Nancy DeGennaro, The Daily News Journal, July 2, 2017
Local man receives highest honor for folk arts
World champion buck dancer Thomas Maupin was milking one of his goats when he got a call from Washington, D.C., that made his heart swell.
He’d been named a recipient of the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor awarded in the folk and traditional arts.
“It was quite a shock … and it’s something that’ll make you cry. … That’s a good honor, especially for a dancer who grew up in Eagleville, Tenn.,” said Maupin. His awards are numerous.
He is a recipient of the Tennessee State Governor’s Folklife Heritage Award, Old-Time Herald Heritage Award and the Uncle Dave Macon Days Trailblazer Award.
Maupin also has more than 60 firstp
lace titles, including the national championship, which he has won six times, as well as state championships in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, just to name a few.
In addition to his awards, he is the subject of the film “Let Your Feet Do The Talkin,” which has been shown on The Documentary Channel. He is one of the 25 artists featured in Robert Cogswell’s, “Tradition: Tennessee Lives & Legacies” and was featured on WNPT’s “Tennessee Crossroads.”
Maupin was even offered a part in the next “Roots” movie Alex Haley was making, although the famed author died shortly after that, he said.
To the legendary Maupin, his craft is more a part of him than simply an art form. “I just can’t hardly remember when I didn’t dance,” said Maupin, who learned the craft from his grandmother and mother.
His attitude regarding the honor is one of humbleness.
“Why’d they pick me?” questions the thin-framed dancer.
But Daniel Rothwell said his grandfather is “very deserving” of the NEA award.
“Not only is he definitely the best buck dancer in Tennessee, but on top of that, he’s one of the best ones in the nation,” said the banjo-playing Rothwell, who accompanies his grandfather on the stage.
Maupin was nominated by Rothwell and musician Casy Meickle, formerly of the Hogslop String Band, a jug band known for bringing buck dancing into stage performances.
Its Maupin’s influence on up-and-coming dancers that adds to his fame. “A lot of the other buck dancers who are in the best category learn from this guy right here. He was the mentor, he’s the source, so to speak,” said Rothwell, grinning. “But I’m a little biased; he’s my favorite.” Dancers from around the globe have come to learn from her father, said Deana Rothwell.
Origins in Appalachia
Buck dancing evolved from a variety of folk dances from other cultures, including the Scots-Irish, Native American and African-American populations.
Although clogging is similar, true flat-foot buck dancing is not as “showy,” said Maupin as he slid on steel-bottom tap shoes.
What makes his performances notable is the timing of his foot movements, he said.
“Music is all about the timing. … Dancing is the same way,” said Maupin as he stepped onto a wooden board and began moving his feet to the rhythm of his grandson’s banjo playing. “I can’t play an instrument, but I can look like I’m playing one. I hit a beat on the up beat and the down beat. Then when the music is telling me, I can put some notes in between and still make it come out on time.
“It’s not about making noise; it’s about making music.”
Reach reporter Nancy De Gennaro at 615278-5148 or degennaro@ dnj.com, and follow her on Twitter @NanDeGennaro.