Last updated: May 12. 2014 6:39PM - 1347 Views
By Tanya Chilton tchilton@civitasmedia.com

Contradancers twirl to the sound of the Bridgemakers on Friday at the Recreation Center in Elkin Municipal Park. Dance callers were Valerie Helbert and Emily Abel.
Contradancers twirl to the sound of the Bridgemakers on Friday at the Recreation Center in Elkin Municipal Park. Dance callers were Valerie Helbert and Emily Abel.
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The Elkin Recreational Center hosted a contradance on Friday that drew local and out-of-town enthusiasts to usher in the Elkin Valley Fiddlers bluegrass music festival.

The Bridgemakers played old-time and bluegrass music as contradancers followed the calls of Valerie Helbert and Emily Abel in a recreation of the early colonial American dance, once performed around campfires.

Contradance hobbyist range from young to old and one and all shared one trait — they were passionate about the dance and music. Several said they follow dances and musicians and callers and will continue to stoke the fires of enthusiasm for the dance wherever they go.

Mark Biggers, drove in from Cary for the dance. Biggers said he follows the dance where it leads him, and several dancers made similar comments. Biggers and other more seasoned contradancers guided anyone wanting to learn. Many dancers rarely sat down, making the most of the opportunity, and said they were already planning on where to find the next dance.

Several dancers kindly helped novices who eventually found themselves worried less about how to perform the dance and instead enjoyed themselves with encouragement given by others. Meanwhile, the experienced helped novices swirl and twirl participants around and down a long line with enthusiasm to the tunes of Appalachia.

“A great opportunity,” repeated several enthusiast, who most of the night reminded others just how addictive the dance becomes.

Mountain Heritage musician R.G. Absher of the Mountain Heritage Band attended with his wife, Donna Absher. They said they were enjoying just sitting back, listening to the music and watching the dancing. Several other bystanders agreed. They attend simply for that reason, they said.

The music is a marriage of Scottish, Irish and African sounds and a blend of the old and new world. In the Civil War era, ensembles, old-time and bluegrass instruments grew into the format, similar to the style played today.

Absher said Bridgemakers banjo player Rex McGee is recognized as “one of the best musicians in the world.” Other Bridgemaker band members are Daniel Perry on bass and fiddle, Bobby Martin on the drums, Bob Kogut on the fiddle, Joe Thrift playing the fiddle, David and Caroline Blackmon on the fiddle and guitar, respectively; and Russell McCumber, originally from Vermont, who plays a fiddle in a Cape Breton style.

Bridgemakers bluegrass drummer Bobby Martin, also a musician with Cripplekrunk, played in the recent Merlefest. He called the contradance a pleasure and a unique opportunity to fit in the bluegrass drum sound. He said the dance resonates with his personal ancestry of Scots-Irish and Cherokee Indian. Those wanting to learn to play bluegrass drums may learn from Martin on Memorial Day at the Fiddlers Grove drumming workshop.

Barry Carlton of Elkin Creek Boys, also an organizer of the Elkin Valley Fiddlers music festival, said he hopes to get a contradance in the area at least every two months. Carlton said he was pleased to see others enjoying the dance in Elkin and hopes it will continue to draw attention to the area.

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