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. No experience or partner is required. Whether you dance or not, the joy of square dancing to live fiddle music entertains both dancers and wall flowers alike. Beginners and children are always welcome, and as caller Mack Samples says, “These old dances are simple, you can learn them in no time.”
MARLINTON, Pocahontas County
At one time Pioneer Days in downtown Marlinton held large square dances in the street. Today the Pocahontas County Opera invites Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters or Mud Hole Control to play music with local callers Tom Sharp and Ellen & Eugene Ratcliffe. A square dance is scheduled for Saturday, September 16th at 8pm for Music in the Mountains Celebration. Admission is $4 for adults, and free for students.
Location: Pocahontas County Opera House – 818 Third Avenue, Marlinton WV. More information available at www.pocahontasoperahouse.org
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 the first Saturday of the month, when the weather permits. Ellen & Eugene Ratcliffe and Tom Sharp call mountain circle square dances to the music of Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters, and Mud Hole Control. Dancing gets underway at 8pm, and refreshments are available. Admission is $4, and free for students. The Dunmore Community Center is located at 215 Dunmore Road, off of Route 92 and 28. Dances are slated for February 4th, March 4th, April 1st, August 19th – Dunmore Daze, and November 4th.
MONTEREY, Highland County, Virginia
Highland County, Virginia, has had a long history of square dancing, and dances can be found at several locations in Monterey. Admission is free to these dances.
Highland County Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention will hold a square dance on Friday, July 21st and Saturday, July 22nd at 8pm. The event is held at the fairgrounds just outside Monterey at 240 Myers Road. The goal of the Highland County Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention is to provide and promote old-time music and traditional Appalachian arts and crafts while introducing and acquainting the younger generations with the inherent social value of this art form. More information available at www.highlandcountyfairva.com
The Highland County Lions Club hosts a street dance downtown Monterey every July with a chicken barbecue dinner, bluegrass music, cakewalks, clogging and square dancing. The evening square dance will get underway at roughly 7pm on July 8
The Highland County Fair has been holding square dances since 1951. This year’s square dance will be held at the Monterey Fairgrounds, at 7pm, on August 26th, on the asphalt lot behind the school kitchen. 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
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, September 15th and Saturday, September 16th at 8pm in the parking lot in downtown Franklin. Admission is free. More information available at www.tmf.squarespace.com
THOMAS, Tucker County
Dances started up in December 2012, reviving Tucker County after decades without square dances. Many talented musicians and callers travel from around the state to call dances, and play music for Thomas square dance. All ages and beginners are welcome, at each dance you’ll find both. Dances vary between four couple set and big circle squares. They are held at the Thomas Education Center at 324 Brown Street, next to the Catholic Church. Admission is $5 adults. Dance starts at 7pm. Dances are planned for May 26th during Art Spring and September 1st.
MORGANTOWN, Monongalia County
Square dances have been held regularly at Marilla Center since the building was completed in 1941. Local fiddle player, Elmer Rich was of the first musicians playing for dances there, with Ross Litman as the caller. Worley Gardner took over the dances in 1972, and his dances were featured in Robert Dalsemer’s book on “West Virginia Square Dances” published in 1982. Taylor Runner learned Worley’s dances and calls big circle and four couple set squares there today. The band changes monthly. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 students. Morgantown Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance host these events and they are held at 8pm on the 2nd Saturday of each month, except for June, July & August. More information available at http://www.morgantowndance.com/
Worley Gardner Music Festival Square Dances on Saturday, February 25th at 8pm. Admission is $5. Taylor Runner calls Worley Gardner’s Four Couple Square Dances. Held at 500 East Parkway Drive in Morgantown. More information available at www.gymf.org
ELKINS, Randolph County
Since 1972, Augusta Heritage Center has held dances as a part of their summer programming. This year Augusta is now holding dances once a month all year round. Dates are January 13, February 10 , March 3, April 14 , May 12 , September 8, October 13, November 10 & December 8 . They are held in the Myles Center for the Arts Pit Dance Studio on Davis and Elkins College Campus throughout the year and in the Augusta open air pavilion during the summer. Here you can find both mountain circle and four-couple sets, contras, and an occasional Honky-Tonk, Cajun two- step, Irish set and ceili, Blues, Swing. All dances cost $6. $4 for AmeriCorps & Students. Summer program dances run July 9 – August 12th. More information available at https://augustaheritagecenter.org/
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. More information available at http://www.helvetiawv.com/
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 Garton, 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 is held on March 17th at the Ireland Community Center located off of old Route 19 at 65 Community Drive. Admission is Free. More Information available at www.angelfire.com/wv/irishspringfestival/
WESTON, Lewis County
Square Dances are held almost every Tuesday evening, weather permitting, at the Lewis County Senior Center from 6 -8pm. Big Circle Dances are called by David Russell, Mark Crabtree, and Doyle Gillium. If you attend please plan to make a small donation. No dances are held in June, July or August. The Lewis County Senior Center is located at 171 West 2nd Street, Weston.
Jackson’s Mill Jubilee
Jackson’s Mill Jubilee is an annual celebration of Appalachian Heritage. There are educational demonstrations, featuring Bluegrass music concerts, Native American Style Dancing, Chainsaw Carvings, Gristmill demos, Homestead Activities, Photography, Needle Arts and Quilt Show, Antique Tractors and Engines, Carriage Rides, Civil War Encampment, Top quality Artisans, a Kid’s Land for the younger festival participants and a Square Dance with Rock Garton and friends! There is fun for the entire family. The square dance is held on Friday, September 1st from 6 to 8pm. Admission is $5. WVU Jackson’s Mill is located at 160 WVU Jackson’s Mill, Weston. For more information: http://www.jacksonsmilljubilee.net/schedule.html
SUTTON, Braxton County
Square dances in Braxton County thrived throughout the 1980s. It is now rejuvenated with help Wilda Skidmore of the Sutton Mayor’s Office. Mack Samples from Clay County calls traditional four-couple sets to the spirited fiddling of Dave Bing and the Full Moon Boys. There will be a dance held on April 22nd in conjunction with the annual Melvin Wine Memorial Celebration in the community building located in the courthouse square on 4th street in downtown Sutton. Dance begins at 7:30pm. Admission is $5.
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, June 15 – 17th. Dances are held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights around 8pm. The music is always provided by hard-driving old-time string bands selected from around the state. Square dance callers from all over the region rotate calling traditional four-couple set square dances. While there is no instruction for beginners, experienced square dancers are willing to lend a hand. Admission is free. Keep your ears open for square dances throughout the year at Club 33 – 4590 US-33, 4 miles northeast of Glenville. More information available at www.wvstatefolkfestival.com
CHARLESTON, Kanawha County
The Vandalia Gathering brings together the finest traditional Appalachian musicians for a weekend of great picking at the Capital Complex in Charleston. Visitors to the Gathering can enjoy fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar contests outside during the day, storytelling, square dances and concerts in the State Theater in the evenings. Dances are called by the regions finest callers on Saturday, May 27th, and Sunday, May 28th from noon to 5pm. Admission is free. More information available at http://www.wvculture.org/vandalia/
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, Linda Donnohew, Becky Haer, and Fred Millhorn 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 is located at 401 Wilson Street.