West Virginia, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, is home to centuries-old square dance traditions that have entertained residents and visitors alike. Traditional four-couple set square dances and mountain circle, also known as “big circle,” dances are called by local dance callers to live old-time music. “Round dances,” such as waltzes and two steps are often played between squares at most locations. Beginners are always welcome, and as caller Mack Samples says, “These old dances are simple, you can learn them in no time.” Community dances, can be found somewhere in the heart of West Virginia every weekend.
MARLINTON, Pocahontas County
At one time Pioneer Days in downtown Marlinton held large square dances in the street. Today the Pocahontas County Opera House hosts several dances throughout the year. Including an annual square dance and an hour-long beginner workshop organized by the Pocahontas 4-H club in March. Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters provide music with local callers Tom Sharp, Jim Carpenter, and Ellen & Eugene Ratcliffe calling big circle square dances. All dances start at 8pm. Admission is $4 for adults, and free for students.
DUNMORE, Pocahontas County
Nestled among the giant spruce trees of the Monongahela National Forest less than ten miles from the Virginia line the Dunmore Community Center hosts Saturday night square dances on an irregular basis. Ellen & Eugene Ratcliffe and Tom Sharp call mountain circle square dances to the music of Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters. Dancing gets underway at 8pm, and refreshments are available. Admission is $4, and free for students. A music jamboree is held every 3rd Saturday hosted by the Dunmore Community Center, located off of Route 92 and 28.
HIGHLAND COUNTY, Virginia*
Monterey and Bluegrass have had a long history of square dancing. For many years the Ruritan Club has held Saturday night square dances and recently started it up again. The Ruritans fundraiser square dance will be held in January at the Bluegrass Ruritan Club located across the street from the post office in Bluegrass. Admission is $6 for adults and refreshments will be available.
The Highland County Lions Club hosts a street dance downtown Monterey in July with a chicken barbecue dinner, bluegrass music, cakewalks, clogging and square dancing. The evening square dance will get underway at roughly 7pm. The Highland County Fair has been holding square dances since 1951. This year’s square dance will be held at 7:30pm Wednesday evening on the asphalt lot behind the school kitchen. The fair will take place at 240 Myers Moon Road just outside of Monterey town limits. Eugene & Ellen Ratcliffe will be calling mountain circle square dances for these events. Johnny Simmons and Rare Gold, who play a variety of bluegrass, old country and square dance tunes are the band.
FRANKLIN, Pendleton County*
Occasional Mountain Circle square dances are held in Franklin. Following the Spring Fest fish fry Larry Arbaugh from Cherry Grove will lead dancing at the community center. Square dancing during the Treasure Mountain Festival is a long-standing tradition in Pendleton County, and the dance features local musicians Walter Hojka, Steve Gallagher and Carmen Rexroad. Square dances take place on both Friday and Saturday evenings of the festival at 7pm in the parking lot in downtown Franklin, and admission is free.
UPPER TRACT, Pendleton County
Square dances are held in the old Upper Tract schoolhouse between Petersburg and Franklin on Route 220. Local musicians are featured and dances are called by local square dance callers including Lou Maiuri and Dana Keplinger. There is always a cakewalk! An old-time jam starts at 5pm, with the square dance kicking off at 7pm. Refreshments are provided by Upper Tract Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary.
CIRCLEVILLE, Pendleton County*
During the Pendleton County Fair the small town of Circleville comes alive. On Thursday evening at roughly 7pm a square dance and cakewalk fills the old Circleville high school gym located on Route 28. Square dance callers from all over Pendleton County take turns directing the square dance. Admission is free.
RIVERTON, Pendleton County*
Square dances are held at the Clinton Hendrick Community Building the first Saturday of the month at 7pm, except for July, August and September. Other than these months the dances are “pretty steady and pretty regular.” Pete Simmons of Reeds Creek calls mountain circle dances, the “Paul Jones” dance and the broom dance. Donations are encouraged. The community center is located on Route 33 between Franklin and Seneca Rocks.
HARMAN, Randolph County
Square dancing was first documented in the Harman area in 1872 for the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. At one time the Harman high school prom was a square dance. Today, dances are held at the Harman VFW Hall. Local musicians Jack Hedrick, Alan Crossland, Jack Judy and Judith Lazier provide toe-tapping, old-time tunes. Delmis Evans and other local callers holler out mountain circle square dances as they dance on the floor. The VFW Ladies Auxiliary provides refreshments and dancing gets underway at 8pm. The VFW Hall is located off Route 33 near the Dry Fork River in Harman.
