Goin’ to Boston is a traditional folk dance enjoyed as a “play party game” in Appalachia. Instructor Anndrena Belcher teaches a group of middle school students the song and dance moves. She explains what a “play party game” is and teaches such commonly used folk dance movements as promenade, sashay, reel, and casting the lines.
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Goin’ to Boston is an example of a play party game. The Handy Play Party Book, published by World Around Songs, Inc., gives this definition of a play party: “The play party is one of America’s most important contributions to the world of folk dances and folk games. It is rooted in the customs of the old countries from which the early settlers came. Defined simply, a play party is a kind of country dance done to a singing accompaniment. The songs and figures of our early play parties hearken back to Scottish, English, Irish, and German folk traditions.”
Frontier community gatherings often focused on play parties as an occasion for people of all ages to come together and have fun. With limited access to musical instruments and special equipment, early settlers found play parties a rich source of entertainment in their sparse surroundings. The Handy Play Party Book goes on to say “Pioneer life was often difficult and full of challenges. Sometimes there was a scarcity of food. Often there was isolation and loneliness. Light-hearted fellowship and recreation was a much-needed tonic, yet religion frequently stood in the way. Quakers, Disciples, Methodists, Baptists, or Presbyterians might differ as to creed, but they were united in their belief that dance was a wicked sport and the fiddle an instrument of the devil. The singing games of the young people, however, seemed innocent enough, being time-honored and unsophisticated. So it came that these charming dances, carefully referred to as ‘play parties,’ brightened life on the American frontier.”
For a time, the Appalachian Mountains was the American frontier. The play parties, along with other games, stories, and ballads, served to chronicle and reenact or “play out” the happenings of the times. Community characters and dialogue, propriety and courtship rituals—all get interwoven in the dancing and mimicking. The early European settlers farmed; gathered food; and made their own clothes, tools, houses, warmth, music, literature, education, and recreation.
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