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Set Running - Cecil Sharp in America

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collecting in the Appalachians


The name "running set" comes to us from the work of the great English song collector Cecil Sharp, founder of the English Folk Dance Society and, in 1915, what became Country Dance and Song Society. During the years 1916–18, Sharp and his colleague Maud Karpeles spent more than 40 weeks traveling throughout the southern Appalachians, collecting ballads and other songs.

It was at a school in Pine Mountain, Kentucky, that Sharp first encountered dancing. No musicians were present, but someone commented, "Let's run a set," and people started clapping hands to set a beat for the dancers. (That casual comment became solidified as Sharp dubbed the observed dance form the "running set.") Sharp was entranced by the dancing and took detailed notes that form the basis of his description in his Country Dance Book. He wrote in his diary (October 8, 1917), "This dance is as valuable a piece of work as anything I have done in the mountains."

Michael Yates, an Englishman, has written a detailed account of Sharp's travels in America that appeared in the journal Musical Traditions. If you're only interested in the dance part, once you've opened the article, do a search in your browser for "Pine Mountain" and it will take you to the right place.

There are many resources in this collection that relate to set running. Stew Shacklette and the Kentucky Dance Foundation created a video with instruction and a demonstration; North Carolina dance historian Phil Jamison discusses the dance and Cecil Sharp in a videotaped interview. The Search function will bring up additional examples.


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Cecil Sharp in America by Michael Yates

Item Relations

Item: Phil Jamison 4 - Cecil Sharp and the "running set" is related to This Item
Item: Origin of Appalachian Square Dance is related to This Item
Item: Kentucky Set Running - 1914 firsthand account is related to This Item