Friday, July 19, 2013

A Day of Dance

Wilmington, OH

July 13, 2013

After a long week at Gettysburg, it was nice to have a simple event at Wilmington, Ohio.  The event was a single-day living history commemorating the 150th anniversary of the invasion of General John Morgan into Ohio.

A few Yankee exhibitors set up at various locations on the lawn around the Wilmington courthouse, one a bugler displaying several antique bugles.  Another demonstrating Civil War medicine.  The 1st Ohio Light Artillery was there with a statehouse cannon.

My day was spent calling dances.  It was a little difficult to plan for since I figured this was to be more geared for demonstrating to spectators that it was for holding a ball.  I had no idea how many reenactors I would have as dancers.  I was told there were some from Pioneer Village coming, but I never saw them.

Fortunately, there were three couples in period dress that showed up for dancing.  I had seen these couples quite often at various balls.  For lack of a better term, a good way to describe them seems to be “Dance Groupies”, as whenever they hear of a ball, they are there to dance.  This turned out to be a great bonus for me, as I have no idea how I would have had any dances without them.

Harpist for the Dedication Band.  Courtesy Wilmington College 
 For the morning, the dulcimer band from Pioneer Village—The Dedication Band—performed.  The “ball”, for lack of a better term, was rather unstructured—I basically asked the dancers what dances they would like to do.  We experimented with some dances I tend to avoid at Civil War balls as they are different enough from what Civil War reenactors are used to that they tend to be difficult to teach.  But with our small numbers and these being rather experienced dancers, we were able to pull the dances off well.

Whenever I did simpler dances, I tried to pull in whatever spectators were willing, to have them participate in the dance.  The first dance we did was the Virginia Reel, and I couldn’t get any gentleman to participate, but an elderly lady was overjoyed at my invitation to be my partner.  She commented how she remembered dancing this dance when she was in school.

Probably the most interesting was my attempt at calling Soldier’s Joy.  This dance is normally done with a good number of couples—at least eight—in a large circle, with every two couples forming their own dance square, with couples progressing around the circle as the dance progressed.  The problem was, we had a mere four couples—not enough to form a circle.  So we got a little creative with the progression.  We got it to work, and it went well, though I have to thank one of the dancers for the idea of how to get it to work.
Courtesy Wilmington College

At noon, we had a two-hour break before the next set.  The Dedication Band was done for the day, so invited me to join them for lunch at the General Denver Hotel, just a block down the street.  And yes, Denver, Colorado was named for General Denver, apparently.  It had a small eating area, and the wait was long, but the food was good.

I did have to rush out to get back to the courthouse for the start of the dancing at 2 pm.  There I met up with the Hitchhikers Band that would be performing for the rest of the day.  They had a different repertoire, focusing more around Gaelic music.  They had no dulcimers like the Dedication Band, but instead had a few woodwinds (flute, pennywhistle, and clarinet) and a guitar.

At one point I saw a group of kids sitting on the courthouse steps and managed to get them all in a mixer dance I like to do called "Pinreel".  It is a great dance to do for kids, and they seemed to enjoy it.

Courtesy Wilmington College
With the Dedication Band, it was early and only a two-hour stretch, but with Hitchhikers Band, it was in the heat of the day, no shade, and a three-hour stretch.  Nearing the last hour, I found myself running out of dances to call, thinking I should probably find more to add to my own repertoire, particularly ones that are easy to teach and easy to fit to any song.  I managed to squeeze in a popular dance called “Gay Gordons”, which I normally have done to “Scotland the Brave”, but the Hitchhikers Band didn’t know that song, so I had them play a medley between “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and a song of their choosing.  I didn’t expect them to blend it with “Irish Washerwoman”, but it worked.

Over the last hour, there were few spectators, and the dancers had worn out and gone home, so there was little for me to do.  I told the band to play anything at their discretion.  The bugler would occasionally echo a song the band played, using his own style when they finished the song.  And occasionally the band would play a song back to the bugler when he led.


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