The village of Dunmore is less than ten miles
from the Virginia border in rugged Pocahontas County, West Virginia.
Due to its mountainous terrain and relative isolation, Pocahontas
County remains a haven for older styles of folk music and dance.
Ironically, just a few miles north of Dunmore is the National
Radio Observatory whose giant radio telescopes house ultra-sophisticated
computerized equipment and constantly scan the far reaches of
space for signals emanating from the stars. In fact, the observatory
site at Green Bank was originally chosen because of its isolation
from interfering commercial radio signals.
Saturday night square dances are held at Dunmore
Community Center on an irregular basis. During the November deer
hunting season and in the summer they may be held almost every
week; at other times of the year they tend to be held once a month
or every other week depending on the availability of the callers
and musicians. Mr. and Mrs. Ed Gardner, who play acoustic guitar
and string bass respectively, usually organize the band. Woody
Simmons, a state fiddle champion from Randolph County, frequently
drives over Cheat Mountain to play for the dances. Various five-string
banjo players from Pocahontas, Randolph, and Nicholas counties,
including Kenneth Gowin, Jim Dolan and George Ward, help out at
various times. The music tends to be straightforward acoustic
string-band music with a leaning toward a bluegrass sound due
to the three-finger style of banjo playing. There is very little
round dancing at Dunmore except for an occasional waltz or polka.
Buck Carpenter and his son James are the regular
callers. Buck is in his middle 60's while James is in his mid-30's.
Buck's father was also a local caller of some repute who frequently
rode horseback across the border into Virginia to call figures
at house dances. Buck and James are carpenters by trade, a fact
which Buck jokingly claims makes them "double Carpenters."
The Carpenters have very similar calling styles and it is not
unusual for Buck to begin calling a dance and then hand the microphone
over to James to call the remainder.
The community center at Dunmore was the two-room
schoolhouse before the consolidation of the county schools. It
is quite small and seems crowded with as few as 20 couples dancing.
The Saturday night dances last from 8:30 until midnight with an
admission fee of $1.50. Coffee, soft drinks and sandwiches are
offered for sale. The atmosphere is very informal with lots of
socializing during the long breaks between square dances. There
are dancers of all ages from pre-teens to octogenarians. Most
dance with a slight shuffle or heel scrape in their step. Occasionally
the band will play a hoedown just for solo dancing. There are
a number of solo dance styles ranging from Carolina-style clogging
to the "Charleston" style of flatfoot dancing.
As at New Creek, the Dunmore square dance has a three-part structure: 1) an introduction danced by a single large circle of couples; 2) a middle section in which the large circle divides into two-couple subsets to dance the figures; and 3) an ending danced by all the couples once again in the large circle. In the middle section, however, as couples progress from one to another, a different figure is danced each time. From a total repertoire of thirteen two-couple figures, between six and nine may be called each dance. The calls as noted in the following descriptions are transcribed from Buck Carpenter, but do not necessarily represent the way he calls that part of the dance all the time. Both he and his son have several variations of many of the calls, some of which are mentioned in these descriptions while others may be found in Appendix B.
" ...everybody right and everybody
wrong, get yourself a honey and take her along...hurry children,
don't be slow, twelve o'clock come, we got to go... all join hands
and circle to the left... let's go back the same old track, ladies
in the lead and the gents in back... right back home and settle
down, every other couple out all the way around... circle up four
in the middle of the floor..."
The music usually brings many of the dancers onto the floor and by the time the caller begins to call they have already formed a large circle and are circling to the left. Often the caller will urge people on the sidelines to get partners and join the dance. He will then instruct the dancers in the circle to "open up and take two more." There are often too many dancers in the large circle to dance comfortably around the outside perimeter of the hall. At such times the dancers spontaneously transform the circle into a winding snake line so as to use the space more effectively.
