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Reviews111 Step Back Cindy: Oldtime Dancing in Southwest Virginia. By Anne Johnson with Susan Spalding. 1/2-inch video, 28 minutes, color. Appalshop Inc., 306 Madison Street, Whitesburg, KY 41858. Reviewed by Wayne Martin, folklife specialist with the North Carolina Arts Council. His work includes production of Etta Baker: One Dime Blues, on the Rounder label, and Round the Heart of Old Galax, an anthology oftraditional string band music issued by County Records. Step Back Cindy takes the viewer to places in southwestern Virginia where mountain communities still gather to dance: a school gymnasium in Fancy Gap, the fire station in Dante, a Lion's Club in Chilhowie, and an outdoor rally in St. Paul sponsored by the United Mine Workers. In these venues, young fellows in denim jackets and cowboy hats dance side by side with elderly men in overalls and gray fedoras. White-haired women in bright-colored scarves and gold earrings share their partners with teenage girls wearing blue jeans and boots. Children take to the dance floor to beat out rhythms with jingle taps fastened to the bottoms of their shoes. They dance to old-time string band, bluegrass, country, and rock-and-roll music performed by their neighbors. Western square dancing and precision clogging, styles often associated by the general public with traditional dance, require specific, uniform styles and complex techniques . Filmmaker Anne Johnson focuses instead on older forms of dance that accommodate a wide range of styles and encourage participation. "Nobody hardly dances the same," asserts musician Bill McCaIl. A diversity of flatfooting and two-stepping styles appear in the film as couples move through square dance figures called from the floor. Several waltzing styles are documented, as well as numerous variations of the clogging step that has gained popularity since the 1940s. Bands that play blues and rock-and-roll music inspire the participants to dance in modern, "free-form" styles. This will surprise many who have conventional notions about dance in Appalachia. As the film points out, however, the integration of popular culture into regional traditions goes back many generations. Scholar David Whisnant argues that in "every period, people in the mountains have tried their best to get in touch with the popular art forms that were out there." Nova Deel, a resident of Dante, supports Whisnant's theory when she recounts dances during her youth. Included in her repertory of dance steps is the Charleston, which she learned from watching silent films in a local theater. While the adaptability of mountain tradition accounts, in part, for the resilience of dance in southwestern Virginia, Johnson presents other explanations as well. Folklorist Elizabeth Fine sees dance as a ritual in which individuals are reminded, by physically touching their neighbors, that they are connected to one another in a community. Fine's analysis is corroborated by caller Verlyn Brady, who explains protocol at local dances: "When you get through the dance with one partner, you go to another and try to get as many partners [to] dance as you can." This renewed sense of community extends beyond the dance floor. Bill McCaIl attributes the support he received after his mother's death to bonds of fellowship created through local dances. Sociologist Helen Lewis argues that Appalachian dance traditions allow a "release of tension in a stressful culture," a view supported by interviews with United Mine Worker Clifford "Redbone" Steffey. Steffey recalls that he became interested in flatfoot dancing during a strike. "The day we came out on strike I had to get into something ... to get rid 112Southern Cultures of my problems that I had through the day." When asked what he thinks about while he dances, Steffey replies bluntly that he imagines getting "hold of them scabs and stomping on them a little bit." The video manages to show that traditional dance remains an important part of community life in southwestern Virginia, but it conveys the vitality of the tradition only sporadically. During square dance scenes, which sometimes extend to more than three minutes, the camera is far from the dancers. While this angle allows us to see most of the dancers, they appear distant and their movements seem to lack energy. Close...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 111-112
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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