Forget ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gents.’ There’s room for everybody in the dance tent.

There’s an idea of the “big tent” of bluegrass, a shelter under which all are welcome and united in the magic of string instruments and the blending of voices.

It’s a nice notion, but the reality is that some people, whether because of their color, their gender, their place of origin or the partners they choose, have been kept to the edges of the tent when it comes to telling the history of bluegrass.

The Shout & Shine event has been part of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass for four years. Its goal is to pull those people and those stories right to the center with concerts that give a fuller picture of what bluegrass looks like — past, present and future.

This year’s event is taking its big-tent message to an actual big tent for a full day of shows Friday.

The Dance Tent on the south end of Fayetteville Street “felt like there was more room to reach some new people,” said Jamie Katz Court, communications and programs manager for PineCone, the traditional music organization. The tent is presented by PineCone and music website The Bluegrass Situation.

The lineup includes former Carolina Chocolate Drops member Hubby Jenkins, whose blues and old-time songs are accompanied by personal stories and history; Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, whose long careers have mixed music and activism for LGBT and other causes; North Carolina natives Cane Mill Road, whose set will feature buckdancer Williette Hinton, son of the late blues hero Algia Mae Hinton; and North Carolina-based Lakota John, a blues guitar player with Lumbee and Lakota lineage.

“(We’re) just really trying to showcase and highlight all of the diversity that is already within bluegrass,” Katz Court said. “The history is a lot more interesting and a lot more mixed than some of the history books will spell out, so (we’re) trying to bring some more of those elements to the front.”

Inclusive square dance

Just as the big tent has room for performers of all stripes, it also is designed to be a welcoming, safe space for the audience. In that spirit, the Shout & Shine schedule is capped off with an Inclusive Square Dance, featuring music by Jake Blount & Friends and calling by Brad Baughman, known as Boo Radley in his Kalamazoo, Mich., dance community.

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands.jpg
Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands will perform at the Shout & Shine open dance tent with an ASL interpreter Sept. 27, at Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh, NC. Laurie Lewis

The inclusiveness comes in by avoiding gender references in the calling. Instead of calling out the moves of “ladies” and “gents,” Baughman said, “I might assign different moves to the person standing on the left and the person standing on the right, and I have to find smooth ways to communicate that.”

While “lady” and “gent” calls have a long tradition in American folk dancing, they often have been more roles than actual distinctions.

“For instance, here in Michigan, in the lumber camps in the 1800s, the caller would call ‘lady’ and ‘gent,’ but everybody on the dance floor would be a man,” Baughman said, “And so you just picked one of those roles to dance, and it was understood as two roles that anybody could dance either role. So in that sense, it’s always been inclusive. But in another real sense there are two roles in the dance, ‘lady’ and ‘gent,’ and our society is changing and people are telling us ‘I’m neither of those things, I’m something else.’

“So my desire, and the desire of a lot of people in the old-time dance community, is to make sure there’s room for everybody in the dance,” he said. “And one solution to that is to just scrap the roles of lady and gent. It turns out that we can do most of the moves and not lose anything of what’s good about the dance without having to ask people to pretend to be one of those things they aren’t.”

Non-dancers invited too

People who have never participated in the group dance are included in the welcoming spirit of the Inclusive Square Dance, Baughman said.

If you arrive at the beginning of the 9:30 p.m. set, he said, he’ll explain the terms he’ll be using to lead the dance and go over some of the moves. If you arrive in the middle, just wait for one dance to end and then dive into the next one.

And remember that whether you’re stepping lively or just trying to stay on your feet (and not on top of someone else’s), it’s the participation that’s important. Just being under the big tent, inviting others in and showing kindness to those in there with you is enough.

“I think the way we dance and the way we make music teaches us something about each other and about how we want to organize as a community,” Baughman said.

“A lot of dancing in our time and place is very individualized, and I think that reflects the ‘every person is supposed to be dependent on themselves’ mentality. What square dancing says is that we’re all in this together, and the way we move together is as important as the way we each move.”

The Shout & Shine Dance Tent Takeover

Shout & Shine will take over Friday’s programming of the Dance Tent as part of the free Wide Open Bluegrass street festival. The dance tent is at the south end of Fayetteville Street.

12-12:45 p.m. — Open dance with Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band (open dance)

1:15-2:15 p.m. — Nic Gareiss and Allison de Groot (step dance demonstration)

2:45-3:30 p.m. — Hubby Jenkins (open dance)

4-4:45 p.m. — Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer and the Grassabilly Rockets (open dance)

5:15-6:15 p.m. – Cane Mill Road with Williette Hinton (open dance, buckdancing demonstration)

6:45-7:30 p.m. – Lakota John (open dance)

8-9 p.m. – Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, with ASL interpreter (open dance)

9:30-11 p.m. – Shout & Shine Square Dance Party with Jake Blount, Tatiana Hargreaves, Boo Radley (caller), and friends (inclusive square dance)

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer