Home | Preface | Foreword | Introduction | Dunmore | Glenville | Helvetia | Morgantown | Tunes | Transcriptions | Worley Gardner's Tunes | Bibliography | About the Author | About CDSS

photo by Marilynn Cuonzo

Chapter I.

New Creek

The New Creek Volunteer Fire Department is located on U.S. Route 220 just five miles south of Keyser in Mineral County. The plain concrete block building gives no external hint that an attractive hall with an excellent wood dance floor is neatly concealed on the second floor. There are no signs outside to advertise the existence of the weekly Saturday night square and round dances which are presided over by The Welch Brothers Band.

When this study was made John, Israel and Tom Welch were in their late 60's and early 70's. The brothers grew up around Burlington, Hampshire County which is in that part of the state known as the eastern panhandle. Israel Welch has continued to live near Burlington on the farm that has been in his family for five generations. Tom Welch now lives in Grant County, some distance away, and is only able to join the band at New Creek occasionally. I am saddened to report that John Welch, the excellent caller from whom most of the calls in this chapter were transcribed, died in the fall of 1978 while this book was in preparation.

During my first visits to New Creek the Welch Brothers band consisted of Israel Welch, fiddle, Kyle Welch (a cousin), five string banjo, Vance Staggs, electric guitar, and various friends of the band alternating on washtub bass. When he was able to attend, Tom Welch would frequently spell Israel on fiddle. John Welch called most of the figures, but he would usually play fiddle for several dances while Harley Hogbin of Romney, West Virginia did the calling. After John Welch's death the dances continued with Harley Hogbin as principal caller. In 1980 Mr. Hogbin was forced to retire due to failing health and was ably succeeded by Harry Steele of Mt. Storm, WV. Verbatim transcriptions of square dances called by both John Welch and Harley Hogbin are contained in Appendix B.

The weekly dance program invariably alternates between square dances and slow waltzes. There is an occasional polka and once an evening Israel Welch plays a bluesy number for "rock and roll." Dancing is continuous from 8:30 until midnight with only two short breaks for the band. The Welches' dance repertoire is interesting and varied. They play a wide range of square dance music from common hoedown numbers like "Ragtime Annie" and "Boil the Cabbage Down," to unusual local tunes like "Tearing Down the Laurel" and "Cheat Mountain," to old pop standards like "My Little Girl" and "Washington and Lee Swing." On one occasion Tom Welch played a medley of Irish jigs which he claimed he learned from a record. Since as many as a dozen waltzes may be danced in an evening, the Welches also have an exceptional waltz repertoire. The waltzes are played very slowly and danced as a slow one-step with partners in very close contact. No fancy turning or Viennese-type waltzing here!

There is an overall sense of orderliness about the New Creek dances. The dancers dress informally but neatly; the men wear sport shirts and slacks while the women wear pantsuits, slacks or skirts. Soft drinks and snack foods are offered for sale, while alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited. There are tables and chairs set up around the perimeter of the dance floor where the dancers socialize with friends and rest between dances. Many of the dancers attend regularly. There is a wide range of ages among them, from late teens to over seventy. In contrast to other dances of this type there is a noticeable absence of teenagers and small children because the Fire Department prohibits children under eighteen from attending.

The sense of orderliness carries over to the square dancing where there is a set structure from which departures are rare. Each square dance begins with all the couples in one large circle. In this formation there is a series of movements which constitutes an introduction. The introduction is followed by "couple up four" or division of the large circle into subsets of two couples each. In each subset one couple has their backs toward the center of the original large circle while the other couple faces the center. The couples with their backs to the center are the traveling couples while the couples facing center remain more or less in their positions throughout this section of the dance. Although the terms "odd" and "even" are never used at New Creek to designate traveling and stationary couples, they are now commonly used in many Appalachian areas as well as in the scant literature on the subject. I use them here to simplify the descriptions of the figures. Thus odd couples are the inside couples who travel on at the end of each figure while even couples wait in place in their outside position in order to meet a new odd couple.

