Dancing at Barn is Montreat tradition
On a humid Friday night in Montreat, the Barn is filled with three generations of Montreaters swirling around during a night of big mountain circle dances.
Grandparents dance with grandchildren, parents tote their toddlers to the dance floor, kids dash to their day camp counselors for hugs and teens cluster for lively conversation. The crowd spills outside, where kids express the evening’s excitement by jumping from boulder to boulder. Between tunes, folks break to walk around Lake Susan or stop by the Huckleberry for an ice cream treat.
This has been the scene on summer Friday nights at the Barn in Montreat since 1969. The barn, across from the Assembly Inn and beside the Montreat College gym, has for years attracted Montreaters, conference attendees and locals of all ages to an evening of free family fun, rich beyond measure in the wholesome memories it affords. The barn dances run from 7:30-10 p.m. June to mid-August.
Though the barn is bare bones, the music is live, full of life and mountain tradition. The dance caller commands the attention of the dancers on the floor. You could hardly fit another couple on the floor, it’s so packed. There’s something for everyone, for those who dance, observe, socialize or listen to the rich mountain music.
Mountain dancing has been part of several Montreat Conference Center activities, from the tennis courts to the College’s gym and beyond, according to Glenn Bannerman, with whom many most closely associate the barn dances. Bannerman, along with Larry Wilson and Rob Robinson, birthed the idea of inter-generational big circle mountain dancing for the community. In the earliest years, they used vinyl records while sharing duties calling the dances.
In 1971, the callers discovered a new mountain music band, which had been asked to play for a world mission event on the tennis courts. Shortly thereafter, the Stoney Creek Boys, as they are called now, became the house band for the Friday night dance. Bannerman calls every week now, with the occasional exception when he asks daughter Beth or granddaughter Megan fill in.
Over the years, the size of the barn dance crowd has grown. When the event first began, there were enough people for one large dance circle. Later, they formed two full circles. “Just last week, we had a crowd large enough for three dance circles,” said Bannerman.
The Stoney Creek Boys - Arvil Freeman, Lawrence Dillingham, Boyd Black, George Banks -are also the host band for the popular Shindig on the Green events in Asheville. Tunes like “Little Liza Jane,” “Grey Eagle,” “Cripple Creek,” “Alabama Jubilee” and “Band Box” are regularly played at the dances.
Novelty dances are also a hit each Friday night. As the band breaks, the floor fills with all ages dancing to tunes like “New York, New York,” “Hokey Pokey,” “Jiffy Mixer,” “Build Me Up Buttercup,” “Stepping Out” and “Blame It on the Bossa Nova.”
The teens especially know the movements by heart. “When the band takes a break, I love to watch the teens dance, as they have made up their own motions and know the words by heart,” Bannerman said. “Where else could the Hokey Pokey song be so popular for older kids.”
Dancing at the Barn “is just what you do on Friday night in Montreat,” said Ginny Porter, a Florida resident who has spent summers in Montreat since her now-adult grandchildren were young. Friday night dances were the highlight of her family’s week, she said.
“The children would dress up in their best outfits; the girls especially wanted full skirts that would swing easily,” Porter said. “Even now, my grandchildren who are in college and beyond still love to come visit.”
Reel good time
Warren Wilson College professor researches origins of Appalachian dance, Page 3B