Appalachian professor explores family history through dance

Alexander McCall

Assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance Sherone Price has incorporated creative elements of modern and African dance in his extensive choreography work throughout his career at Appalachian State University and other universities. 

But he takes a more personally reflective note with a new piece.

“Skedman’s Inn,” a work in progress, explores and chronicles the cultural significance of prior generations of Price’s family in North Carolina, for which he was awarded the 2013 N.C. Dance Alliance Choreography Fellowship earlier this month.

The competitive fellowship is given each year to notable choreographers in the state, awarding the recipient $1,000 to put toward the creation of a new work.

“Skedman’s Inn” is named for the gas station and general store that Price’s grandfather, nicknamed Skedman, owned and operated in the 1930s and 1940s in Pittsboro. The store served as a cultural hub where community members gathered to dance and consume bootlegged alcohol – an illegal activity that Price sees as a positive aspect of his grandfather’s stake in the community.

“They told me that everyone sold something like that back then – it was a way of life,” Price said. “If you wanted to handle yourself, jobs were hard to find and it was just a way to make a living and obtain land.”

His grandparents’ business was extremely successful, and the two were the first African Americans in the county to sell gas, Price said.

The dance piece, an unfinished version of which premiered Oct. 12 at the N.C. Dance Alliance Choreographer’s showcase, is the direct result of Price’s own interest and research into his personal history. 

Through personal interviews and archived photos, Price and his wife, Tandrea Carter, are slowly piecing together accounts of life during that time period. Research has been a slow process, however, because of a courthouse fire years ago that destroyed a number of significant documents and photographs.

“I’m still working with the dancers to reenact the time period and understand that they have to become characters in a certain time,” Price said. “It isn’t really a theatrical piece, but it’s got lots of theatrical elements.”

While the piece does not tell a direct narrative story, it presents an account of history, featuring period-appropriate costumes and props. 

“Every piece I have performed in has always been very different from the previous, but what made ‘Skedman’s Inn’ so interesting was that it was set during a time period that none of my fellow dancers or myself had experienced,” said Tanashe Jennings, one of the dancers in the piece. 

Jennings graduated from the university in the spring, but at Price’s request commuted weekly to work on the project.

The concept for the piece began in May, but Price was unable to work with students until this semester.

“We did not have the months to prepare like we do for the Appalachian dance concert, so we really pulled together and helped each other along the way and I think we developed a unique bond that formed over a short period of time working on this dance,” Jennings said.

Price’s usual work combines modern choreography with elements of African dance.

“Working with Sherone is different than working with other choreographers,” junior exercise science major and dancer Arianna Steffen said. “He likes to create work with the dancers in front of him instead of just throwing choreography on the dancers.”

The performance is currently 10 minutes long, but Price hopes to expand on it, using this grant in order to present a more complete version at Appalachian’s spring dance concert.

“When you look at your family history like this, it’s an unending situation,” Price said. “You get bits and pieces of information over time, so it’s like trying to open up the books that aren’t there, and you kind of go back in time.”

STORY: LOVEY COOPER, Senior A&E Reporter