After the division into odd and even couples, the middle part of the dance or figure is performed. Each dance has a distinctive figure and only one figure is performed per dance in contrast to other areas where a number of different figures are mixed together in each dance. This single figure style may well be closer to older styles of Appalachian square dancing where dancing was done in smaller sets of four to six couples. Then it was common for all the couples to dance the same figure or "change" with all the other couples before a new figure was begun.

The middle or figure part of the New Creek square dances has an established structure of its own. The distinctive figure is always followed by swinging opposites, swinging partners, same two couples circling left, then the odd couples traveling on to the next even couple to repeat the figure. It is significant that in contrast to other styles the figure is never preceded by the two couples circling left and right. Thus each two-couple figure always concludes with circling but never begins that way. Circling at the end of the figure (after the swings) makes the progression to the next couple very fluid. No matter when the call "on to the next" may come, the two couples who are dancing together always complete their circle to arrive in original positions. Then the odd couple is exactly in position for the odd man to lead his partner on to the next even couple on his left, while the even couple remains in its original position awaiting the arrival of a new odd couple. Usually about six rounds or repetitions of the figure are danced before the caller orders the dancers back into a single large circle for the concluding section of the dance. There are several alternate endings which will be discussed in detail.

The late John Welch had a very spare, laconic style of calling the figures and used very little in the way of extraneous patter. He had a deep, resonant voice and tended to chant his calls on the tonic, third and fifth notes of the key in which the band chose to play. Harley Hogbin's calling style is similar except that he employs more patter and tends to sing his calls, particularly to such song tunes as "Jesse James" and "Little Home in West Virginia." In the following descriptions of the figures the calls are transcribed as called by John Welch unless otherwise noted.

The Introduction

" ...all the way around and halfway back, ladies in the lead and the gents in back...swing your partner...promenade...every other couple out."

As the band strikes up a tune couples emerge from the tables that surround the dance floor, join hands and begin to circle left, all without any direction from the caller. As soon as the circle appears to be complete the caller gives the first call: "all the way around and halfway back, ladies in the lead and the gents in back." At this, the couples drop hands and promenade in single file back to the right. Alternately, John Welch would sometimes call "all the way back in an Indian line, the ladies in front and the gents behind." Then partners swing. All swings at New Creek are long, often 16-20 beats of music. After swinging, the couples promenade with inside arms around each others' waists: the man puts his right arm around his partner's waist while she puts her left arm around his. Outside arms are allowed to hang free. This is the common promenade position throughout much of northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania.

The manner of transition from the large circle of couples to subsets of two couples is both simple and effective. At the call "every other couple out" each couple makes a spontaneous decision either to step out and face the next couple on the right, or merely to wait in place for another couple to come and face them. Naturally this random "coupling up four" leaves a number of couples stranded without another couple to face, but they quickly search the floor for other couples in the same predicament and pair off with them. In the event there is one extra couple left over, the caller will delay calling the figure until he can induce another couple to join the dance from the sidelines. Occasionally an extra couple cannot be found and the dance will proceed with one extra even couple. Then a different even couple must wait out each round of the figure.

The simplicity of this system is that no prior designation of odd and even couples is necessary as in some Appalachian communities where the caller must count the couples off before the dance starts. It is an effective system because by the time the caller is ready to call the first round of the figure the couples who then have their backs to the center automatically know that they are odd or traveling while the couples facing center know that they are even or stationary. When the caller calls "every other couple out" the dancers are responsible for aligning themselves into odds and evens. The music continues to play all during this alignment process but the dancers wait patiently in place until the caller has determined that all couples are correctly paired off. The efficacy of this system is predicated on the fact that there is no circling preceding the figure so that the dancers must wait until the figure is called if only to find out which figure it will be.

There are twelve figures for two-couple subsets normally called at New Creek with only one of these figures performed per dance. Sometimes the same figure is danced twice in one evening and not all twelve figures are necessarily called on any given evening. In the following descriptions of the figures couples are designated odd and even, even though these terms are not used by the callers or dancers at New Creek.