At the call "let's go back the same old
track" the dancers keep hold of hands and circle back to
the right. In circling to the right, whether in the large circle
or a two-couple circle, the predominant local style is for each
dancer to raise his or her own left hand to about shoulder level,
fingers back and palm up, and to hold in it the right hand of
the dancer immediately behind.
At the call "every other couple out all the way around" each couple spontaneously finds another close by and they start to circle left immediately. Those couples who remain pair off with each other and in the event there is one extra couple the caller will urge one more couple to join in the from the sidelines. This totally unstructured method of "coupling up four" differs from the New Creek style in two respects. First, the two-couple sets immediately begin circling to the left because at Dunmore all figures are automatically preceded by circling left and right. Second, because of the usually crowded conditions, the two-couple sets are spread all over the hall rather than in tidy circular formation.
In contrast to New Creek there is no structured method of progression from couple to couple, but that is not to say the square dances at Dunmore are chaotic. In fact, the dancers have developed from long experience a kind of sixth sense about progression from one couple to another, which, while not based on any hard and fast rules, makes the flow of couples surprisingly smooth, with only a few having difficulty finding another couple with whom to dance the next figure.
One side effect of the lack of delineation
between odd and even couples occurs in certain figures like "take
a little peek" and "dive for the oyster" where
the two couples are required to assume different roles. In such
cases the two couples who happen to be dancing together merely
make a split second decision as to which couple will take which
role. Quick reflexes and good humor are the key to this style.
The structure of the middle part of the dance
is as follows: after dividing into two-couple sets each set circles
left, back to the right, dances a figure, swings opposites, swings
partners and moves on to meet a new couple. Swings with opposites tend to be longer than swings
with partners and frequently during swings with opposites the
caller calls "step right back and watch her grin, step right
up and swing her again, step right back and watch her smile, step
right up and swing her awhile." At this, the opposites who
are swinging step away from each other with the man still holding
the woman's right hand in his left. They move back together and
swing again, and then repeat the whole thing. For some reason
this is called only when opposites swing, never partners.
With each progression on to a new couple a different figure is called, although some figures may be repeated in the course of a dance. Both of the Carpenters frequently call "right hands across" as the first two-couple figure of each dance and "take a little peek" as the second; but from there the order of the figures is the caller's choice. In the following descriptions of the figures the terms "odd" and "even" will be used only to distinguish active and inactive couples in figures like "take a little peek" and "lady round the lady" which require such distinctions. The terms are not used by the callers or dancers at Dunmore. Each figure automatically begins by circling left.
Figure I. "...let's go back that same
old track...right hands across and howdy do...left one back and
shake that too...opposite lady give a little hug...now your own
that little brown jug... get your own and on you go, on to the
next and couple up four... "
This common "star" figure is always done with a "shake hands" grip. The term "hug" means swing and is not generally taken literally by the dancers. And "couple up four" means circle left.
Figure II. "...let's go back that same
old track...round that couple and take a peep, back to the center
and oh how sweet...back around and peep once more, back to the
center and couple up four...couple up four in the middle of the
floor, oh you swing mine and I'll swing yours...gimme back mine
and I'll give you back yours, get your own and on you go, on to
the next and couple up four... "
The even couple keeps inside hands and moves forward a few steps as the odd couple peeks around them. They back up to place as the odd couple returns. Only the odd couple swings, then peeks again in the same way. In this variation when the odd couple returns from the second peek the two couples circle left before swinging opposites and then partners.
Figure III. "...let's go back that
same old track...cage the bird...that bird fly out and the crow
fly in...all join hands and circle again...opposite lady give
a little hug...step right back, watch her grin, step right up,
swing her again, step right back, watch her smile, step right
up and swing her awhile...get your own and on you go, on to the
next and couple up four..."
The Carpenters have some alternate patter for
this. Instead of "all join hands and circle again" they
sometimes say "high, low, jack and game again."
