Historic dances bring culture of the Ozarks to life

Historic dances bring culture of the Ozarks to life

In the rural Ozark communities of the 1800s, gathering for a community dance meant more than just fun.

“The dances helped the early settlers keep ties to the countries of origin of their ancestors,” says Judy Costello, education manager for the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale. And with the “low population, rough terrain and lack of roads, any excuse and opportunity to get together would be appreciated.”

Costello will be teaching kids of all ages some of those social dances — including one danced to the “Fayetteville Polka” — at Shiloh Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 15 at the museum.

“With Valentine’s Day in February, dancing seemed like a good fit for the month,” Costello says. “People are stuck inside a little more than other months, so it’s a nice way to meet up with friends or make new ones and to get some exercise. The social dances are nice because they have defined steps, so you don’t have to feel awkward figuring out how to dance. [And] it’s also easy for me to teach them, because I do it on a regular basis.”

Costello taught the Washington County Historical Society’s Heritage School students for nine years, but her Northwest Arkansas Historical Dance Group “is under the Shiloh umbrella,” she says. “This group is open to anyone. We practice at the Shiloh Museum about once a month.” Many of the dancers were Heritage School students, she adds, but not all of them.

“I have a large group of volunteers of all ages who help with education programs at Shiloh,” Costello says. “They become good friends when volunteering, so they love to get together and socialize. The dance group is a way to provide that social time while learning history as well. It’s also a way to attract new people to the group. It looks fun – and it is!”

But Costello’s students also learn one important lesson that doesn’t involve footwork.

“The social dances are a time to socialize, which I tell my young dancers means that you visit with everyone,” she says. “There are no cliques or small groups.”





Shiloh Saturday

WHEN — 10:30 a.m. Feb. 15

WHERE — Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in downtown Springdale

COST — Free

INFO — 750-8165, shilohmuseum.org

Categories: Family Friendly