Augusta Heritage Center ready to start 2019 square dance season

ELKINS, W.Va. – The Mountain Dance Trail of Augusta Heritage Center is kicking off its seventh season of community square dances across West Virginia this January. The first local dance of the new year is set for Friday, January 18 in the Creative Commons in Myles Center for the Arts at Davis & Elkins College.

Emily Miller and friends will provide live old-time music and Mike Miller will call contras and squares. The dance is hosted by the Davis & Elkins College Appalachian Ensemble and the Augusta Heritage Center.

Hailing from Valley Bend, Miller performs regularly with the Sweetback Sisters, Jesse Milnes, Val Mindel and the Starry Mountain Singers, and serves as musical director for the Davis & Elkins College Appalachian Ensemble. For the dance, she will play fiddle and sing a few two-step classic country songs with accompaniment by Gerry and Jesse Milnes.

Gerry Milnes, a retired Augusta folklorist, is a WV State Fiddle Champion and has also won the old-time banjo championship at Clifftop. He has recorded with Gandydancer, Emily Miller, Jesse Milnes and many others. A distinguished authority on Appalachian culture, he has written three highly acclaimed books about West Virginia folklore and calls Elkins home.

Jesse Milnes grew up in the world of West Virginia old-time music, learning from masters such as Melvin Wine and Ernie Carpenter, as well as his father, Gerry Milnes. Widely known as a fiddle player and skilled harmony singer, he plays a variety of fiddle styles from old-time to country. He also performs his own brand of fingerpicking on guitar, drawing on influences from blues to bluegrass to country. When not playing music, he repairs fiddles at Smakula Fretted Instruments and lives in Valley Bend.

Miller has been calling square and contra dances for more than 30 years in nine states and seven different countries. He and his wife, Val Mindel, started a popular monthly dance series in Hong Kong. He also plays old-time music with Gerry Milnes, Chirp Smith and many others.

“These dances are a wonderful way to get out and kick off the winter blues,” said Augusta Events Coordinator and Mountain Dance Trail Coordinator Becky Hill. “The dances are simple to learn and this is a wonderful family friendly activity that’s great for beginners of all ages.”

The Davis & Elkins Appalachian Ensemble will host this dance to raise money to purchase team jackets and other equipment. The Ensemble is a student performance group dedicated to bringing live Appalachian music and dance to audiences around the region. Baked goods will be available for purchase.

The dance starts at 8 p.m., with a beginners workshop at 7:45 p.m. All dances are beginner and family friendly. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and AmeriCorps members, and free to Davis & Elkins College students, faculty and staff. Participants do not have to come with a dance partner and listeners are welcome. Those planning to dance are asked to bring a pair of shoes to change into to protect the floor.

Elkins is part of the Mountain Dance Trail, a heritage tourism project of Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College. The project preserves and promotes local community square dances from the Virginia line to the Ohio border. The Mountain Dance Trail hosts a square dance almost every weekend somewhere in West Virginia. The next Augusta Heritage Center Dance is scheduled for February 8 with Tessa Dillon playing music and Sean Fen calling square dances. The 2019 Mountain Dance Trail schedule is available online a For more information or a brochure, call the Augusta Heritage Center at 304-636-1209.

Programs offered by the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College are presented with financial support from Davis & Elkins College; the WV Department of Arts, Culture, and History, and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the WV Commission on the Arts; and the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Local support is provided by the Randolph County Commission.

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