ELKINS, Randolph County
The Elkins Country Dance Society holds monthly dances September through May at the Randolph County Community Arts Center on Randolph Avenue. Here you can find square dancers doing both mountain circle and four-couple sets, contras, and an occasional Cajun dance. Dancing kicks off at 8pm with a beginner’s workshop at 7:30pm.
Since 1972, Augusta Heritage Center has held dances on Sunday-Friday as a part of their summer program in July and August. Dances are held in an open air pavilion on Davis and Elkins College Campus. The type of dance varies depending on the theme of each week and include Cajun two-step, Irish set and Ceili dancing, blues, swing, squares and contras. On Tuesdays and Thursdays of the summer program, the dance follows an 8pm concert in the Myles Center for the Arts, otherwise all other nights the dance begins at 8pm. All dances cost $6.
HELVETIA, Randolph County*
Helvetians have held onto their Swiss identity through music, dancing, food and festivals. Mountain circle dances were brought to Helvetia by wood hicks and sawmill workers and there it mixed with the traditional waltzes, polkas, and other dances of German-Swiss origin. Local residents call dances from the floor to the Helvetia Star Band which features, joe McInroy, Woody Higginbotham, James Sayre, Bill Talbot and Lee Simes. Dances are held on the first Saturday of the month at 8pm in the Community Hall, and to celebrate various festivals. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children age 12 and under. A short walk from the dance hall is the Hutte, a restaurant where great Swiss food has been served for over 40 years. The community hall is located on Helvetia-Pickens Road.
PICKENS, Randolph County
During the Maple Syrup Festival the small town of Pickens is bustling with people. Throughout the day you can find a buckwheat pancake feed, live music, demonstrations and activities. On Saturday evening an annual square dance is held in the American Legion Hall at 8pm. The Helvetia Star Band provides music and local square dance callers lead the dance.
IRELAND, Lewis County
The tradition of community square dancing in Ireland, WV goes back well beyond the thirty-two years of the annual Irish Spring Festival. Square dances were common occurrences to initiate a new barn floor or a new addition on a farm-house. Folks of any age find a well-attended square dance to be good medicine. You can find Rock Garten, Jenny Smith, Tater Blake and Grafton Wine playing music while David Russell, Doyle Gillium and other local callers direct big circle dances as they dance on the floor. Dancing starts at 7pm. The Irish Spring Festival in March is free. The dance is located at the Ireland Community Center located off of old Route 19 at 65 Community Drive.
SUTTON, Braxton County
Square dances in Braxton County thrived throughout the 1980s. It is now rejuvenated with help of the Sutton Mayor’s Office and is a well attended activity. Mack Samples from Clay County calls traditional four-couple sets to the spirited fiddling of Dave Bing, Gerry Milnes and others. Several square dances are held throughout the year at the community building located in the courthouse square on 4th street in downtown Sutton. Dances begin at 7pm.
GLENVILLE, Gilmer County*
“Come to Glenville, Come to Glenville” says caller Bill Ohse. Many believe the best square dances held anywhere are downtown on the specially designed wooden platform during the West Virginia State Folk Festival. Dances are held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights around 7pm. The music is always provided by hard-driving old-time string bands selected from around the state. Square dance callers from all over West Virginia rotate calling traditional four-couple set dances. While there is no instruction for beginners, experienced square dancers are willing to lend a hand. Admission is free.
HENDERSON, Mason County*
Dances are held at the Henderson Community Building the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Fridays of each month. Local band “Big Country” lead by George McCarty on vocals and guitar, with Bobby Taylor on Fiddle, Rick Wright on Bass and Bruce Black on Banjo provide music. Country two-steps, waltzes, hoedown tunes, and squares dances alternate throughout the evening with a cakewalk or two thrown in. Each night features around seven square dances called by Bill Ohse, Ken Turley and many other fine callers. Doors open at roughly 5pm and dancing starts at 7pm. Refreshments are available, and admission is $5. To reach the Henderson Community Building head north on Route 35 and get off at Route 2. Turn right onto Old Route 35 and go four blocks. The Henderson Community Building will be on your right.