Dancing in the Dark

Ever since moving down to Mississippi I have lamented the lack of dancing of any sort in the whole state.  There is certainly no contra dancing.  In fact the only time I’ve seen the word dancing used at all was to refer to a concert which took place during Octoberfest 2013 in Cleveland.  However as it turns out the residents of the state of Mississippi do sometimes move their feet to music.

Outside Camp Mentone
Outside Camp Mentone

First a little background.  Back in August I went to a contra dance in the town of Mentone, Alabama.  It is put on by a Birmingham based group known as FOOTMAD (Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance).  Every year they hold a dance at a camp on top of a mountain in the Northeast part of the state.  The location was beautiful, the weather was great, and the people were friendly.  The dance is attended by people from Atlanta, Birmingham, and Hunstville so some of the folks were familiar from Catapult 2014.  All in all it was a good time.

The dance hall at Camp Mentone
The dance hall at Camp Mentone

While there, I heard of an event in Jackson called Celtic Fest.  A friend of mine from Mississippi, who is also into contra dancing, told me there would be dancing.  It was Irish dancing, not contra, but hey dancing is dancing.  Jackson is only about two hours away and I had no other plans the weekend of the festival.  So on September 12th, off I went.

The Mississippi Celtic Festival is an annual event held every year on the ground of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum.  The museum itself leads patrons

Mock village at the Ag Museum
Mock village at the Ag Museum

through the history of agriculture and forestry in Mississippi.  It does a good job of showing the importance of both of those areas in the state’s history.  Beyond the main building, there is a small mock village on the surrounding land.  In someways it reminds me of Olde Mystic Village in Connecticut except there are no shops other than a blacksmith’s forge.  There is also a trail through the forest which offered a peaceful diversion from the festivities.

The actual festival itself is mostly focused on music.  There were four or five stages featuring musicians from all over the South as well as some from overseas.   One of the stage featured Irish dancing we well.  CelticFest also had the usual assortment of food as well as vendors selling artwork, medieval weapons, clothing, and jewelry.  There was a children’s area and even a blacksmith making palm sized gerbil swords out of nails.

Vendor area at CelticFest 2015
Vendor area at CelticFest 2015.

However the part I was looking forward to the most was the Ceili Mor on Saturday night.  Basically a large social dance, the Ceili was led by a caller from Ireland and featured several shifts of live music.  The dancing began at around 8:15 PM and lasted nonstop until almost midnight.  Much to my surprise there were no breaks.  People came and went as they pleased sometimes changing partners or sticking with their friends.  Everything was taught and the dances varied from simple partner dances to set dances of up to ten people.  It took a while to get the hang of things and I didn’t feel I knew what I was doing until taking a brief lesson on Sunday.   Fortunately no one else seemed to know what they were doing either so I fit right in.  It was a good time, although the dance floor bit crowded.

Yet in many ways CelticFest proved how dour Mississippi really is.  First of all the average age of people at the Ceili seemed to be about 22.  Most of the folks on the floor were kids and teens.  Almost everyone older sat off to the side.  The dance floor was also such a chaotic mass of people it was downright dangerous.  Clearly no one had ever danced before.  In fact the caller asked how many of us had ever done so and maybe a dozen participants raised their hands.  My suspicion is dancing is seen as something done only by children at best.  The God fearing residents of Mississippi probably wouldn’t be caught dead moving their feet.

All the same I did have a good time.  CelticFest is smaller than I thought it would be.  There weren’t many vendors.  But the ice cream truck mixed flavor syrup into plain vanilla thus offering about fifty different flavors.  It made my day.  However the music was good and I enjoyed being exposed to something other than contra dancing.  I got a nice Tree of Gondor pendant and spent some time visiting the Agriculture and Forestry museum itself.   The day and a half I was there was time well spent.

Ultimately there are probably bigger Celtic Festivals elsewhere.  Folk music and dancing don’t seem to be high priorities around here.  Mississippians like country music, football, and barbecue.  Those first two aren’t really my thing.  It makes life a bit duller than would otherwise be the case, but oh well.  I have my whole life to surround myself with interesting people and activities.


Article by Mike

Mike is the Head of Discovery Services for the Delta State University Library. He has lived in Cleveland since May 2013.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

seventeen + 14 =