Friday, 29 August 2008

Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers

Last February I discovered during a dinner party conversation that several of my friend all recalled and were enthralled by the performance of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers during a recent screening of Murray Lerner's film 'Festival' that had been on the telly. Forget Bob Dylan, I had loved this moment in the film ever since I'd first seen it in the 70's.

photo Bob Lindsey

For everyone there, the standout performance of this terrific film too was this clog-dancing troupe of clean cut American teenagers.

Forty two years afterwards they had obviously penetrated the British zeitgeist and must have done so for others as the clip soon appeared on YouTube. I can see that other bloggers have picked up on this YouTube clip with much the same enthusiasm.

Thanks to Tivo, and some wine, that evening we could watch it again and again and soon all the kids and their parents were 'buck and winging' around the kitchen. Since then, when anyone tells me they need cheering up, I send them a link to this clip. It never fails to lift their spirits.

For me, (a naturalised American) it is more than clog dancing but an iconic moment that epitomises America and the optimism of its youth at the time. A marked contrast to the events coming in 1968. It seems a topic ripe for a cultural studies dissertation.

There is a rich history of this folk dance in the UK as well which found its way from the British Isles into Appalachia to be blended with Native American and African dances. I recently went to a concert by Rachel Unthank where she did some clog dancing during some numbers. By the way, the fabulous Rachel and Becky and band will be touring America in September (2008).

A while ago I sent some emails into cyberspace to various folk archives and some clog dancers on the web asking if they had any more information about the troupe and where are they now but I never heard anything back. I appreciate people are busy and when someone random from the UK writes to you, unless you have hit someone who knows exactly what you're looking for, you won't get an answer unless you're persistent. I'm afraid I sit somewhere between a serious researcher and a enthusiastic fan.

I'm so glad to learn that one of the dancers has now heard of her YouTube fame and can tell us a bit about the story and who the people are. I think it'd be a fantastic feature story to reunite them. Alas, knowing my luck, by the time I could get a greenlight for a magazine feature or TV doc, someone higher up the food chain will have already done it.

The dancer on the end is Sherry Lynn Taylor and she tells us James Kesterson, the leader, is still around. Lots of sources credit him with inventing 'precision clogging' the synchronised dances which became very popular with audiences. Apparently the purists didn't like it though. Very little info about him or the dancers seems to be on the web but the caption of the image above says they won the Lunsford Cup in 61, 62, 63, 64, 65. Whatever that is, it must be quite an achievement. The performances would have been filmed July 23-26, 1964. Enjoy!

4 comments:

  1. My name is Colin Ledbetter, one of the original members of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers. If any one out there would like to know more about the group and or there present whereabouts please contact me'

    david.ledbetter9433@gmail.com
    USA (828) 289-0735

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm fairly sure that the Lunsford Cup was a prize named for Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a famous Musician, Historian and Organizer of and Performer at the "Mountain Dance and Folk Festival" in Ashville, NC from 1928-1964 or 1965. The Festival is credited with being the first and longest running festival of it's kind.

    ReplyDelete
  3. To learn more about this group and their accomplishments, go to
    blueridgemountaindancers.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. There were many Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers through the years. Not just the orginal team that started the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers. The orginal team was awesone and deserve much credit. However! three teams that contributed to the success of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into keeping their tradition alive. A lot of the awesome history of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers was earned by the dance teams that followed.

    ReplyDelete