Play-Party Games Research

In 2007 I was awarded an Appalachian Music Fellowship from Berea College. I used it to research the movements and tunes to 15 dance-like play-party games that were popular in rural western Kentucky throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I conducted extensive fieldwork, interviewing 75 people between the ages of 80 and 100+ who had participated in play-parties. I also conducted research in Berea’s library and archives. As a result, I was able to largely reconstruct these never before published games as they had been played in 1928.Girl dances, D assists

What are play-party games? Play-parties were a common form of entertainment in rural areas from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Usually neighbors gathered in a home to sing songs and perform movements. Although they looked like dances, they were considered to be games, as dancing was regarded as morally questionable. Often teens and young adults played the games under the supervision of adults. In some communities, entire families played the games together. The parties were occasions for visiting and courting, before the days of radio or even widespread use of automobiles.

My interest in the project began when I was working as a Dance Artist-in-Residence in a small town located in eastern Kentucky. While here, a local teacher offered me hospitality and told me that her father had collected the words to fifteen play-party games from two western Kentucky rural counties in 1928. She thought they’d never been published and wondered if I would like to see them. I became very excited about the possibility of saving this important piece of dance history while people who had played the games were still alive. I found that the collection only contained the words to the songs, not the tunes or movements. Thus my research was focused on discovering the original tunes and movements to these fifteen games. Throughout the interview process, I was also able to gather information about several other play-party games from the region.Two hand turn

I continue to work with the recorded interviews and other materials I collected, with a goal of publishing the play-party games as lesson plans for teachers. My hope is that future generations can keep alive this dance form, which has all but disappeared. I am also available to visit schools in order to teach the play-party games to youth.

Many people, two of whom I wish to mention for their outstanding assistance, have aided my success with this project. I can attest to the quality of their work, should you desire their services.

Jennifer Rose is an excellent singer, musician and dance educator who has produced collections of lesson plans for traditional dances.

Debbie Jackson painstakingly transcribed recordings of interviewees singing remembered tunes into written notation format. Debbie is an exceptional musician of many styles and plays for English country dancing with the band Childgrove, and for contra dancing with the band Dr. Grangelove. She resides in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

To schedule me to lead play-party games click here.


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