Civil War Era Dancers combine fun with history

Tom Mack directs different moves during the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers' February practice session at Samuels Library in Front Royal. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Those who attend Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers’ practices are in for a lesson in what founder Tom Mack calls “a little bit of history and a lot of fun.”

Formed in 2012, the nonprofit group operates throughout the region and began leading free lessons open to the public at Samuels Library in Front Royal about a year ago. Founding members Tom and Lesley Mack made Front Royal the group’s third monthly practice location, coming north from the group’s foundations in Harrisonburg and Luray.

With plenty of books and research serving as references, the Macks teach a number of different dances characteristic of the 1800s. Many of the dancers wear white gloves to prevent spreading germs, as the dances involve lots of hand-holding. Between lessons, Tom Mack will sometimes talk to dancers about traditions and society during the era.

Not all who attend the practices are formal members of the organization, which travels to events in full period garb to display the dancers’ skills. However, Tom Mack said many regulars from the Front Royal class joined the organization dancers at the Manassas Civil War Weekend in August.

“We are truly interactive and want to get people involved,” he said. “The music and the dancing is just a lot of fun, and we’ve attracted a lot of people who might not otherwise be interested in American history or the 1800s.”

Amissville resident Barbara Faloon said she’s been to three of the monthly practices in Front Royal and was accompanied at the February practice by her family. She said that there’s been some overlap of the lessons with dances she was familiar with when teaching middle and high school French classes in Maine.

“Some of the dances that we did … came over from old France,” she said. “The dances are always different, and he [Tom] always has to walk us through them.”

Along with visiting events to demonstrate and teach, the dancers have started a few events of their own. Lesley Mack has coordinated the fourth annual Red, White, Blue and Gray Valentine Ball held today in Harrisonburg, and Tom Mack said he’s expecting more than 100 attendees for the event, depending on who’s willing to brave the cold.

For the first time, the dancers hosted a Preservation Ball at the Mimslyn Inn in Luray on Jan. 16 – which Mack said might become another annual occasion. Instead of admission proceeds going to an organization, attendees needed to apply for or renew a membership to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation.

“It’s almost become a full time job,” he said. “We’ve put in a lot of time learning the dances … we do a lot of research and active work behind the scenes besides just showing up at an event.”

The group donates any funds from hosting events and dancing at other events to various historical and heritage organizations. Last year, the group donated a total of $7,925 to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and the Civil War Trust, along with many other churches, schools and groups.

Learn more about the group at http://tinyurl.com/grn85hl or on their Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/z3duj7r.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com