“Dancing at the Crosswords”

by Dr. Christopher Smith

The Texas Tech University Vernacular Music Center is a center for research, teaching and advocacy in music and dance traditions from around the world. Founded in 2000, the Center develops practices, programs and alumni who advocate for these traditions’ significance, history and role in human communities. We’ve partnered with regional, national and international participatory arts advocacy organizations, including, notably, CDSS, through our VMC Outreach Scholars program.

Dancing at the Crossroads, our flagship production for 2013-14, is subtitled “A Celebration of African American and Anglo-Celtic Dance in the New World.” A fully-staged theatrical dance show produced in partnership with Lubbock Moonlight Musicals, Crossroads takes as its central image both the literal and the metaphorical crossroads at which, in the history of the United States, diverse cultures, experiences, music and dance traditions collided and combined to create the deep roots of our popular culture. Integrating music, solo and group dance, narration, solo song, projections, sets and costume, Crossroads narrates the stories, real and imagined, magical and mythical, that lie at the heart of our expressive imagination.

In the Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland and England, in the Caribbean and the American South, the metaphor of the crossroads was a very powerful one: a place of choice and transformation, of confrontations between this world and the next. Peoples, cultures and stories met at this New World crossroads, and the music of these meetings transformed the mythic history of the globe. In this program, we evoke the shebeens and juke joints, supernatural encounters, singing tinkers and bluesmen, Anglo and African dancers, and the power of the creative encounters which helped people across the centuries dance and sing their way to freedom. Deeply rooted in traditional repertoires, the program includes English, Irish and Scottish songs; Irish solo set dance and set dances and sean-nos song and dance; Mississippi Delta blues and Texas sanctified song; English border and Cotswold morris; American shape-note choral song; Caribbean sea shanties; English country dance; Appalachian contra dance; Haitian quadrilles, and a New Orleans street parade.

The show is composed around a corps of young singers, players and dancers who embody the central characters in our story; many are alumni of the Outreach Scholars program and of CDSS camps and workshops:

  • Becca Rhoades – “Elizabeth Bennett” (alto / dancer / fiddle)
  • Abi Rhoades  – “The Demon Fiddler” (alto / dancer / fiddle)
  • Emily Furillo  – “The Dance Master” (dancer / percussion)
  • Candice Holley  – “The Creole Girl” (dancer / piano)
  • Lamar Peeples  – “The Bluesman” (tenor / dancer / harmonica)
  • Barry La’Craig Horn – “The Freestyler” (dancer / percussion)
  • Justin Duncan  – “Baron Samedi / Legba / Mr Scratch” (bass / dancer)
  • Rachel Boyd  – “Marie Laveau” (alto / piano / trumpet / guitar)
  • Morgan White  – “The Morris Dancer” (dancer / musician)

Cast photos (Tif Holmes Photography, www.tifholmes.com)

“Dancing at the Crossroads: A Celebration of African American and Anglo Celtic Dance in the New World” premieres Feb 1, 2, 8, 9 2013 at the Christine DeVitt Icehouse Theatre in Lubbock, TX, USA.

You can track the Crossroads show via social media!

Chris Smith is Associate Professor and Chair of Musicology at Texas Tech and is Director of the Vernacular Music Cemter.

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