The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Square Dancing

By Lois S. Poff © 1988

Issue: December, 1988

Back in the 1920's and 30's when boys and girls of Floyd County, Virginia, who lived on farms, didn't have much social life, square dancing was the chief form of amusement. Occasionally there might be a party where we played such games as Spinning The Pan, Going Fishing, Post Office or Questions and Silly Answers, but square dancing was the most fun of all. Most of the dances were held in the homes. People would move all the furniture out of one room to make room for dancing.

The musicians would come in with their banjos, guitars and fiddles and start tuning them up. They would play such tunes as Arkansas Traveler, Chinese Breakdown, Turkey In The Straw and Fiddler On The Roof. After the music started up the figures caller would call out, "Partners to their places like horses to their traces," and the boys would choose a partner. The caller usually started out with, "All join hands and round the house, swing your opposite, now your own, promenade, sweep the floor; sweep to the left, back to the right; fall back one." He would keep calling out "fall back one" until the girls promenaded with every boy on the floor.

Another very popular dance was Do Si Do or Ladies Through, as some callers called it. The caller would number the couples one and two and say, "All number one couples lead off and dance with number two, circle four, ladies do and gents you know, swing your opposite, now your own and on to the next couple." The number one couples danced around the house until they had danced with all the number two couples.

Another popular dance was Cage The Bird. Again the couples were numbered. The caller would call out, "Circle four, cage the bird, bird fly out and the hawk fly in, swing your opposite, now your own and on to the next couple."

Sometimes the caller would call out, "All join hands and round the house, swing your partner, put her in front and trail right along, swing that pretty little girl behind you, put her in front and trail right along" and so on until the boys had swung every girl on the floor.

During a break someone would carry a hat around and collect donations to pay the musicians.

At twelve o'clock the host might call out, "The dance is over, if you dance any longer you will be dancing on Sunday."

The first square dancing I ever did was when I was nine years old. One of my brothers was playing an old time tune on his banjo and my mother lined us all up and taught us how to dance the Virginia Reel. I thought that was fun.

I was fourteen when I went to the first dance. It was a neighborhood dance and everyone in the family was going except my father and a sister who was real sick from a smallpox vaccination. I stayed back in an adjoining room with the mothers and children most of the time. Once when I walked to the door to watch the dancing, a boy from down near Check came over and asked me to dance. I told him I didn't know how. An older sister, whom I had been taught to obey, came over and told him I did know how too. I went on and they started dancing Do Si Do and I was just whizzing around in circles. At first I thought I would fall, but I soon got used to it.

When my sister and I were in high school our brothers would take us to dances. After all, we washed their clothes on a wash board, ironed them with a flat iron heated on the wood cook stove and helped prepare meals and pack lunches.

The year I was sixteen and a senior, there was a dance up above town in the Laurel Branch section of the county. Boys and girls from down around Pizarro were going and two boys from down there asked us to go with them. On Saturday when we asked our parents if we could go, our father told us we couldn't go because it was too far and none of our brothers were there to go with us. When he saw tears in my eyes, he said he would go with us that the man of the house was a friend of his and he would go talk to him. I never had dated a boy before and I knew it would be terribly embarrassing. When we went out to get in the car, I got in the back seat real quick and slammed the door shut so he would have to ride up front by my sister. The next day she jumped me about it and I told her the reason I did it was because she wasn't bashful like I was and I didn't think she would mind. She said she did mind too, for it scrouged her over against the gear shift.

As soon as school was out, my sister and I went on to college at Radford. We didn't go to any square dances there but we went to a few when we were at home on week ends. I completed my two years in December 1932. That winter none of the children were at home but an older brother and me. One Saturday some one sent word for us to be sure and come to a dance over in the Locust Grove section of the county. My brother didn't want to go because it was so far. I begged and begged and we went. He had a good time and danced with a girl with a wine colored dress on. They were married within a year.

One cold winter night when there was a hard crust of snow on the ground we went to a dance over at Red Oak Grove. When the dance was over, the boy I danced with said he would walk me to the car. After we got through the yard gate and started down through the field to the car, he started sliding on the snow. His shoe soles were slick from dancing. He fell over backwards and I did too. We just jumped up and went on and the big fall was never mentioned. We were pushing the car over ice before we got home that night.

Another night my younger brother and I went to a dance and invited Hazel Sweeney, our double first cousin, to go with us. My brother parked the car and went on in the house. When I started to get out I noticed one of the heels was off of the Cuban heel shoes I was wearing. I told Hazel I was not going in and she said she was not going in either if I didn't. My brother must have told some of the people that we were out there. A boy that was planning on calling figures and another boy came out to the car and wanted to know why we didn't come on in and dance. I told them that I wasn't going in and it was just why? Why? Why? I finally had to tell him about my shoe and he said he would go put the heel back on. He did and I danced every dance and the heel never came off again.

I went to a few dances in an old abandoned log house. They had fires in the big rock fireplaces and it was a romantic place to dance.

In the mid 1930's I read in the Floyd Press about barn dances at Copper Hill. I had danced in parlors, kitchens, dining rooms, school houses, stores and a hotel, but I had never danced in a barn and I thought that would be fun. My brother and I persuaded our father to let us take his new pick-up truck and go and Hazel went with us. We had to walk up steps to get up to the loft where the dance was being held. Local boys were lined up on one side of the steps, trying to decide whether it would be worth their hard earned money to pay to go in. I heard them talking about it as I went up. Bales of hay had been placed all along one side for people to sit on. Mundy's Band from Roanoke, Virginia played music. I didn't know anyone but I had a good time anyway. My father worried so about us that he never did let us take his pick-up again.

One square dance in particular I remembered was on Friday night, December 29, 1933. Melvin Sumpter of the town of Floyd entertained friends with dancing in the Grange Hall, which had originally been the two-room Falling Branch School house. The partition had been taken out and it was large and roomy for dancing. The Floyd String Band furnished music and Everett Kingrea called figures. The following people attended: Ila and LaNeave Harter, Dorothy and Anna Trail, Elizabeth Keith, Ardene Mitchell, Gladys and Hattie Dickerson, Hazel, Margaret and Lois Sweeney, Ilene Shelor, Reva Wade, Kate Weddle, Evelyn and Vergie Epperly, Sue Lee and Brame Proffitt, Janie Spessard, Virginia Epperly, Peggy Ann Vaughan, Ava Simmons, Willie and Alice West, Maudie Boyd, Edith DeHart, Margaret Hylton, Rose Ellen Sowers, Ruth Woolwine, Jessie Tise, Lura Turner, Harman Agnew, Kent Howard, Ora Williams, Moyer Epperly, Trent Weeks, Chris Harman, Henry Lee Morgan, Arthur Lee, Garfield Lee, Carl Poff, Dale Harter, Wilson Whitlow, Harvey Conner, Glare Bond, Maya Cox, Earnest and Warren Ratliffe, Galen Wade, Hugh and Howard Simmons, Strick Sweeney, Wilson, Hugh and Cabell Ratliff, Jay and Loma Lowe, Ballard and Blanche Sweeney, Roy and Willie Moses, Everett and Alice Kingrea, and others.