Figure IV. "...let's go back that same old track...chase that rabbit, tree that squirrel, chase that little girl round the world; chase that possum, tree that coon, now that man round the moon...circle up four in the middle of the floor, you swing mine and I'll swing yours...gimme back mine and I'll give you back yours, get your own and on you go, on to the next and couple up four..."
The even couple stands still, dropping hands. The odd woman keeping her partner's right hand in her left, leads her partner between the members of the even couple, to the left around the even woman and back to place. Then she follows her partner as he takes the lead, leading her between the members of the even couple, to the right around the even man and back to place. Both couples circle left, swing opposites and partners.
Figure V. "...let's go back that same
old track...lady around the lady and the gent also, lady around
the gent and the gent don't go...circle up four in the middle
of the floor, you swing mine and I'll swing yours...gimme back
mine, I'll give you back yours, get your own and on you go, on
to the next and couple up four..."
This figure begins exactly as the previous
one, but in the second half the odd man remains in place while
his partner dances between the even couple, around the even man
and back to place.
Figure VI. "...let's go back that same old track...let's dive for an oyster...step right back and get the clam...now if you like sardines take a whole can, hold 'em tight with all your might...opposite lady give a little hug...now your own that little brown jug, get your own and on you go, on to the next and couple up four..."
The figure is performed exactly as at New Creek (Figure VIII), without dropping hands in the last part, and concluding with a circle to the left.
Figure VII. "...let's go back that
same old track...eight hands over...ladies bow, gents go under,
hug 'em tight and swing like thunder...opposite lady give a little
hug...now your own that little brown jug, get your own and on
you go, on to the next and couple up four..."
This is another version of the traditional "basket" figure. Here the two women join both hands straight across and lift their arms up over the men's heads and down in back to about waist level. The men join hands with each other by putting their arms directly around the women's waists to complete the basket. All four circle left in this position with a walking step.
Figure VIII. "...let's go back that
same old track...you swing mine and I'll swing yours...gimme back
mine, I'll give you back yours...get your own and on you go, on
to the next and couple up four "
Although this call usually follows other figures, the Carpenters use it as a separate figure too. As usual it may be varied with:
" You swing mine and I'll swing yours...step right back and watch her grin, step right up and swing her again, step right back and watch her smile, step right up and swing her awhile...now your own, get your own and on you go, onto the next and couple up four..."
Figure IX. "...let's go back that same
old track...ladies butterfly...gents butterfly...everybody butterfly...you
swing mine and I'll swing yours...gimme back mine, I'll give you
back yours, get your own and on you go, on to the next and couple
The "butterfly" is performed by quickly turning around individually in place with hands and arms raised above the head. It seems to be regarded by the dancers as a novelty figure.
Figure X. "...let's
go back that same old track...you go under and I'll go over, mow
that wheat and now that clover, turn right around and do it all
over...opposite lady give a little hug...now your own that little
brown jug, get your own and on you go, on to the next and couple
After the preliminary circling both couples
keep hands joined with partners while releasing hands with opposites.
The odd couple makes an arch by raising their joined hands. Both
couples move forward and the even couple passes under the odd
couple's arch. Looking over their shoulders both couples then
back up to place, but with the even couple making the arch and
the odd couple backing under. All this is repeated.
Figure XI. "...let's go back that same old track...milk that cow...wean that calf...seventy-five...trade her right back for a dollar and a half...on you go, on to the next and couple up four "
Both couples swing opposites, swing partners,
swing opposites, then partners.
Figure XII. "...let's go back that same old track...ladies do-si-do...now you gents a little more dough...opposite lady give a little hug...now your own that little brown jug, get your own and on you go, on to the next and couple up four..."
From the circle of four the two women drop hands with the men and cross over passing left shoulder to left shoulder, exchanging places but facing out, away from the circle. They rejoin hands with the men and circle to what is now their right and the men's left. At the call "now you gents a little more dough" the two men drop hands with their partners who are now on their left side and turn their opposites by the right hand halfway around so that the circle is reformed with the women facing in and the men facing out. All four then circle in the opposite direction, that is, to the women's right and to the men's left. The figure concludes with the usual swinging of opposites and partners.