The Figures

FIGURE I. "Round that couple and swing a little girl...back to the center with a butterfly whirl and everybody swing...swing your opposite...swing your partner circle...four...on to the next."

The odd couple separates, man to the left and woman to the right, going around and meeting behind the even couple. There the odd couple swings. The odd man then takes his partner's left hand in his right and leads her between the members of the even couple to place. With hands still joined the odd man turns or twirls his partner counterclockwise under his right arm while exchanging places with her. This is the "butterfly whirl," known in club square dancing as "frontier whirl" or "California twirl." Both couples swing. This completes the figure itself which is then followed as are all the figures, by swinging opposites, swinging partners, circle left and on to the next couple to repeat all of the above.

FIGURE II. "Lady round the lady and the gent also, lady round the gent and the gent don't go...swing your opposite...swing your partner...circle four...on to the next."

The odd woman, followed by her partner, leads between the members of the even couple who act as posts. The odd woman turns to her left going around the even woman and, still followed by her partner, returns to the center. The odd couples may or may not keep inside hands joined during this movement. The odd man then remains in his original place while the odd woman again goes between the members of the even couple, around the even gent and back to her original place. Opposites swing as the odd woman returns to place. This is a common square dance figure in many areas throughout the country.

FIGURE III. "Right hands across...left hands back...two ladies right and left through, two gents back to back, swing your opposite...swing your partner...circle four...on to the next."

The first part is a common "star" figure. Using a shake-hands grip, the two men join right hands while the two women do the same. All dance to the left. All four then change to a left hand star and dance back to the right. The two men drop hands while the women turn by the left hand exchanging places ("two ladies right and left through"). The men then change places with each other passing right shoulder to right shoulder. The call for this movement is "two gents back to back" and it is indeed customary for the men to turn their backs slightly on each other as they cross over. As the men cross over into each other's place they turn to the right and swing their opposites. Note that the term "right and left through" as used in the call is not only undescriptive, but bears no relation to figures of the same name found in other styles of square dancing.

FIGURE IV. "Round that couple and take a little peek, back to the center and swing when you meet...round that couple and peek once more, back to the center and swing all four...swing your opposite...swing your partner...on to the next."

This is another standard traditional square dance figure. The odd couple separates going around the members of the even couple who act as posts. But rather than meeting behind the even couple, they merely peek or peep at each other and return to places to swing. The odd couple then peeks again and this time when they return to place both couples swing their partners. As the odd couple moves around the even couple to peek, some of the even couples like to move forward a few steps with inside hands joined, backing up to place as the odd couple returns to the center; but this is strictly optional. There is a lot of swinging in this figure: partner, opposite and partner again.

FIGURE V. "Bird in the cage and six hands round...bird hop out and the crow hop in...swing your opposite...swing your partner...circle four...on to the next."

The odd woman or "bird" steps into the center of a circle formed by her partner and the even couple. The latter three who form the "cage" circle left around her. At the call "bird hop out and crow hop in" the odd man and odd woman exchange places. The "crow" never rejoins the circle. Instead both men swing their opposites directly with the call, a slight variation in this widespread traditional figure.

FIGURE VI. "You swing mine and I'll swing yours...gimme back mine, I'll give you back yours...circle four...on to the next."

Opposites swing, then partners. This is done as a separate figure!

FIGURE VII. "Six hands round, lady walk the circle...swing your opposite...swing your partner...circle four...on to the next."

The odd man joins in a ring of three with the even couple. They circle left while the odd lady walks counterclockwise around the three as they circle. The circle may thus turn two or three times around before the caller calls "swing your opposite." At that call the circle of three continues to rotate until the even man is opposite the odd woman and can easily go directly into the swing. The dancers always try to effect smooth transitions from circles to swings and swings to circles.

FIGURE VIII. "Dive for the oyster...now the clam...dive for the oyster all the way through...swing your opposite...swing your partner...circle four...on to the next."

