By Susan M. Thigpen © 1992
Issue: January, 1992
Jim Booth, the President of the Fries, Virginia Civic League drops in the office from time to time for a short visit. The last time he came in, he invited The Mountain Laurel to come to Fries on any Saturday night to the Square Dance the Civic League sponsors. The Town of Fries inherited a big old building that was originally built as a Y. M.C.A. In this building, there was a theater, and that is where the square dances are held. The Civic League sponsors the dances to provide entertainment for the community and hopefully to make a little money to be able to sponsor other community projects as well.
As Jim was leaving, I promised to come to the square dance soon, not knowing exactly when we would be there. About a month later, after putting the December issue to bed, the time was right for a night out at a square dance. We (my parents - James and Gladys Mathews of Kernersville, North Carolina - and I) arrived around seven-thirty and could hear the music as we walked up to the building. It was lively, toe-tapping old time mountain music. The dance starts at 7:00 pm after daylight saving time ends, so the dance was already in progress. In the spring after the next time change, it will begin at 7:30 pm.
Many of the theater seats have been removed to provide a large dance floor, but there was still ample seating as we moved down to the very front row to get a good view of the dancers' feet. The night we were there, the crowd was a mix of people of all ages. They were just lining up for a new dance and there were three-feet-tall couples lined up beside of their parents, waiting for the dance to begin. When it began, the youngsters proved to be just as good as the adults and a joy to watch. There were some couples so good you could tell they had been dancing for years. There were also some people just learning, but all were obviously thoroughly enjoying themselves. The old hands were helping the learners, and no one seemed to mind if someone got out of step, it was all part of the fun.
The band this night was Miss Ellie and South Fork. They were on a raised stage at the front of the theater. Miss Ellie is Ellie Kirby who plays fiddle and her husband Ronald was picking a banjo at her side. The rest of the band was Terry Gleason on guitar and Jean Bradford on bass fiddle. The group plays traditional music and, although they have only been playing together for the last year and a half, have one of the best old time sounds around. The Kirbys live in Troutdale, but Terry Gleason is from a community near Fries. Terry writes music also, and the group entertained with some of his original music as well as old favorites such as Red Wing, Going Up Cripple Creek and others.
The Civic League tries to invite clogging groups to each dance and we were treated this night to the High Mountain Steppers Clogging Team, a group from the Fairlawn area near Galax. The group, ranging in age from eight to adults, have only been together since May of last year, but they were certainly very good. The instructor is Faye Warren who has been teaching clogging for three years, but has been a flatfoot and buck dancer all her life, dancing clog-style for the last seven years. Her husband John manages the group of 32 people, and it is very family oriented. The youngsters in the group are children of the adult dancers. Although they only officially performed at intervals, most of them danced every dance. Their energy seemed limitless. By their broad smiles, you could tell they probably enjoyed the dancing as much as the audience.
Tonight the group had on black and white checked outfits, with the women and girls flouncing many frilly petticoats, but Jim Booth said many of the group were there in everyday clothes every Saturday night just to dance for the fun of it. The taps on the shoes of the cloggers beat a rhythm you could count on, especially when couples lined up in a large circle to dance "Cotton Eyed Joe." This is a dance where the couples stamp their feet three times, advance a few steps and then the man goes backwards to dance with the lady behind him, until he is all the way around the circle and back to his partner.
Some members of the group were on the sidelines practicing their fanciest steps and this is quite a show in itself. One girl, looking to be about 12 or 14 years old, ran through some lightening fast steps that would have tripped a less agile person and then dropped into a split, got up gracefully and calmly walked away.
