MOUNT AIRY — With crowds of people from as far away as Denmark inhabiting Veterans Park, the 44th Annual Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention kicked-off with music and dance workshops on Friday.
The workshops began at 11 a.m. and included lessons in playing banjo and fiddle. Additionally, a class in traditional dance was led by Aaron Ratcliffe from Waynesville, and Jim Vipperman facilitated an old-time music demonstration. Hundreds showed up to take part in the learning experiences that were offered.
Aaron Ratcliffe said he’s been coming to the convention in Mount Airy for about the past ten years. This year Ratcliffe taught a group of about 25 a few steps in “flat footin” or traditional dance. Ratcliffe is from Waynesville, but has been traveling to Mount Airy frequently since his mother began teaching at Jones Elementary.
Ratcliffe said that Waynesville is home to “Stomping Grounds,” a well-known dance group. He said watching that group and others perform and attending “street dances” motivated him to take up the hobby. What Ratcliffe didn’t know was that he wasn’t the first in the family to take part in the traditional dancing of the area.
Shortly after Ratcliffe started dancing he saw his grandmother, 91-year-old Blanch Worley of Hillsville, hit the floor. Worley, who was at Ratcliffe’s dance workshop Friday, said she took up the art of dancing when she was just a small child.
However, Ratcliffe didn’t know his grandmother could dance because until recently she was what one might call a “closet dancer.” Worley said that as a child her mother wouldn’t allow her to dance. “My mother didn’t appreciate dancing, so I had to sneak around and do it in other rooms of the house,” remarked Worley.
At age 91 Worley can still hit the floor with folks half her age, and Ratcliffe now enjoys another common bond with his grandmother.
Mike Thorpe, who is on the board of Veterans Memorial Park, said that this year’s crowd of attendees is, thus far, equal to or larger than any previous crowd at the event. Thorpe, who has managed the facilities for the event for about the past decade, said that he never had a love for old-time music.
However, since Thorpe became involved in the event he said he has developed a true appreciation for the musicians. Thorpe said what’s most exciting for him is the camaraderie that is formed between musicians from all over the world who attend the event. Thorpe said that in the past decade he has seen musicians from Japan, France, England and Finland at the event.
Thorpe said that in many instances musicians come to the event alone. Through the friendships created by the art of music, Thorpe said musicians often get to know each other and end up forming a band. He said it’s “really cool” to see musicians who had never met prior to the convention perform as a group in Saturday’s competition.
Today’s Fiddlers Convention events begin at 9:30 a.m. with Folk Song at the grandstand and bluegrass and old-time banjos and fiddles. Youth dance will be held at 5:45 p.m. and all bands will perform at 6 p.m. An adult dancing session will follow the performance.
Admission to the event is $10 for adults, and children under the age of 6 are free. For more information about the Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention visit www.mtairyfiddlersconvention.com.