homepage logo

40 years of memories: Shepherdstown Music and Dance celebrates anniversary with look into past

By Staff | Dec 13, 2019

From left, Tara Bell, of Charles Town, SMAD founding board member Michael Hawkins, Bruce Wilder, of Sharpsburg, and SMAD former president Richard Bell reminisce together, during the celebration in the War Memorial Building on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Music filled the War Memorial Building on Saturday evening, as local contra dancers gathered together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Shepherdstown Music and Dance.

Following a potluck dinner, attendees listened as members from SMAD’s early years reminisced on the organization’s founding. Contra dancing followed the event, with dances called by Susan Taylor and music performed by Critton Hollow, which played for some of SMAD’s earliest dances.

“Most of us have been dancing for many decades,” said SMAD Concert Chair Joanie Blanton. “Our first dance, when we dance this evening, will be a grand march. It will be like a dance through our history — we want the line to start, almost like our history. Original members will start the dance, and then those behind them will be in order from when they first joined our dances.”

For one of the couples at the event, SMAD’s dances played a foundational role in their relationship. Former SMAD president Richard Bell, of Charles Town, first came to the area for a job, and joined SMAD soon after.

“We met at a contra dance, so the dances have a lot of history for us,” Bell told the audience about his wife, Tara Bell. “It’s nice to see so many familiar faces here, although we’ve all changed the color of our hair since.”

Critton Hollow, one of the bands that has played for Shepherdstown Music and Dance's contra dances since the organization's founding, performed in the War Memorial Building on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

SMAD, which provides traditional music and dancing workshops and concerts in the Shepherdstown area, began on Feb. 18, 1979 with its first dance in a Smithsburg, Md. house. Originally called the Western Maryland Folklore Society, the organization’s four founders — Carole Lafferman, Michael Hawkins, Fran Pratka and Liz Reisberg — moved the dances to locations in Keedysville, Md. and Leitersburg, Md., before finding their perfect dance location, in Shepherdstown’s War Memorial Building. A few years later, the organization recognized the permanency of its location in Shepherdstown, and changed its name to Shepherdstown Music and Dance, making it easier for the organization to apply for grants from the state of West Virginia.

“In 1989 we really expanded what we did,” Blanton said. “We added Morris dancing and had performers who were Grammy winners perform in our concert series.”

Many attendees credited the health and social benefits of contra dancing, as the reason why they continue to dance with SMAD. While SMAD welcomes anyone interested in contra dancing or traditional music to join SMAD, the event’s attendees spent the 40th anniversary celebration enjoying one another’s company, reminiscing on the many years spent creating art and building relationships in their community.

“It’s a great night for all of us, tonight,” said SMAD member Kay Smith. “My first dance was in 1983, so I’ve danced for about 35 or 36 years, off-and-on.”

To learn more about SMAD, visit smad.us, call Joanie Blanton at 304-263-2531 or email upperpotomac@gmail.com.

One of Shepherdstown Music and Dance's first callers, Slim Harrison, recalls memories from the organization's early years, during the celebration in the War Memorial Building on Saturday night. Tabitha Johnston

Shepherdstown Music and Dance Concert Chair Joanie Blanton, in the red-and-green outfit, dances with other attendees of the 40th anniversary celebration in the War Memorial Building on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

Becky Lidgerding, of Shepherdstown, swirls around on the dance floor, during the celebration in the War Memorial Building on Saturday night. Tabitha Johnston