The two couples join hands in a ring of four. The odd couple ducks under an arch made by the even couple and then backs out. The even couple ducks under an arch made by the odd couple and backs out. The odd couple ducks under the even couple's arch again, and without anyone dropping hands the odd couple goes through the arch, the odd man turning to his left under his own right arm while the odd woman turns to her right under her own left arm. In this manner the odd couple forms an arch of their own, pulling the even couple through. The even couple turns out under their own arms to reform the original circle of four. Opposites and partners then swing as usual.

FIGURE IX. "Eight hands across...circle left...back to the right...ladies bow and the gents know how and circle left again...swing your opposite...swing your partner...circle four...on to the next."

This is a familiar basket figure. The two men join hands while the two women do the same, joining their hands beneath the men's hands. The two couples circle left and right in that position. At the call "ladies bow and the gents know how" the men raise their joined hands up over the women's heads, bringing them down behind the women's backs to about waist level. The women then do the same and all four circle left in this basket position with a walking step. The four then release hands and swing opposites.

FIGURE X. "Eight hands up and 'boxy dice', first to the left and then to the right...swing your opposite...now your partner...circle four...on to the next."

This figure would seem to be a variation of the previous one. Without any preliminary circling the two men put their arms around the women's waists while the women place their hands on the nearest shoulders of the men on either side of them to form a slightly different sort of basket. The four circle left a few steps and then back to the right at their own pace. John Welch did not know the meaning of "boxy dice," while Harley Hogbin pronounces it "dotsy dice."

FIGURE XI. "Left hand lady with the right hand around, right hand lady with the left hand around, left hand lady with the right hand around, right hand lady with the left hand around...swing your opposite...swing your partner...circle four...on to the next."

Always difficult to describe, this figure is closely related to southern and western regional variations which go by such names as "do-si-do," "do-paso" or "Georgia rang tang." In the New Creek version "left hand lady" means the opposite woman while "right hand lady" refers to a man's partner. Both men turn their opposite women by the right hand a bit less than three quarters around. In concluding the turn the two men pass left shoulder to left shoulder and back to back, reaching across to meet their partners with a left hand turn. At the end of the left hand turn with partners the men pass right shoulder to right shoulder and back to back, meeting the opposite again with the right. The turns with opposite and partner are repeated and the figure ends with swinging opposites, then partners as usual. The figure has a lovely flowing figure eight pattern and is a special favorite of many of the dancers. It is usually danced to Israel Welch's spirited rendition of "The Orange Blossom Special."

FIGURE XII. "Round that couple and through that couple and swing...through that couple and around that couple and everybody swing...swing your opposite...swing your partner...circle four...on to the next."

The odd couple separates, meets behind the even couple, joins hands and dances back to the center between the members of the even couple. The odd couple swings. Again joining hands the odd couple goes between the even couple, separates and returns to original places. Both couples swing partners, then opposites, then partners again. This figure is a variation of the familiar "take a little peek."

These twelve two-couple figures represent the entire New Creek repertoire during the time when John Welch was the primary caller. Each square dance consists of the introduction followed by "every other couple out," followed by about six rounds of any one of the above figures and completed with an ending in which all the couples return to a single large circle. The transition from two couple sets back into the large circle of couples works as follows: as all of the subsets are circling left at the end of the last round of the figure, one of the two men drops hands with his opposite and leads all four into the larger circle, which continues to circle left. There are several alternate endings to the dance, although the first is by far the most commonly called.


The Endings

ENDING I. "Join hands in a great big ring...circle left...swing your corner...swing your partner...promenade...promenade right off the floor, that's all there is and there ain't no more."

ENDING II. "Join hands in a great big ring...circle left...swing your corner...right hand to your partner and a right and left grand, all the way around...swing your partner...promenade...promenade right off the floor, that's all there is and there ain't no more."

This alternative ending may be called several times each evening. Since the grand right and left follows directly after swinging corners, a few dancers occasionally become disoriented in the swing and have difficulty getting back to partners to begin the grand right and left in the proper direction.

