The town of Glenville in Gilmer County has
hosted the annual West Virginia State Folk Festival since 1949.
From Thursday through Saturday of the third week of June the streets
of Glenville resound with music. Musicians from all over the state
and the nation come together to play and to enter the fiddle and
banjo contests. Every night of the festival there are dances on
a wood platform that is erected on one of the main streets. "Square
dancing," according to the 1978 festival program, "has
remained an important part of the Folk Festival since its beginning.
Many folks who do not square dance at any other time of year get
out on the platform beside the bank when the music starts. Glenville
is one of the few remaining areas where the four couple square
and the traditional calls have survived."
Mack Samples, Dean of Students at Glenville
State College, has been a strong force in recent years in the
organization of the festival and in the preservation and promotion
of older styles of music and dance. A caller and fiddler himself,
Samples has introduced many younger people, including Glenville
State College students, to the local square dances. He learned
his calls from two older callers, Tom Luzader and the late Willie
Reed. Luzader organizes the street dances during the festival
and does a good deal of the calling along with Samples and a few
On several occasions Mack Samples has taken
a number of Glenville square dancers to The Vandalia Gathering
in Charleston, a state-wide festival sponsored by the West Virginia
Department of History and Culture. On one such occasion I was
able to observe the dances closely and to note significant differences
between the versions danced in Charleston and those called at
the Glenville Folk Festival. On further inquiry it was discovered
that due to the extremely crowded conditions which exist on the
wood platform during the festival dances certain movements, particularly
those outside the set, are eliminated. Such adaptations and abbreviations
will be noted in the descriptions of the figures.
Because square dancing is done so irregularly in the community the figure repertoire has become rather limited. "Take a little peek" and "the butterfly whirl" are by far the most frequently danced figures at the festival; each may be called three or four times an evening. Most of the dances have the same structure; there is an introduction common to all the dances followed by a figure which is danced by each couple in turn. After each couple completes its round of the figure all four couples dance a "break" which is similar to the introduction and also serves as the ending. The structure is best illustrated by describing the Glenville version of "take a little peek" in detail. The calls are transcribed from Mack Samples (Audio excerpt in Real Audio format. Requires RealPlayer).
"All join hands and circle like a wheel,
the more you dance the better you feel...now all the way back
in the Indian line, the ladies in front and the gents behind...now
swing your partner twice around and allemande left when you come
down, with a grand right and left all the way around...the first
time you meet her pass her by and the next time you meet her catch
her on the fly and promenade her..."
All four couples circle left, then back to the right, dropping hands in single file. After swinging partners, all do a left hand turn ("allemande left") with corners and grand right and left all the way around to original places. Willie Reed and some of the other older callers do not use the term "allemande left" but usually say "turn that corner" or "catch that corner" to mean the same thing. The promenade position is as at New Creek; partners put nearest arms around each other's waists.
FIGURE I. "Now
the first couple out and take a little peek and back to the center
and swing old sweet...now round that couple and peek once more
and back to the center and swing all four...circle four and dance
some more, you swing mine and I'll swing yours...gimme back mine
and right here's yours...now circle four and dance some more...and
a right hand across and how do you do, left hand back and how
are you...left hand lady right hand around, right hand lady left
hand around...now get her back and on to the next and take a little
This figure is really a combination of three figures. The first couple goes out to the second couple and performs "take a little peek" much the same as at New Creek, except that after the second peek both couples swing partners and circle left again. The swings are all short, no more than twice and a half around. The two couples then make a right hand star using a shake-hands grip followed by a left hand star. The final part of the figure, "left hand lady right hand around," is similar to New Creek Figure XI. Each man turns his opposite by the right hand, partner by the left hand, opposite by the right hand again, then partner by the left. However, unlike the New Creek version, in turning his partner by the left for the second time, each man remains in place and draws his partner around behind him, transferring her left hand to his right so that she ends up on his right side. The first man is then in position to lead his partner on to the third couple while the second couple remains in place. The first couple repeats the entire figure with the third and fourth couples before returning home to place. The whole set then dances the break and the second couple leads out to the third couple to dance the figure, and so on until all have led the figure. The entire dance is a long one lasting nearly ten minutes. The figure takes considerable skill to execute smoothly and quickly, particularly the transitions from swings to circles. It is a great pleasure to watch the older dancers perform it.
"Everybody home and everybody swing...step
right back and watch her smile, step right up and swing her awhile,
step right back and watch her grin, step right up and swing her
again...allemande left and a grand right and left all the way
around...first time you meet her pat her on the head and the next
time you meet her feed her cornbread promenade..."
