Whitesburg KY
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Future dances at Carcassonne not a sure thing

To the Editor:

I appreciated very much two letters or articles in The Mountain Eagle a few weeks ago celebrating the 50th anniversary of two of our sister community groups in Letcher County — the Cowan Community Center and the Blackey Improvement Committee — where we last year shared our Carcassonne Square Dance along with Appalshop’s Seedtime Festival.

We at the Carcassonne Community Center may be celebrating in a few years the 50th anniversary of the revival of the Carcassonne Community Center and the Carcassonne Square Dance. I say “may be” maybe because some of us may be getting too old or too few or too tired to keep things going, or maybe we need some more help or maybe we need to say thanks and goodbye to the Carcassonne Square Dance.

Gander Post Office reared its head about 1930 and became Carcassonne, a cliffed-walled mountaintop community center school where Letcher, Knott and Perry counties join. Mountain square dancing, quilting, life, work, and learning existed long before that in the “Cloud Walking Country” where Marie Campbell collected surviving European-American folk tales. In about 1966 and 1967 a community revival began to restore the 1931 Carcassonne School building, square dancing, quilting, and recreation that had existed for so many years.

Now we may be the longest running continuous community square dance in Kentucky, and that may be coming to an end. Our square dancing is and isn’t so special. First it’s more circle than square dancing. It’s not clogging or show dancing, but community “play party” dancing where family, neighbors, and friends old and new, young and old, have fun trying to do — or watch and listen to — traditional dance figures to wonderful old country music. The peak of our fame came at many Kentucky Folklife Festivals in Frankfort and dancing with hundreds at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The climax of the dance was the hundreds who came to Dr. Breeding’s big square dance party at Carcassonne last summer.

For many years caller Charlie Whitaker and banjo player Lee Sexton have been the stars of the Carcassonne Square Dance. Now Charlie has passed and Lee has been pretty sick. We’re still going with good musicians and callers Randy Wilson and Erin Stidham, but fewer people are coming. As we wrestle with what to do, we invite old friends to come back to a less crowded Carcassonne and new friends to come to Carcassonne before the last dance. We plan this fall to have regular second Saturday night 7 to 9 dances in September and November. I hope we can repeat last year’s Carcassonne Square Dances at Blackey Day in October and at Cowan in December, and I hope with everybody’s help we can continue the Carcassonne Square Dance for future years.

I want to take the opportunity at this time to recognize personally and publicly some of the people, usually and appropriately couples, who have done so much over almost 50 years for Carcassonne and our Square Dance: first and foremost our founders Ruby and Clifton Caudill, Vista volunteers Nancy Gigowski and John Labovitz, Elders Tommy Jent, Truman Jent, Green Fields, and Virgil Combs, Carcassonne Sunday School teachers Roger and Sue Jent, Charlie and Joyce Whitaker and family, Lee and Opal Sexton, Ray and Wivena Slone, John Cleveland and Artie Ann Bates, Bill and Poz Bates, Bill and Billie Jo Caudill, Joe and Gaynell Begley, Bernard and Violet Watts, Jim and Ann Whitaker, Bill and Josephine Richardson, Charlie and Kay Sizemore, Peter and Phyllis Rogers, Charles and Bobbie Whitaker, all our Appalshop and WMMT friends, Greg Yaden and Kevin Day, the Gish, Oakes, and Barto families, Martha Watts at Letcher School, Susan Spalding at Berea, Bob Gates at the Kentucky Arts Council, Van Breeding, family and colleagues, Kinzer Drilling and James River Coal, good state legislators like John Doug Hays, Gary Johnson, Johnny Ray Turner, Paul Mason, Howard Cornett, Russell Bentley, Ancil Smith, John Short, and Leslie Combs, Letcher County Schools’ leaders from Beckham Caudill, Ray Back, Dave L. Craft, Kendall Boggs, Jack Burkich, and others to Anna Craft, County Judges Carroll Smith and Jim Ward, Magistrates Randall Caudill and Keith Adams, and recently active folks from Carcassonne Beverly and Dale Johnson, Greg and Della Caudill, Fredia Combs, Margaret and Beckham Jent, Mike and Marcia Caudill, David and Opal Jent, Steve and Michelle Caudill, and last but not least my faithful sisterin law Von Hall, motherin law Ella Mae Fugate (90 years old this month), and my wonderful wife Loretta.

Finally I ask that we keep old Carcassonne and its Square Dance in memory if not in movement for me and you and for my and your grandchildren.

Carcassonne Community

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