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The Appalachian

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Students celebrate heritage with first contra dance of the semester

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The Appalachian Online

“One of my favorite things about calling is seeing new dancers go from not knowing anything about contra dance to having the time of their lives in the span of half an evening,” contra dance caller Valerie Helbert says on her website.
Most recently, Helbert called with the Roan Mtn. Hilltoppers at Legends on Friday night, for a limited but loyal group of contra dance enthusiasts, young and old, willing to brave the poor weather.
“Everyone has been a beginner at some point, so everyone is willing to help out,” said Virginia Reed, junior public relations major and chairperson of the Appalachian Heritage Council for the Appalachian Popular Programming Society.
Reed joined the council last year, chasing an interest in the diverse events themselves and the fun that they bring before the heritage itself. It wasn’t long before she learned the importance those happenings hold for the community at large.
“I personally enjoy a lot of the stuff we do, but I love the community that we get to work with,” Reed said. “A lot of the time we’re working on contracts and calling people and it’s hard to deal with, but once you’re out working an event with people from our community they’re really nice and generally interested. You make sure that everyone is having fun. It’s not about making money or selling tickets.”
Junior political science major Kate Hayes joined the council last semester as a participant, similarly persuaded by the fun at the events themselves.
Part of what makes these dances special, Hayes said, is the comprehensive instruction for beginning dancers at the start of each night.
“They are so good at teaching you what to do,” Hayes said, noting that part of what builds this community is the fact that beginners and experienced dancers alike are thrown into the mix together. Dancers get to meet everyone in the room by switching partners, regardless of their skill level.
This dance was the Heritage Council’s first event of the semester. More than 150 people came out to their first event last semester, and although significantly fewer came out Friday due to the weather, organizers have high hopes for this semester.
While the council’s programming usually has more of a community draw than a student one, Reed said, this is something they are trying to change this year in order to better cater to the Appalachian State University student body. Their mission statement relates to the region and the immediate culture of the area, something that other schools don’t usually bring in at all, let alone through student fees.
“It’s something that’s easy to not notice is here while you go to school here,” Reed said. “I didn’t think about it until I joined, but 10 minutes from campus is a different world with different people. It’s easy to get stuck in a microclimate of your campus and not realize the region you live in. I think it’s important that people who didn’t grow up in this tradition are learning about it and educating others about it, and also enjoying themselves while they have the chance to.”
The Appalachian Heritage Council meets Wednesdays at 6:15 p.m. in the New River Room of Plemmons Student Union. Their next event is the annual Appalachian Fiddlers Convention February 7.

Story: Lovey Cooper, Senior A&E Reporter

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