Joe Sam Queen is an architect and state legislator who lives in his native Haywood County. He is also a flatfoot and buck dancer, a clogger, and a square dance caller.
The street dances in Waynesville are a traditional thing. They’ve happened here ever since the time when we first got a good paved road in town, and they danced on the dirt road before that. I’ve been helping out with street dances here for thirty years. I’m in the third generation in my family to do so.
The dance always starts in a big circle. The circle of joining hands is a symbol of the community. The first movement of the Appalachian American big round dance is the Grand Right and Left. That’s where you turn and greet your partner, and then you go right and left all the way around the circle. After the dance gets started, the figures break down into various shapes. All these shapes are little play parties—little parables and stories. Like the one that you usually open a dance with—it teaches people manners:
“How did you do?”
“Fine, thank you.”
Sociability is the whole point of the Appalachian dance. Appalachian big round dance includes everybody in the community. Everyone joins in, rich or poor.
I like to tell my children that if you know who you are and where you’re from, then you can go any place, meet anybody, and feel at home and a part of it. You’re not an outsider to the world if you know where you’re from. Instead you’re a part of the world.
There are not a lot of places left that have such a strong sense of place, but Appalachia’s one of them that does. It’s a wonderful place to visit, and to learn to feel that sense. Maybe visitors who come here can take a part of that back home with them, and establish it where they came from—and learn to appreciate their own place in the circle.
Excerpted from the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina guidebook by Fred Fussell with Steve Kruger. Photo by Cedric N. Chatterley.