Some of the dances were slow waltzes to old favorites such as the Tennessee Waltz. Others were lively flat-foot or clogs. Actually, only a few were square dances where couples squared in sets of four couples. The caller for the night was Dean Carr of Fairview. He has been calling dances for about 25 or 30 years, he said, and in the '70s, he went with the group representing Virginia to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. to call square dances. In a few of the dances he was calling, he would leave the stage, drop the microphone and join the dance, leading a line, hand in hand, while they marched around first by couples, then joining in four, then eight abreast and then breaking back down until there were only couples in circles once more. The most fun was when he formed a single line of dancers, all holding hands and snaked in and out, going between people and weaving in and out of the line, until some people were facing forward, some backward and the whole line moving in and out of itself. It looked like mass confusion, but somehow, he wound it around until it was straight again. I asked him if he ever got himself wound up into something he couldn't get himself out of, and he laughed and said no.
One dance was a "Broom Dance." Everyone chose partners and stood with them. One girl was in the middle of the dancers without a partner and held a broom. The music began. Everyone danced and the girl dropped the broom with a loud bang on the floor. That was the signal to change partners. At this, the girl who held the broom ran for one of the men before another girl could get him. This left one woman without a partner and she had to pick up the broom and do the same thing to get a partner for herself. This continued frequently until the song ended. It was great fun, and all the men and boys seemed to enjoy being fought over for partners.
At 9:00 pm the band took a short break and a drawing was held for a door prize. The admission fee is $2.50 for adults, $1.00 for school age children, and children under that age get in free. The tickets are numbered and kept for the door prize. The prize the night we were there was a quart of homemade apple butter. They said the week before it was a nice homemade cake.
All too soon 11:00 pm came, and with it the end of the dance. Everyone left with high spirits, still humming music and tapping their toes. After all, it was only six more nights and they could do it all over again next Saturday.
There are several ways to get to Fries. If you're not familiar with the area, I'll tell you two different ways.
If you are on Interstate 81, take the Fort Chiswell exit, Number 25 at present. (The Interstate numbers are scheduled to change this year to correspond with the mileage numbers.) This will put you on Highway 52. Go toward Hillsville, Virginia on Highway 52. When you have gone about a mile, the Fort Chiswell High School will be on your left, in front of you and Route 94 will turn right. Turn right and follow Route 94 until you get to Fries. This will be about 21 miles. This is a good paved road, but it is curvy. When you get to the stop sign in Fries, there is a Y intersection. Take the left fork and then take the next road to the left, up the hill. The Fries Community Building is at the top of the hill, on the corner. Just follow the sound of music and start hunting a parking spot. There is an unpaved parking lot on the left before you get to the top of the hill.
If you are traveling from a distance, there are motels nearby in Galax, Hillsville and Wytheville, as well as restaurants galore. Go early and explore the town of Fries. It's a beautiful little town beside the New River. The New River Trail State Park follows the river through Fries.
If you are on Interstate 77, take the Hillsville-Galax exit and turn west on Highway 58, toward Galax. Continue to follow Highway 58 for about 13 1/2 miles, through and beyond Galax, and turn right onto Route 94 North. After nine miles, Route 94 will turn left, but you will continue straight. You are now in the town of Fries. Take the next road left, up the hill to the Community Building.
If you like old time music and clogging, square, and other country dancing, you would certainly enjoy a trip to Fries, Virginia on a Saturday night. They hold the dances every Saturday night, year round and the public is invited. They have a snack bar with hot dogs, popcorn, candy, drinks and such. If you are going to the Friday Nite Jamboree in Floyd, you could make it a weekend and go to Fries on Saturday night as well. It is well worth the admission price for the entertainment even if you have no intention of dancing. If you love to dance, you will be in hog heaven!
The bands lined up for January  are: January 4th - Down Home Band; January 11th - Miss Ellie & Friends; January 18 - Heath Higgins & Friends; January 25 - Grayson Highlanders. For more information you can write the Fries Civic League, Inc. P.O. Box 695, Fries, Virginia 24330 or call Jim Booth, Civic League President at 703-744-35(X) or Arnold Phillips, Treasurer at 703-744-2253. You have an open invitation and they'll welcome you with friendly smiles to good homemade - hometown family entertainment.