"Step right back and watch her smile"
is performed as at Dunmore
except that here it is done with partners. As in the introduction
the grand right and left is danced all the way around the set;
that is, partners pass by the first time they meet. Although each
of the Glenville callers may vary the patter, the introduction
and break is the same for all the dances. Here is a summary of
the order of events in "take a little peek:"
Couple 1 dances the figure with couples 2, 3, 4
Couple 2 dances the figure with couples 3, 4, 1
Couple 3 dances the figure with couples 4, 1, 2
Couple 4 dances the figure with couples 1, 2, 3
FIGURE II. "Round that couple and swing
in the rear...back to the center and swing...round that couple
and through that couple and both couples swing...circle four in
the middle of the floor, you swing mine and I'll swing yours...gimme
back mine, I'll give you back yours...circle four...right hands
across and how do you do, left hands back and how are you, left
hand lady right hand around, right hand lady left hand around
get your own and on you go..."
This is really a variation of "take a little peek." The man and woman of the active couple, instead of peeking, meet behind the inactive couple and swing. They return on the same track and swing a second time in the center of the set. They again go around and meet behind the inactive couple but this time the man leads his partner back to the center between the members of the inactive couple and both couples swing. The remainder of the figure is identical to "take a little peek."
FIGURE III. "First
couple waltz the hall...now down the middle with a butterfly whirl...take
her right down and bring her right back...take her right down
and divide the world, the girl go gee and the gent go haw and
meet her by the right in the middle of the hall...corner by the
left...back to your partner with a do-si-do, back to your corner
with a do-si-do...now swing that partner one little whirl and
send her away for the corner girl...same old boy and a brand new
girl down the center with a butterfly whirl..." (Audio excerpt in Real Audio format. Requires
The "butterfly whirl," as this dance
is called, involves changing partners. Each man performs the figure
four times with each of the four women in the set. At the end
of each man's fourth time through the figure, all are back with
original partners and the break is danced. At the very beginning
of each man's turn he "waltzes the hall" with his partner;
that is, he promenades her around the outside of the set. Although
he repeats the rest of the figure with each of the other women,
"waltz the hall" is done only with his original partner.
After promenading the outside the first couple
goes down the center of the set toward the third couple. While
in the center they execute the "butterfly whirl" by
quickly wheeling around as a couple once or twice with the man
moving forward and the woman backing up. Since they are still
in promenade position with arms around each others' waists, the
"butterfly whirl" basically amounts to a swing in open
position. After one or two whirls the first couple approaches
the third couple who also have nearest arms around each other's
waists in promenade position. The first woman takes the third
man's left hand in her right, while the first man takes the third
woman's right hand in his left. The first couple draws the third
couple down the center a few steps then pushes the third couple
back to place. The first couple then "divides the world"
as follows: the first man goes out the corner of the square between
the third and fourth couples and casts to his left around the
outside of the set back to his place. Simultaneously the first
woman goes out the corner between the second and third couples
and casts to her right around the outside to her place. All four
couples then dance a right hand turn around partners, a left hand
turn around corners, a do-si-do with partners passing right shoulder
to right shoulder and a do-si-do with corners passing left shoulder
to left shoulder. The four couples then swing partners and promenade
their corners around to the men's original places. The first man
then goes down the center and does the butterfly whirl with his
new partner, and so forth.
The term do-si-do deserves further explanation
here. It crops up in the vocabulary of many regional styles of
traditional square dancing describing a bewildering variety of
movements (see Dunmore Figure
XII, for example). As used by some of the Glenville callers
it refers to the back to back movement generally associated with
Eastern styles of square and contra dancing and the modern Virginia
Reel. However the do-si-do movements as performed by the dancers
at Glenville are not strictly back to back. In fact the dancers
are really walking the track of a figure eight. After doing right
hand turns with partners and left hand turns with corners the
dancers merely repeat the turns without using hands, and it is
to this movement that do-si-do refers. Many dancers add extra
solo turns to the do-si-do. For example it is common for dancers
to pass partners by the right shoulder and do a counterclockwise
solo turn, then pass corners by the left shoulder and make a clockwise
solo turn before returning to partners to swing. The older callers
like the late Willie Reed do not generally use the term do-si-do,
but instead say "dance around" or "bounce around,"
as in "bounce around your partner, dance around your corner."
In any case the butterfly whirl is the only local figure in which
the term do-si-do and its associated movement are used.
Since this version of butterfly whirl contains movements outside the set an abbreviated version is danced at the festival which eliminates "waltz the hall" and "divide the world." The festival version is called as follows:
FIGURE III. (festival version) "First
couple out in the middle with a butterfly whirl...turn partners
by the right...corners by the left...back to your partner with
a do-si-do...around your corner with a do-si-do...now swing that
partner one little whirl and promenade the corner girl...same
old boy and a brand new girl out in the middle with a butterfly
After doing the butterfly whirl, a couple returns to its position in the set and all dance the turns and do-si-dos.
