Dancers Bring 19th Century Moves to Center Wheeling

WHEELING – A bygone era suddenly returned to the Friendly City on Friday, as members of the Heritage Dance Association set out to remind the public of next’s week’s 150th anniversary of West Virginia statehood.

Dressed in hoop skirts and formal suits reminiscent of those worn during the Civil War, the dancers performed in three locations in Center Wheeling – in the main lobby of Ohio Valley Medical Center and outside the upper and lower houses of Centre Market. In each case, their traditional dance moves and colorful costumes drew quite a crowd.

A large part of their mission was to promote the Sesquicentennial Statehood Ball, scheduled for 6-9 p.m. June 22 at the McLure Hotel Ballroom. And since they caught the attention of scores of passing pedestrians and motorists, they had plenty of opportunities to hand out information about the event.

“There were no cell phones, no texting – we just showed up and danced,” said Dance Master Don Feenerty, who led the group through several musical selections.

Feenerty said while the Heritage Dance Association is working to promote the Statehood Ball and other sesquicentennial events slated throughout the upcoming week, members also dance for other occasions. He said the group was asked by officials with the city of Wheeling and Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. to help promote the upcoming celebration.

“We knew the ball was coming up … so this particular group is just to get ready for the ball,” said Feenerty. “It was fun seeing people watch, as we created a couple of traffic jams. We had a good time.”

In addition to the ball, next week’s activities in Wheeling include a Lunch With Books Presentation on “Secession in Favor of the Constitution” at noon Tuesday, followed at 7 p.m. by a People’s University presentation on “Wheeling Conventions,” both at the Ohio County Public Library; a Statehood Block Party from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at River City; the 7:30 p.m. Wednesday premiere of the documentary “West Virginia: The Road to Statehood” at West Virginia Independence Hall; and West Virginia Day events throughout the day Thursday, June 20 – the 150th anniversary of the state’s admission to the Union.

Additional concerts, fireworks, movies and more are planned nearly every night of the week through June 22.

Feenerty said he and his wife, Angela, started the Heritage Dance Association about 12 years ago. Members currently rehearse once a week at the YWCA in downtown Wheeling. They have been preparing for the state’s 150th birthday bash for about six months.

Doors to the Sesquicentennial Statehood Ball at the McLure on Market Street open at 5:30 p.m. with dinner to be served at 6 p.m. Dancing follows from 7-9 p.m. with brief demonstrations by the Heritage Dance Association, including some opportunities for audience participation. The dance floor then will open up to everyone, with music provided by Gallowglass and members of the Marsh Wheeling String Band. Period attire is optional for all attendees.

Tickets are on sale at the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1401 Main St. Those planning to attend are encouraged to purchase them in advance so that plenty of meals can be provided.