SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Following the 1800s wedding ceremony of Caroline Frances Perry to Dr. Theodore H. Jewett, the town’s people danced.
That custom hasn’t changed much over 150-plus years. Dancing didn’t just take place after weddings but different occasions and places. And dancing is going to be a big part of the 25th anniversary edition of A Hike Through History in town on May 30 with the theme “A River Runs Through Us.”
The 2019 event is planned to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday, May 30 with a rain date of June 3. Students, staff and community volunteers from Central School, Marshwood Middle School, Historic New England and Old Berwick Historical Society have collaborated for this year’s event, which will take place at Vaughan Woods State Park and the Hamilton House on the Salmon Falls River. The event in the past was held through the town of South Berwick. This year, students from Central School, Marshwood Middle School, Eliot Elementary School, and Rollinsford Elementary School will join families, community members and guests at the new location.
Hikers will visit new theme-based student-led learning stops. Marshwood Middle School and Central School students have worked in groups with staff members and expert mentors to research and then created authentic and engaging hands-on historic experiences at these stops, which will be 30 minutes each this year with learning and entertainment at each location.
Content will focus on Native Americans and the Land, Shipbuilding on the River, Goodwin’s Farming on the River, Scottish Settlers, the Life of Jonathan Hamilton, and Elise Tyson and Sarah Orne Jewett, according to organizers. Other stops will feature music, poetry, art and orienteering. A specially designed Pre-K Hike will lead the youngest Hikers on a “Farmer Will” story walk based on the book written and illustrated by local author Jane Cowen Fletcher. Along this story walk children will visit live sheep and chickens.
Hikers and community members will join Sammie Haynes in singing a lively new song she has written for this celebration, to be held during the concluding ceremony at the Hike’s end. Special guests, Hike creators and many former Hike participants will all be honored.
The preparations are busily under way, including dance practice.
Music and choral teacher Kris Bisson said, “Kate Smith and I designed a curriculum about music and its link to colonial times. So our focus is about dances then and now; it wasn’t just a source of physical enjoyment, but also a chance to be with your neighbors and your town community.”
On the lawn of Central School, eighth-graders worked recently with second-grade students showing them folk dances people did in the early 1800s as music sifted through the air. The dances they have chosen are authentic, matching how people actually danced in Colonial days in South Berwick and surrounding towns. One person called out the dance on a microphone. “Heel and toe, heal and toe, slide, swing your partner!” The eighth-grade students decided to plan this year’s hike around a wedding ceremony so they could show children the old-time dances as well as a few modern dances to demonstrate similarities from the past to the present. The Heal and Toe Polka, Chimes of Dunkirk, the Twist or the Macarena all have commonalities.
Central School music teacher Kate Smith said she had an interesting conversation with second-graders. “I said, well, you’ve been to weddings. What are some of the dances you did there? Did you have to practice? ‘Well no, we just watched what people were doing and it repeats.’ That’s what social dances were like then, too. It was about participating, not performing. It was about building community. It’s where people used to find their next spouse or first spouse. They came together. They had been out in the field all day or in the mills. This is something they could look forward to.”
Bisson talked about what people can expect from this year’s A Hike Through History: “Physical education, art, and music teachers from Central and Marshwood Middle School are working with experts from the town and the Old Berwick Historical Society to set up interactive stations at Vaughn Woods and the Hamilton House,” Bisson said. “There won’t be stations through downtown like in the past. The eighth grade and third-graders will be teaching kids of all ages on each of the stops. There will be a celebration and feast in the Hamilton House field where children’s musician Sammy Haynes will sing her celebration song of the 25 years and my choral group will be singing our original piece, which celebrates the river.”
Eighth-grader A.J. Gori said, “I think it’s a good lesson that teaches everyone team work, responsibility and how to listen. It’s been really fun teaching these kids to dance. They hang on and they get used to it after awhile so like the Macarana they all knew it and they did the Chimes of Dunkirk beautifully. … I am definitely enjoying it.”
Kate Smith added, “Some people might say, ‘Folk dancing? Do the kids really get into that?’ They love it. Hearing from the fourth- and fifth-graders, as well as these eighth-graders; they just love it so it’s us that need to change our perspective.”