FIGURE IV. "First gent, take your lady
by the wrist and through that hole with a grapevine twist...right
out front with a figure eight and through that hole like goin'
through a gate...and circle up four and dance some more...now
dive, dive, dive for the oyster...dive for the clam...now dive
for the oyster, take a whole can...break that ring and on to the
next with a grapevine twist...stay out front with a figure eight
...take all four right through the gate...now circle up six and
do your tricks...dive, dive, dive for the oyster...dive for the
clam...now take a whole can...drop that hand and right through
the next with a grapevine twist...right out front with a figure
eight...back through the hole like goin' through a gate...all
join hands for a big circle eight...dive, dive, dive for the oyster...dive
for the clam...now take a whole can...now you're home whatcha
gonna do, swing your honey and she'll swing you..."
The first man takes his partner's left hand
in his right and leads her between the second couple, around the
second woman, back to the center of the set where he does a loop
to his left ("figure eight") around the inside of the
square. He continues leading his partner between the second couple,
around the second man and back to the center. The two couples
join hands, circle left, and perform "dive for the oyster"
as at New Creek (Figure VIII).
The first man then leads all four on to the third couple and does
the "grapevine twist" as above, ending by picking up
the third couple to circle six. "Dive for the oyster"
is then performed in essentially the same way, but with three
couples. The first man leads all six in the "grapevine twist"
between the fourth couple; they circle eight and perform "dive
for the oyster" with four couples. The break is danced and
each of the other couples leads the figure in the same way.
The "grapevine twist" may be found in a number of regional square dance traditions, although sometimes under a different name. The Glenville combination of "grapevine twist" and "dive for the oyster," particularly with the latter performed by three and four couples, is quite distinctive, but unfortunately rarely danced under the crowded conditions of the festival.
FIGURE V. "Ladies to the center, back
to the bar and the gents to the center with a Texas star...reverse
that star...pass your own and catch the next lady...gents go out
and the ladies in and you form that Texas star again...ladies
out and the gents in and form that Texas star again...now take
'em out and everybody swing...now one big circle..."
The Texas Star in its countless variants is one of the most widespread and popular American square dances of all time. Willie Reed claimed that it had been danced in Glenville as long as he could remember which would date it to the period before World War I. One reason for its popularity with several generations of dancers is that all four couples are simultaneously active throughout the dance. Although this version of Texas Star is quite similar to versions found in other parts of the country, there are some local stylistic details that deserve explanation. When the four women go to the center and "back to the bar" they move forward to the center, turn around, return to place moving forward and turn around again to face center. The four men make a right hand star by grasping the right wrist of the man in front and return with the left hand star ("reverse that star") formed similarly. This wrist-grip type of star is used only in this dance, while in other figures like "take a little peek" the star is formed with a shake-hands grip. As in most versions of Texas Star the returning men pass partners and take the next woman around the waist forming a left hand star-promenade. Then all four couples wheel around halfway in a counterclockwise direction and the women form a right hand star in the center to reverse the star-promenade. Then couples wheel around halfway in a clockwise direction and the men resume their left hand star-promenade. The men swing their new partners and all four couples circle left. The next round of the dance starts right from this circle and it never seems essential for the four couples to return to home positions. The four women merely go to the center and back from wherever they happen to be when the caller gives the direction. At the end of the fourth round the women have returned to their original partners and all dance the break. The figure is then danced four more times with the men and women reversing roles: "gents to the center, back to the bar and the ladies to the center with a Texas star " The break is danced at the end.
FIGURE VI. "First boy to the right
and give her a swing...back behind your own and swing that corner
girl...now the one across the set, give her a swing...back to
your own...first and second boys to the right and swing...behind
your own and back to the corner and give her a swing...across
the set one more time...back to your own...first and second and
third boys to the right and swing...back behind your own, swing
that corner girl...now the one across the set...now back to your
own...now all the boys to the right...back around to your corner...now
back across the set...now come back home and swing your own..."
Each man swings the woman of the next couple
to his right, goes behind his partner and swings his corner, swings
the woman of the couple opposite his home position then returns
to swing his partner. The figure is cumulative with one, then
two, then three, then all four men active. After the break is
danced it is repeated for the women. This type of dance is commonly
found in printed square dance collections where it is frequently
called "Sally Goodin."
Fancy stepping is very much a part of square
dancing in Glenville and there are many styles. One of the oldest
active dancers is septuagenarian Marshall Wiant who can outlast
many younger dancers on the floor. Mr. Wiant step dances constantly,
even when he and his partner are inactive in the set.
The music for the street dances is provided
by a variety of local and visiting string bands. There is little,
if any, round dancing.
The West Virginia State Folk Festival has kept traditional square dancing alive in Glenville, even if only a few evenings each year.