83rd Annual Mountain Folk Festival at Berea College Celebrates History of Folk Dance


Students dancing at Mountain Folk Festival

Participants in the Mountain Folk Festival in the upper gym at Seabury Center.

The 83rd Annual Mountain Folk Festival will take place in Berea, Kentucky on April 6 and 7, 2018. The public is invited to a free performance and participatory dance on Saturday, April 7 at 7:15 pm in the Berea College Seabury Center’s upper gym. Musicians and dancers will begin the performance with a processional, or parade dance, welcoming the coming spring season in a centuries-old tradition of “dancing in the branches of May.” Guests may come at 6:15 for a pre-show of group performances demonstrating skills learned in Festival workshops.

Other free public events during the Festival include a street dance on Thursday, April 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. on Main Street in front of Boone Tavern Hotel (rain location: Woods Penniman Commons on the Berea College campus) and a dance party on Friday, April 6 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in Berea College Seabury Center’s upper gym.

The Mountain Folk Festival began in 1935 as part of Berea College’s outreach to young mountain people. The event brings together students who participate in dance groups in their local area—ranging from fourth grade through high school—to participate in traditional dances from the British Isles, Denmark and Appalachia. The Festival will include groups from Berea and Louisville, Kentucky; Flat Creek, Tennessee; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Portland, Oregon.

The Festival begins Friday morning for participants who will spend the day practicing and learning dances and songs prior to an evening dance open to the public. Classes continue on Saturday, culminating in an evening performance by the young dancers that will be followed by a participation dance open to the public.

The Festival has trained dancers and dance leaders to carry on the cultural folk traditions of the region. An article in the January 1935 Mountain Life and Work magazine tells of the vision of the originators, which Festival organizers strive to continue: “Our first mountain folk festival will…be a festival of folk games, folk songs and folk plays. Berea [College] was chosen because…we turn to Berea as a sort of mother of mountain schools. The festival is primarily for the joy of sharing and passing on such folk material…. One of the great reasons for the occasion, however, is the joy which comes from doing games together…. Perhaps in some ways this will be a unique festival, as there will be no competition, no judging, no prizes, no banners, no votes for the best. We come together for the joy of sharing with each other the rich store of the folk material which has come down to us through the ages. (Marguerite Butler, first Chairperson of the Mountain Folk Festival)

The Mountain Folk Festival provides teaching materials, including directions, recorded music and videos, to leaders at a nominal fee.

For more information, please call Deborah Thompson at 859-985-3142, or visit the Mountain Folk Festival website.

Categories: News, Programs and Initiatives
Tags: Appalachia, Dance, Mountain Folk Festival

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College admits only academically promising students with limited financial resources, primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia, although students come from 40 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally-recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly, earning money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.