For those not familiar, flatfoot dancing is a traditional American dance that was preserved in the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. Dancers use their feet as rhythmic instruments, so to speak, and create soul-stirring sounds. This style of dance is usually done to old-time music, another tradition preserved and developed in the Appalachian Mountains. The article discussed below was published in an old issue of Old-Time Herald Magazine and written by the long-time and venerable Phil Jameson.
The article “A Jubilant Spirit within Me” is a real joy to read. The personal accounts from the old-time dancers were the most endearing portion of the essay. Reading the historical discussion in the latter half of the essay provided a clearer understanding of the reasons for the many names used for “flatfooting” type of dance.
Interestingly, the old-time dancers interviewed for the essay didn’t seem too eager to distinguish between the different names for the dance. What’s the reason for this seeming de-emphasis on the importance of specifying between “flatfooting,” “buckdancing,” and all the other names used? Perhaps it partly results from the culture in which the dance developed. Taking solace and finding joy in the simple pleasures of life, such as music and dancing, cultivates tradition and culture. “Hoe-downing is what you do at the end of the day when you put your hoe down” beautiful articulates this. Would there be hoe-downing without the work for a hoe? Through struggle and hardship come authentic expressions of the human spirit – solace in life’s simple joys.
The title of the essay, “A Jubilant Spirit within Me” could not have been more appropriate. Every time I hear the phrase, my memory goes to an evening about four years ago of my first contra dance. Before that evening I had never danced. Friends would coerce, push and pull, but they would never succeed in getting me on the dance floor. Well, one Thursday evening a friend (who happened to be a girl, likely an important point) somehow managed to get me inside during the contra dance. I was reluctant, of course, and couldn’t seem to shake the association of the phrase “contra dancing” from my exposure to the “contras” of those violent years in Nicaragua. Yet, something clicked for me that night in Bryson, something struck the core of my existence.
Thus one enters the spiritual realm, the base reality beyond all that's temporal. In essence: wholesome dancing born from authentic culture seems to be a spiritual act. For this reason, I believe Pauline Zimmerman is able to best describe the dancing as “a jubilant spirit within me.” Her diction is not scientific, it is spiritual – even religious, one could say. And that raises my interest in learning more about the relation between southern Christian tradition and flatfooting. I imagine there’s a great deal of substance in such a relation. Why do so many now only see dancing in it's context of How has dancing now become something so closely related with the taboo parties and nightclubs?
The fact that flatfooting preserves a dying wholesomeness and even morality is largely part of its appeal. There’s something natural and inherently good to joyfully moving to the “jubilant spirit within.” If only more would connect with this approach to dancing – by whatever name they tend to call it.