Figure XIII. "...right hand to your
partner and a quick change four..."
This is not actually a separate figure but
is usually called as a tag to any figure that ends in a circle
four. For example:
" let's go back that same old track cage the bird the pretty little bird the bird fly out and the crow fly in high, low, jack and game again, circle up four in the middle of the floor, right hand to your partner and a quick change four opposite lady give a little hug now your own that little brown jug, get your own and on you go, on to the next and couple up four "
The dancers at Dunmore explain "quick
change four" to newcomers as a grand right and left for two
couples. Both couples start facing partners, give right hand to
partner and pass by, give left hand to opposite and pass by, give
right hand to partner, pass by again and swing opposites. The
movement is similar to "square thru, three hands" in
club square dancing, "rights and lefts" in Scottish
country dancing and "three changes of a circular hey, giving
hands" in English country dancing. It may be called once
or twice each dance, after such figures as "dive for the
oyster," "take a little peek," "mow the wheat"
or "lady round the lady."
After six to nine rounds of two-couple figures comes the call "now we're home, let's settle down and one big circle all the way around." This marks the completion of the middle section of the dance and the beginning of the last section.
"Now we're home, let's settle down
and one big circle all the way around...let's go back that same
old track...right hand to your partner, right and left all the
way around...when you meet her, let's pass her by, gents you know
the reason why...when you meet her let's turn and go the other
way...let's promenade 'em all around the hall...form a bridge...let's
promenade 'em all around the hall...now swing 'em in...now right
back out and gone again...promenade 'em all around the hall and
get a partner for the next set."
All the dancers join hands in a big circle
and, as in the introduction, circle left and back to the right.
The women then turn toward their partners, give them right hands
and all begin a grand right and left ("right and left")
around the hall. The first time partners meet again they pass
by and continue the grand right and left until they meet a second
time. They then turn by the right hand halfway around and do the
grand right and left in reverse direction. Meeting for the third
time, partners promenade. The promenade position used at Dunmore
is the "Varsouvianna" or over-the-shoulder type. The
man puts his right arm around and above his partner's shoulders,
taking her right hand in his while they join left hands at about
waist level between them.
During the promenade the call "swing
her in" is given. This is not the usual swing, but directs
the men to transfer their partners from right side to left side
while promenading. To do this each man draws his partner across
in front of him by their joined left hands and at the same time
brings his left arm up over her head and down in front to assume
a crossed hand hold. At the call "right back out and gone
again" he reverses the whole movement to return her to his
On nights when there is a particularly large
crowd, the ending may only consist of the grand right and left
and the promenade. However it is more usual to "form a bridge"
after the promenade. To do this, the caller designates a lead
couple who stop promenading, face each other and join both hands
to make an arch. The next couple in line goes through their arch,
then stops to make a parallel arch. The next couple goes through
both arches, stops at the end and forms a third arch, and so on.
Thus, a continuous circular tunnel is built. As the last couple
in line starts through the tunnel the lead couple and all the
succeeding couples follow immediately behind them. Thus the tunnel
gradually melts away as the lead couple emerges and leads the
others in the final promenade. "Swing her in" may be
called before "form a bridge" or after it, or both.
Each square dance at Dunmore follows the three-part
scheme described here. Only the callers' choice of figures in
each dance, their order and the patter employed may vary. In the
middle section of the dance James Carpenter frequently omits circling
back to the right before each figure. This speeds up the dance
but allows less time for stray couples to find each other in the
unsystematic manner of progression.
The Dunmore square dance is representative of a regional style, examples of which have been observed elsewhere in Pocahontas County and across the border in Virginia. An evening of dancing at Dunmore is best characterized by informality, sociability and enthusiastic good fun.