Aaron Ratcliffe plays and teaches old-time music on a number of instruments, and he is a skilled flatfoot dancer and dance caller with deep roots in western North Carolina. Aaron hails from Ratcliff Cove at the foot of Big Stomp Mountain (Ratcliff Mountain) in Haywood County, NC, where his father’s side of the family has lived for seven generations. His dad played piano and organ, and his mother worked as a choir director and pianist at local churches. Following in their footsteps, Aaron started out playing gospel music on piano, then guitar, in church.
“My parents encouraged me to share and develop my gifts of music at church, and church provided me with a supportive community to learn from elders and teach children,” Aaron says. “Church also instilled early on how music brings people together.”
As Aaron became more interested in bluegrass and old-time music, he connected with music traditions in his mother’s family in Virginia. His mom’s father played guitar in a traditional string band where he was raised in Rockbridge County, and where his father had been an old-time square dance caller. Aaron’s grandmother began playing piano by ear at church and flatfoot dancing in nearby Botetourt County at an early age. Though his grandparents had since moved to Carroll County, they shared songs, stories, and dance steps with the younger generation. Music was a way to connect with cousins, aunts, and uncles who played banjo and guitar and called dances during holidays and family reunions around Rockbridge County.
In the Asheville area, Aaron’s parents connected him with Jerry Sutton and Doug Trantham, who inspired him to check out the Waynesville Street Dances, Asheville’s Shindig on the Green, and The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. At those events, Aaron met Glenn Bannerman and Joe Sam Queen and got inspired to start calling dances.
Aaron moved to Chapel Hill to attend college, and there he became more involved with dance and music traditions. He joined The Cane Creek Cloggers, attended fiddler’s conventions, and met a slew of influential musicians, callers, and dancers, including Pan and Brett Riggs, Shay Garriock, Ruth Pershing, Chester McMillian, and the Bowman Family.
In 2005, Aaron started calling old-time square dances. He has called for public and private events across the Southeast, including the International Bluegrass Music Association Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh, NC; The Rockbridge Mountain Music and Dance Festival; and The Appalachian State Fiddlers Convention in Boone, NC. Aaron was an organizer for NC Squares, a monthly traditional old-time square dance in Chapel Hill/Durham, NC from 2007-2018. He danced with the Cane Creek Cloggers of Chapel Hill, NC from 2003–2011, performing and teaching dance workshops across the Southeast, including a 2006 showcase with the NC Symphony. As a solo dancer, he has performed at the NC Museum of Art in 2010, taught classes at Ninth Street Dance in Durham, NC, and won prizes for flatfoot dancing at fiddlers’ conventions in NC, TN, and VA.
When he is not calling, Aaron enjoys busting down on hot dance tunes on fiddle, banjo, guitar, or mandolin with many groups across NC and VA, including The Little Stony Nighthawks and The Kraut Creek Ramblers. He lives in Boone, NC, and is a faculty member in The Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University. He has taught with the Boone Junior Appalachian Musicians program at the Jones House Cultural and Community Center, and he is a frequent caller and performer at community dances.