This project was inspired by participation in the BYU folk dancers’ first European tour in 1964 when we performed American (USA) dances at folk dance festivals, Kentucky Running Sets, Appalachian clogging, Western Squares, Native American dances, etc. I believe that was the first time American traditional dances had been presented at those festivals. On my return I began wondering, “What are the traditional folk/social dances of my people, the Mormons,” since social dancing was so hugely popular during pioneer times, and is an ongoing hallmark of Mormon culture.
The journey leading up to this project has been long and varied, including my 1983 master’s project, “Early Utah Dances,” where I did folklore fieldwork in rural Utah collecting traditional folk/social dances. This research was taken to new heights by Utah folklorist Craig Miller who expanded this collection exponentially. In 1996 Michael Hamblin and I created “Old Time Utah Dances,” a self published book/CD. Many of the dances Craig Miller & I collected date back to the pioneer era.
During this process I’ve been most impressed by the way these dances bring people together in a “celebration of collective joy.” My purpose has become “creating community and connection with dance, music and song,” something that has dropped out of our mainstream culture where folks have become so solitary, isolated spectators of “the screen.”
These dances are not exclusive to the Mormon pioneers. They were found all over the West, and served to lighten the drudgery of the wagon trail, and intensive labor of taming the land and es- tablishing communities. They brought, fun, fellowship and cohesion to these early settlements.
Mormon Pioneer Dances, a Book/DVD combo, presents 31 mid-19th century dances, Quadrilles, longways sets, contras, children’s song dances (play parties), round dance mixers, and Danish folk dances. My hope is that these wonderful historic dances will, not only connect folks with their pioneer ancestors, but, in some small way, will provide a way to enhance joyous connection and cohesion within families and communities.