The Bannerman Family Thanksgiving Folk Dance Camp began 46 years ago, when Glenn and Evelyn Bannerman traveled around the country with their children to attend folk dances. “We’ve always been dancers,” Glenn Bannerman says in his warm drawl. “We belonged to folk dance groups, we danced in high school, jitterbugging and all that kinds of stuff.”
At that time, it was difficult to find a group that would also be engaging for their children. “We’d bring the kids and [the groups would] tolerate them, but not program for them,” Bannerman says. “We talked with some other folks and said, ‘There ought to be a place where families of all ages can come.’” So the Bannerman family launched its own dance camp. The tradition, now in its 47th year, includes contra, Western squares, line and big circle mountain dance — all taught and performed. The camp will take place Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 24-27, at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain.
“We’ve been blessed with the way folks, especially the family, have wanted to be a part of it,” says Bannerman. Intergenerational cooperation has been the key to the event’s longevity. This year, four generations of Bannermans are involved with the camp, as well as many other friends, who initially may have come as strangers, but have become close over the decades.
“It’s really a community of family,” Bannerman says. “There are no prima donnas. It’s all about helping each other, encouraging each other, getting to know different people.” This year, the camp is making ticket options easier for community members. Local participants can pay a lower price for meals, and day passes are also available for Friday and Saturday.
Even if the gathering is laid-back, its leaders and participants are passionate about folk dance. The international instructor Marcie Van Cleave teaches at the Folk Arts Center of New England in Boston. This year’s contra dance instructor, Jeff O’Connor, is the director of the Stockton Folk Dance Camp in California. Earlier this year, he taught contra in Japan to 2,000 students.
At the camp, dance lessons are taught in the morning in two general sections to two age groups — youth and adult. Van Cleave will teach primarily Balkan folk dance in the international lesson, and O’Connor will cover contra and other American styles. While contra does involve following potentially tricky instructions, others forms, like big circle mountain dance, are much more approachable.
“Big circle mountain dance, in Appalachian culture, is what I call the true fellowship dancing,” Bannerman says. “It’s simple, and you don’t have to listen to a call the whole time.” Couples line up facing each other, forming two concentric circles. The caller offers basic instructions for the couples. Then, one partner moves to the left and one stays, allowing everyone to dance with each other. “You get to dance a real social dance,” Bannerman says.
The event starts on Thursday with registration and a turkey dinner provided by the Blue Ridge Assembly. The next day begins the typical daily schedule of breakfast followed by a group event and all-age classes. After lunch, there’s free time for family-friendly entertainment, hiking or sightseeing. After dinner, the campers come together for a last dance of the day with live music accompaniment. In keeping with the original intention of the camp, free, professional child care is included with the price of admission.
Underpinning all this tradition is the importance of community and family. One of the major things the organizers are emphasizing this year is how excited they are to welcome new members from the public into the Thanksgiving Folk Dance Camp family, regardless of ability. “The beautiful part about the camp is folks are welcome that don’t particularly want to dance, but love to be in the environment with families and children,” Bannerman says.
The Bannermans began the camp as a way to create family-friendly environments for fun and fellowship. They’ve certainly reached that goal with the age group of participants ranging from toddler to nonagenarian. The bonds of dance bring them all together. “When the older participants come in, teenagers, as well as children and others, go hug and greet them,” Bannerman says, “It’s pure family all the way.”
WHAT: Bannerman Family Thanksgiving Folk Dance Camp
WHERE: YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly, 84 Blue Ridge Assembly Drive, Black Mountain
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 24-27. See website for full program, room and meal prices. One-day passes are $73 ages 13 and older/$46.50 children. bannermanfamily.com/Thanksgiving.htm