There are many traditional mountain arts and crafts that you can still find today in eastern Kentucky. One such tradition that lives on is folk dancing. Hindman Settlement School has a long history of both teaching and promoting folk dancing on our campus and in our community. I thought that for today’s look into the archives, we might explore the rich history of folk dancing at Hindman Settlement School.
Since its inception, one of the primary goals of Hindman Settlement School has been to keep young people in the mountains mindful of their heritage. Music, dance and crafts were taught to students alongside other more typical school subjects. In early 1937, Elizabeth Watts and May Stone were finally able to fulfill a dream they had long held for these programs. Less than thirty years after the school was established, Recreation House was built on the school grounds. Orchard House had become far too small for Settlement and town events, including the weekly Saturday community dances. Dance was an important aspect of social life for both students and adults alike. Watts believed dance to be a healthy outlet for Hindman’s youth, without which the boys would resort to “pool and loafing.” The new building would finally allow them the space they needed.
Girls dancing inside the newly constructed Recreation House
With the new building came even stronger folk arts programming, with singing and dancing happening nearly every night of the week. An official folk dance group was then established. These students traveled to conferences and festivals to showcase the dance and ballads of the eastern Kentucky mountains. Raymond McClain and Lionel Duff, the next two directors to serve at the school, continued the traveling dance program for a time.
The Hindman Settlement School traveling dance troupe. The skirts the girls are wearing were woven at the school.
In the early 1970s the program was unfortunately eliminated by Duff with little explanation given as to the reason. The Settlement was in a period of transition during these years and the work had changed greatly to meet the needs of the people of Knott County. The traveling dance program ended, but the importance of folk dance and other arts were not forgotten. Just this year the Settlement hired Abby Huggins to assist in the creation of a regional Food and Dance Heritage Trail and later this month, we will be hosting a community square dance and potluck. We hope to see you there!