• January 2018
Folk Art in Our Community
Barn Dances in Union City
Five times a year a local musician organizes an old-time dance in his barn. Barry Smith, banjo player with the Tiger Maple String Band, wanted a way to bring people together and honor America’s folk music and dance traditions. Contra and square dances are highly social and participatory. Musicians play old-time tunes, mostly fiddle-driven music of the Appalachian mountains, and a caller leads the dancers through a simple sequence of steps. These social dances started in Europe in the 1600s. They migrated to the colonies and still hold great appeal across the country. Where spaces with walls are all about the same size are ideal for square dancing, Barry Smith’s long rectangular barn favors contra dances. In contras couples face off in two long lines, and the caller creates instructions that allow couples to progress through a series of moves that allows them to dance with every other couple present. The caller typically first outlines the steps and sequences to make sure beginners won’t get lost. The focus is on spirit and good humor, not on perfect form.
Smith purchased his rural Union City property in 2006. He said, “The first time I stepped into the hay mow of the barn, I imagined people dancing there.” After several years of renovations to stabilize the roof his youngest daughter organized a folk concert there in 2011, which spurred him to host his first dance later the same year and had the Tiger Maple String Band provide the music. Smith continued, “After that I knew it was a winning formula. People just responded so well! I then reached out to my friend Jack Lindberg from Toppish. They played the second dance in the Spring of 2012 and have played every one since.” Smith promotes the dances via Facebook, inviting people to bring refreshments and a freewill donation. “Contra dancing is all about meeting and dancing with new people and anyone can join in. When I started these dances, everyone that came I knew personally. Because it is so much fun and you don’t need any experience, friends then invite others. I’m excited that now I only know a handful of people! I’m also so gratified to see so many college students and other younger adults.”
The November 11 dance brought about 60 people to dance to the fiddle, guitar, and Irish flute of Meadville based band, Toppish. Brian How, a local caller, humored and guided the group through a variety of dances. Smith added, “This pushes all of my buttons. People are smiling and laughing and dancing. It is a magical scene and I’m thrilled to be able to facilitate it.” There are also regular dances in Meadville and in Fredonia, New York. If you would like a chance to do-si-do and swing a partner, contact the Museum Folk Art Director for the next dance in this region.
For more information about local folk and traditional artists contact Museum Folk Art Director Kelly Armor.