The Old-Time Herald Volume 10, Number 11

Dance Beat
Old-Time Flatfoot and Square Dancing in the Blue Ridge: Memories of Bertie Mae Dickens, Julie Jarrell Lyons, Luther Davis, Arlin and Vinnie Flippin of Galax, Virginia and Toast and Low Gap, North Carolina
By Alice Gerrard

During the years I lived in Galax, Virginia (1981-89) I was active in local music. In 1984 a group of local musicians began the formation of the Blue Ridge Music Association whose motto was “Musicians for the Preservation of Traditional Music and Dance of the Blue Ridge.” Quoting from the first issue of the BRMA Newsletter from June-August 1985:

We decided to form the Blue Ridge Music Association and put our energies to work in a positive way by putting on monthly music shows which would be free to the public and which would present local musicians in a non-competitive atmosphere. Individuals and bands would have an opportunity to perform their music on stage for appreciative audiences, and audiences would have an opportunity to hear quality music representative of the variety that exists in the Blue Ridge. Our shows present veteran performers as well as those musicians who seldom play “out” and aren’t heard much outside their homes. We elected officers (Kenneth Melton, president; Alice Gerrard, vice-president; Becky Haga, treasurer; Lenore Rose, secretary) and drew up by-laws, and put on our first show in October of 1984. We have had one almost every month and they have been very successful. Co-sponsored by the New River Wildlife Club, the shows are held in the New River Wildlife Building along old Hwy. 58 between Galax and Independence overlooking the New River. Shows have been starting about 7:00 PM although during the summer we will be starting at 8:00 PM, as people will need more evening light to work in gardens.… The shows . . .  are put on entirely by volunteer labor. Some of us park cars, some cook and sell delicious ham biscuits, hot dogs, soft drinks, etc. at reasonable prices. We have a record table set up where performers can sell records and tapes.... There is no admission charge for our shows but we have a donation box set up and people contribute what they can. We have been fortunate in having Harold Mitchell as our MC for most of the shows, but as he gets busier during the summer, others will share this job.


We tried to split performance time equally between bluegrass and old-time bands, and also single performers or duos. There were many (besides those mentioned above) who were instrumental in the formation and success of the organization including Dale Morris, James Lindsey, Willard Gayheart, Tom Barr, Jo Ann Redd, and many others, including all the musicians who played the shows.

I started the Newsletter as a way to communicate with the music community at large. It contained articles written by folks in the community, reports on the monthly music shows, listings of upcoming music events, letters from readers, and general local news for and about musicians. Many people contributed to the Newsletter, and I truly believe that in many ways it gave birth to the idea and was the inspiration for the Old-Time Herald.

All the folks interviewed for this article have passed on—Bertie Mae Dickens, Luther Davis, Julia Jarrell Lyons, Arlin Flippen and Vinnie Lowe Flippin. Re-reading the article and going through some of the Newsletters brought back a lot of good memories.

Alice Gerrard

Old-Time Dancing in the Blue Ridge
From interviews with Alice Gerrard

Visiting with older musicians and talking about music, we often talked about dancing and dances because so much of the old music was played there. Phrases like, “He would keep that music right under his feet,” or “She could dance with a glass of water on her head and never spill a drop” often came up in conversations. Bertie Mae Dickens, 83 year-old banjo player from Ennice, North Carolina described her older sister, Alice, who was known as a good dancer:

Boy, she could flatfoot. I wish you could see her. I’ve heard people say she could set a bucket of water on her head and she’d never spill a drop. She could really dance and she was counted the best back in her young days—and, boy, she was a dancer! Why, she could stand on one foot and get that other one behind [it] and she could just knock a tune with it . . .. I’ve seen her and George dance for hours at a time. And me and Clell’d make music for ‘em.

Luther Davis (1887-1986) often said that dancing had changed a lot from when he was a boy:

The way they are today they don’t dance, they walk . . . They’ve changed ‘til I don’t know what they’re doing. Now I don’t mean that they could all dance [at the same time], but them that didn’t, had a step that just fit right in. And if we stretched that music out a little, they’d catch it that quick. . . . That ‘Sally Ann’ used to be a fiddling tune for dancers . . . . and it was a sight the way some of the old fellows could dance that—I mean dance! It wasn’t altogether runnin’ a reel, you know . . . the old people’d come up and dance and flatfoot it out there on the floor. The people knew exactly what to do and when. And if there was a boy or girl [who didn’t know the dance] we’d just shove ‘em right in there and push ‘em right on through.

Almost without exception, older people feel that flatfoot and square dancing has changed from the way it was in the old days, and it seemed like a good idea to talk with a couple of people about this, and ask them about some of the differences between dancing then and now . . . 



<<<Return to the 10-11 Index

The Old Time Herald PO Box 61679• Durham, NC • 27715-1679
Phone (919) 286-2041