Berea’s Christmas Country Dance School, under the leadership of Frank Smith and May Gadd, was created in 1938 to educate and inspire dance leaders to teach and encourage folk music, dance, and crafts as community development activities, especially in the mountain areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The Council of Southern Mountains and Country Dance and Song Society were important partners with Berea College from its inception until sometime in the 1960s, to provide funding, training, advertising, and other support. CCDS was part of a suite of activities and groups organized under the umbrella of the College’s Recreation Extension Service, which also included the Country Dancers, Spring Mountain Folk Festival, and later adult section of the Mountain Folk Festival which came to be known as the Levi Jackson Dance Weekend. As time went on, the programming continued its focus on training leaders but also included more participants coming for their own education and pleasure.
In 1995, the College decided to terminate the Recreation Extension Service, and transition some of its activities into the new Seabury Center and under the auspices of the physical education department. These activities that continued with support from the College were CCDS, Country Dancers, and Mountain Folk Festival. Some of the activities not included in the new arrangement were taken over by the Folk Circle Association, a community-based organization with ties to the College. The Folk Circle Association was responsible for building the Acton Folk Center and continues today to support music, dance, and cultural activities in lieu of the Recreation Extension.
In 2018, the College further distanced itself from these important folk activities by discontinuing its sponsorship of CCDS and the Mountain Folk Festival, limiting itself to offering the Country Dancers as a non-touring student folk dance club and class. To continue the magic of CCDS, a new community non-profit organization, Berea Christmas Country Dance School, was created and its 501 (c) 3 status achieved, allowing donations to BCCDS to be tax-deductible.
Berea College’s support of Christmas Country Dance School over the years, along with its connection to a suite of related programs such as the Country Dancers and Mountain Folk Festival, was invaluable, especially in allowing the program to flourish with such a low registration cost that allowed so many people to attend. All fund-raising could be used for scholarships to allow for participation by anyone, regardless of their income. The board of directors of the new BCCDS non-profit were confident that we could transition to independence through the success of our programming and the special community created among our participants and staff.