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  • Appalachian Dance: Creativity and Continuity in Six Communities by Susan Eike Spalding
  • Amy Slade
Appalachian Dance: Creativity and Continuity in Six Communities. By Susan Eike Spalding. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014. Pp. xi + 288, preface, afterword, notes, works cited, 34 black-and-white photographs, 7 maps.)

In Appalachian Dance, Susan Eike Spalding presents the stories of the people and their dance in six communities in the Appalachian region. The collective experience of each community is reflected in square dancing, solo footwork dancing, and other social dance forms that have emerged in the last century. Spalding discusses how these communities have dealt creatively with issues of industrialization, race relations, and folk revivals by investigating the roles individuals and institutions have played in the evolution of dance traditions in the Appalachian Mountains. Moreover, Spalding explores the nature of community and the dynamic qualities of tradition in these communities.

Spalding begins by considering the socioeconomic history of the Appalachian region and thoroughly refutes the myth of the mountains' isolating effects. The region has enjoyed a thriving music and dance scene—complete with dance masters teaching new dance forms, opera houses presenting theatrical dance, and various immigrants bringing their own forms of social dance to the area. Throughout the book, Spalding shows how dance in the mountains began as a mixture of many traditions and styles and continues to be a conglomeration of movement, music, and traditions from the many people who choose to live and dance there.

Appalachian communities that continue to dance what Spalding calls "old-style" dancing—square dancing and footwork dance styles—are actively choosing how to maintain their traditions. Focusing on six dance communities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Spalding demonstrates how local change and local experiences contributed to the development of distinctive dance traditions in each community. At the core of her discussion is the idea that each community's creative response to changes in its surroundings and social life in turn affected its dance. Spalding states: "Any change that has occurred is not mere passive reaction to events and trends but is an active response on the part of dancers, callers, musicians, and organizers" (p. 2). Dance reflects the communities' collective experience, and the "participants' creative responses to societal change, rather than simply the change itself, shaped the dancing" (p. 220). Dealing with industrialization, changing race relations, and interest from people outside the Appalachian region compelled residents to create and adapt dance elements that are expressive of their own experiences. As Spalding explains: "Concepts and values are embedded in movement, and people choose dance forms and styles that resonate with their experience and their beliefs" (p. 117).

Spalding also investigates the role of individuals and institutions in continuing tradition. Some communities were deeply influenced by tradition bearers who upheld the continuity of a dance tradition. These individuals continued existing dance forms, contributed to new dance forms, and sometimes re-introduced older dances into their communities. Outside attention [End Page 368] from settlement workers at the end of the nineteenth century, dance schools that formed and expanded during the twentieth century, and media involvement and the folk revival of the 1970s contributed to the continuity of old-style and the creation of new-style dancing. Spalding shows that individuals, whether on their own or working through institutions, make decisions that impact each community—choosing which traditions to encourage and what to ignore. Even traditions that were introduced deliberately into the Appalachian region, like English folk dancing, have become traditions in their own right. The dance tradition in Appalachia is always evolving, and institutional intervention coupled with powerful, persistent individuals have contributed to the establishment of new traditions.

Appalachian Dance contributes to the dialogue surrounding community and tradition. Spalding raises some compelling points regarding innovation and continuity within tradition, including how public opinion about tradition is changing. She argues that people who prefer "old-style" dancing do so because it hearkens back to the past; they have a nostalgic wish for simpler times. Continuity is needed to bring the best of a tradition forward. Maintaining specific elements of a dance tradition provides a link to the past and brings experiences and values to the present. However...


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pp. 368-369
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