bills, HOTDAM president.
“What we’re trying to do is promote that old-time sound of dance music, and there’s no better way to do it than square dancing,” Bills said.
Bills said the group meets every month, excluding December and the summer months, to dance together and learn new moves.
Each dance features a different band and caller, and the dances usually attract up to 70 people. The Nov. 16 dance featured music from Dave Bing, Danny Arthur, Tim Bing, Scott Rucker and Tim Corbett, with calling by Tony Minny from Glenville, West Virginia.
Bills said the dances are for everyone and all ages, including experienced square dancers and people “with two left feet.”
Chase Smith and Zara Harold have been square dancing partners for about eight years. They were leading a square of eight people into different formations and twists.
“We are both in 4-H and it’s a big thing in here,” Harold said. “We started going to dance weekends, so we started dancing together ever since we were little.”
Smith and Harold said their favorite move is to “spin,” and they’ve been square dancing so long that they’ve modified some of the dances to make them more elaborate.
“A lot of people might be nervous since they’ve never done square dancing before, but the caller walks you through everything you have to do before the dance,” Smith said. “People should come out and learn so eventually you will know how to do it and it will be like walking on air.”
The group’s next square dance will be in January. People may search for Huntington Old Time Dance and Music on Facebook to learn more about future events.
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com