The Old-Time Herald Volume 10, Number 2

Dance Beat

Thomas Maupin: “When I’m a-dancing”
By Linda Gunderson

Tennessee dancer Thomas Maupin, who describes himself as a “self-taught buckdancer with a flatfoot style,” has hoofed his way to numerous state and national prizes. In recent years his snappy flatfooting has thrilled crowds at events such as the Museum of Appalachia’s Fall Homecoming in Tennessee and the Appalachian String Band Festival in West Virginia. Maupin’s basic humility and shyness go with his country upbringing, but he is absolutely passionate about dance: “I love old-time music. It’s got my rhythm. I am that band when I’m a-dancing.”

Click here for a video of Maupin dancing the 2005 Appalachian String Band Music Festival

From his boyhood days in central Tennessee, Thomas Maupin, 66, was surrounded by dance. On his dad’s side, relatives often danced at a Saturday night hoedown, or barn dance somewhere.  “And my mom’s side—my mom didn’t dance, but she had rhythm—her people were dancers.” His grandmother Will lived with them, and he hears tunes now that he remembers her dancing to barefoot on the floor. “I can hear her heel step now,” he mused when describing her smooth, straight up dance style. “I think I got a double dose,” he recalled. “I can see some of my family members now, especially on my dad’s side . . . old country men. Clay Underwood, an old bent-over man, had the same rhythm style that I’ve got, but different steps. I can see where I developed from, but my steps are me. There’s a connection with them, but every buckdancer has their individual style and individual steps.”

Thomas came from a family of ten brothers and sisters, and each danced in their own way. “I was just a little ole skinny boy—of which I still am,” Thomas laughingly admitted. Basketball coach, Rush Jr. (Taylor), encouraged him to dance a little jig whenever they met in the hallway, to encourage the youngster to develop something uniquely his own. But there is one brother, now gone, who holds a special place in his heart. “Ollie B.,” whom Thomas regarded as almost a twin, “was four years older than me. He and I shared the same rhythm. We had different steps, but we favored . . .  I loved to dance with him. I could almost trade licks with him.” Like Thomas, his brother Ollie B. was also “a self-taught buckdancer, and a good dancer. Instead of making noise, he had a purpose to his steps. And we have danced together in competitions. I think maybe one year he beat me in the Nationals.” About that contest, Thomas recalls telling Ollie that he was “not going to let up. ‘Hey, you give it all you’ve got. I’m going to give it all I’ve got.’” His brother Ollie “gave me his shoes, before he passed along—and I dance in ’em. His is a little big . . . it’s a little hard for me to fill his shoes, being they’re a little bigger.”

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