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Berea Sound Archives Fellowship Topics

Deborah Denenfeld / Louisville, Kentucky / 2006-2007 / Topic: Folk Dance

Deborah Denenfeld

Deborah holds degrees in Philosophy and Hassidic Studies and Business Administration. She has been teaching folk dancing since her teenage years and since 1993 has worked as a Dance Artist-in-Residence in Kentucky schools. In her Fellowship work beginning in May, she will focus on researching and preserving Appalachian Play-Party or Singing Games, a popular social activity in eastern Kentucky and the southern Appalachian region until the mid 1900s. Requiring no musical instruments, the games were played at gatherings of young adults as an acceptable alternative to the social dancing that many rural communities considered morally suspect. Deborah will divide her time between research in Berea’s audio and manuscript collections and field work in the form of video recorded interviews with surviving dance callers and others who may remember the tunes, words, and movements that constituted the games. She will add the reconstructed games that emerge from her efforts to her teaching repertoire for school groups and dance workshop events such as Berea’s Christmas Country Dance School. Wider dissemination will be achieved through a website display and print publication. The resultant documentation will be deposited in the Berea archives for use by future researchers.

Sarah Downs / Berea, Kentucky / 2012-2013 / Topic: Modern Dance and Traditional Music

Sarah Downs

Project: Sarah's Fellowship research will make use of interview and performance recordings of Lily May Ledford and the Coon Creek Girls to develop a dance work for Berea's annual modern dance concert, Kinetic Expressions in 2014.  It will include improvisational contributions from Berea College students built around the archival materials. They will be shaped, structured and, ultimately, choreographed into a completed work with portions of the audio material also serving as a soundscape.  Additional research outcomes include (1) performances at schools, hospitals, and community centers in lecture demonstrations, dance playshops, and exhibitions throughout Madison and surrounding counties; and (2) Inclusion of a soundscape or "found sound" based project in the syllabus of PED 305 Improvisation and Choreography.

Sarah is Assistant Director of Dance Programs, Instructor in Physical Education and Health at Berea College. Her undergraduate and graduate study, respectively was at Eastern Kentucky University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


Michael Ismerio / Bloomington, Indiana / 2011-2012 / Topic: Folk Dance

Michael IsmerioProject: Michael Ismerio is a traditional dance caller and musician. His Fellowship research will focus on Berea's audio and video materials that document square dance callers and square dancing traditions in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. He is interested in identifying some of the more subtle aspects of square dance calling that rarely make it into print. His work will also include creating video documentation of current Kentucky callers for addition to the Berea Archives and conducting one or more campus / community square dance opportunities. The primary outcome of his research will be the development of a free online teaching resource for aspiring square dance callers.


Susan Spalding / Lexington, Kentucky / 2013-2014 / Topic: Folk Dance

Susan SpaldingProject: Susan’s research is directed at identifying and documenting 1900s era dance traditions in the area surrounding Berea College. This interest developed out of the realization soon after becoming Director of Dance Programs at Berea in 1995 that no local community square dance or footwork dance traditions were in evidence, despite the fact that the college has included dance among the traditional art forms it supports for at least the past seventy-five years.

Among important informants are family members and associates of Mary Lee Jackson. As a young woman she danced in nearby Estill County and later in Berea, established young people’s clogging teams. Interviews will be directed at learning about the teams’ dancing, how they learned the dances, and the dance experience of the team members’ parents. Other interviews will explore dance traditions in Estill County and the links between Berea dancers and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance stage shows.

Susan will share her findings in an annotated online article and a presentation at the 2015 Appalachian Studies Conference. Her project is also a first step toward further exploration of Central Kentucky 1900s era dance traditions. Her resultant collection of audio-recordings and other documentary material will provide both new knowledge and connect it to existing dance related documentation in Hutchins Library’s Department of Special Collections and Archives.