Food and Dance Bring People Together

The East Kentucky Food & Dance Trail, a project of Hindman Settlement School, connects people, places and events across the region around food and dance.

We see both food and dance as cultural opportunities for people to gather in community. The trail project is intended to honor past and present foodways and danceways in Eastern Kentucky, as we continue to make livable communities for future generations.

A grant from the Kentucky Oral History Commission allowed us to conduct a series of interviews with people who are involved with food and dance in Eastern Kentucky and to deepen the scope of the Food & Dance Trail by collecting stories centered in dynamic food and dance traditions. Over the course of the year, we conducted 12 interviews with 14 people, including, a performance dancer, dance caller, seed saver, farmer, community dancers, musicians, event organizers, gardeners, cooks, bakers, and restaurant owners.

We heard about segregation, family traditions, gingerbread, maple syrup, home gardening, food preservation, seed saving, planting by the signs, beef cattle, hog roasting, oysters, potlucks, festivals, candies, all-purpose sauce, impromptu dance parties, square dancing, country dancing, flatfooting, two-stepping, Mexican folk dance, Irish music traditions, music and dance education, and more.

Food and dance emerged throughout these interviews as being central to community gathering and caretaking. Woven throughout these interviews is the importance of food and dance as reasons for people—past and present—to be with one another, making meaning, fun, nourishment, and community, as these comments show:

  • In reflecting on the long-running Carcassonne Square Dance, Randy Wilson said, “The important thing is to be together.”
  • When talking about Cornbread & Tortillas, a group of artists which bridges Latinx and Appalachian food and dance, Paulina Vazquez spoke about art as an important vehicle to connect people across cultures: “What better way to bring people together and to laugh and to talk about connections than music and dance and things that we all love.”
  • Darlene Campbell expressed her hope that people feel a sense of family when they walk into Campbell’s Branch/Line Fork Community Center in Hallie, Kentucky, for supper and dancing on Friday nights: “One of the goals for Campbell’s Branch Community Center is to be home to everyone, for everyone to be welcome. Just as if you are going home to see your mother, your father, your brother, sisters, aunts, cousins—that’s what it feels like when you come here.”
  • Kristin Smith described how they set up their restaurant, The Wrigley Taproom in Corbin, Kentucky, to be a welcoming and open community space.
  • Becky Cornett of Perry County, Kentucky, remembered the open table of hospitality and generosity her mother practiced through food.
  • Bennie Massey, of Harlan County, Kentucky, talked about his mother’s all-purpose sauce as a metaphor for the way people take care of one another.

Berea College holds full audio recordings and transcripts from these interviews. Audio excerpts and transcripts are available on the East Kentucky Food & Dance Trail website. If you have questions or interest in this project, send an email to foodanddance@hindmansettlement.org.

(Editor’s Note: Thanks to blog author Abby Huggins, an Appalachian Transition Fellow. The Hindman Settlement School received a $2,500 KOHC project grant in 2017. KOHC is taking applications for FY19 grants through March 18, 2019. Find out more here. You don’t need a grant to help commemorate “The Year of Kentucky Food” by sharing stories and photos of your food traditions through the Kentucky MEdia Bank. Learn how here.)

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