ENDING III. "Join hands, make a big circle...circle left...swing your corner...meet your partner with a hook elbow, take off, go all the way around...swing your partner...promenade...promenade right off the floor, that's all there is and there ain't no more."

This is a variation of Ending II. except that instead of a grand right and left there is a series of elbow swings. After swinging corners all return to partners and turn with a right elbow swing once and a half around. The dancers progress around the circle in the same direction as for the grand right and left but doing alternating right and left elbow swings once and a half around each time before meeting partners. This ending is never called more than once an evening, perhaps because of its long duration.
The following ending is even less frequently called:

ENDING IV. "Join hands in one big ring...ladies on the inside of the ring, gents on the outside...ladies go left and the gents go right...gents to the left and ladies to the right...go around 'til you get your partner on your right and weave a basket...circle left...now back to the right...ladies bow and the gents know how, weave that basket...circle left and back to the right...swing your corner...swing your partner...promenade...promenade right off the floor, that's all there is and there ain't no more."

All the women step to the center and form a ring circling to the left while the men form a ring on the outside and circle right. Both circles then reverse direction. This time when the men meet their partners both circles stop moving momentarily and align themselves with the women to the right of their partners. The men then raise their joined hands over the women's heads and down to waist level in front of the women to form the "basket." After circling left and right in the basket position the men raise their arms back over the women's heads while the women raise their joined hands to make arches. The men duck under the arches and straighten up to form a second basket with their arms joined behind the women's backs. All circle left and right in this position, swing corners, swing partners and promenade.

ENDING V. (called by Harley Hogbin) "All join hands in one big ring...circle left...now that corner lady swing...promenade around that ring...now reverse and go the other way...swing that girl that pretty little girl, the girl you left behind you...promenade right off the floor, that's all there is and there ain't no more."

After swinging corners the men promenade their corners, first in the usual direction. All then wheel around as couples and promenade in reverse direction. The men then return to partners ("the girl you left behind"), swing and promenade.

ENDING VI. "Join hands in one big ring and circle left..."

There is no further call for this ending. After getting the dancers back in a large circle the caller leaves the microphone and joins the circle. Dropping hands with the person on his left, he leads the dancers through an arch made by the first couple on his right. Passing by several couples he returns through another arch to the center and thus continues to lead the dancers in a twisting snake line in and out of arches made by every third or fourth couple. When he reaches the place in the circle where he began, he starts leading the line of dancers to the left. He then directs the couple on his right to stop and make an arch with both hands, "London Bridge" style. He then returns to the microphone. As succeeding couples in the line pass through the arch they also stop and make arches so that a cumulative tunnel is formed. When the last couple in line has passed through, the leading couple joins inside hands and follows them through as do the succeeding couples. This progressively dissolves the tunnel. When the leading couple and those following emerge from the tunnel they find any open space on the floor and swing. When all couples are swinging the caller says "Promenade right off the floor, that's all there is and there ain't no more."

There is one other set dance performed at New Creek entirely in a large circle of couples. After the standard introduction which ends in a promenade the call is "swing that girl behind you." All swing their corners and at the call "promenade," promenade their corners. "Swing that girl behind you" and "promenade" are repeated over and over until the men have swung and promenaded all the women in the circle eventually reaching original partners. One of the endings is then called, usually ending I. or II.

The quality of dancing at New Creek is very high. Swings are long, smooth and full of vigor. The dancers flow from one movement to the next. Their body movements are efficient and seemingly effortless, sure signs of long experience. Many have a slight shuffle in their step and a few do some highly individual and very subtle fancy footwork. There are of course some less experienced dancers, even some novices at every dance, but the more experienced dancers predominate. The Welch brothers have worked long and hard to create the good atmosphere and high level of dancing. It has been truly a labor of love.



Home | Preface | Foreword | Introduction | Dunmore | Glenville | Helvetia | Morgantown | Tunes | Transcriptions | Worley Gardner's Tunes | Bibliography | About the Author