Abby Wells of Western Kentucky University performs her curtsy at the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival in Pineville.  May 27, 2006.


     The young woman in the photo, above, didn't win the 2006 Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival queen competition, but I used the picture because I liked her curtsy.  It was graceful, athletic, and somewhat unusual.
     Each candidate must perform an, original, sometimes elaborate, curtsy during the queen coronation ceremony, climax of the KMLF.  The curtsy, which might take 15 seconds to perform, is part of the judging.  It's not the only part, and it's not even the most important part.  But a girl who puts forward an awkward or lackluster curtsy is not likely to win.

     The Mountain Laurel Festival began in Pineville, in extreme southeast Kentucky, in 1931.  Except for a hiatus during World War II, the festival has been held every year since.  Most of the festival is typical--carnival rides, outdoor concerts, a parade and so forth.  It's the queen competition and its associated events that set the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival apart from other community celebrations.

     Billed as the "oldest pageant of its type in the United States", the KMLF queen competition has changed very little since 1931.  Queen candidates are selected to represent each of Kentucky's colleges and universities.  Through a long weekend beginning on Thursday, candidates attend a number of picnics, dinners and other casual events.  The candidates have a chance to mingle and chat with a lot of people at these events, including the judges (whose identities are kept secret).

     All this polite and gracious activity culminates at the coronation ceremony in Laurel Cove, a natural amphitheater at Pine Mountain State Resort Park.  Each candidate, wearing a white gown and gloves, is presented to the crowd.  She comes forward and performs her curtsy, which is generally directed to the Governor of Kentucky, sitting in the front row.
     The judges confer, the winner is named, then the Governor crowns the new queen and pecks a traditional kiss on her cheek.  And that's pretty much it.  There's not a swimsuit competition, no flashy dance routine, no formal question-and-answer, none of the usual stuff of modern beauty contests.  In that, the Mountain Laurel Festival is a bit of old-fashioned Kentucky sensibility, preserved in amber.

Other photos of the Mountain Laurel Festival:

Hope Renee Hamilton, representing Kentucky Wesleyan College, was named queen of the 2006 Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival.  Here she is proceeding to her coronation, followed by her trainbearers.  

Moments before the new queen is named, candidates line up by the Laurel Cove reflection pool to produce this traditional tableau.

Local boys are enlisted to be trainbearers for the new queen.  Some of the trainbearers adjust to their formal attire better than others.  Most all of them, I suspect, are glad when the whole ordeal is over.  

Posted June 4, 2006.