Sidmouth Folk Week 2010: social dance and serious ceilidh - how long before it dies completely at Sidmouth?

Social Dance - a priority, but for whom?

It is important to realise that social and good quality ceilidh dancing has different priorities for various stakeholders in Sidmouth Folk Week.

For a moment consider other festivals: good quality precision social dance is central to the Eastbourne Dance Festival. Without it, there would be no event. Yet no-one in the arguably dreary town of Eastbourne or even in the surrounding streets even knows about the Festival. It takes place wholly contained in a few well worn school buildings. These are not ideal, they have no festival atmosphere (apart from that generated by camaraderie) and yet the event works, most recently under the direction of Ray Goodswen.

Chippenham festival is a mix of dance and concerts but with a strong emphasis on good quality dance and good instruction - and it has some appealing dance venues, none of which have to be constructed by the festival. Again, the dance is largely hidden from view - you have to attend the event to realise just what goes on and, maybe, to be tempted to participate.

Sidmouth used to be different - you could hardly walk down a street or across a park without seeing some type of folk dance, be it in a ceilidh or a workshop or a large social dance in a marquee with good public viewing. Youngsters were actively encouraged to learn how to do it properly (as well as enjoying themselves). Arguably, dance has declined at Sidmouth for a simple reason - it is too expensive to provide the necessary venues and ever since 2006 there has been a pressing need to make the concert venues pay before bothering too much about the future of dancing. In the days of the old International Festival the profits from the Arena (in good years) may have subsidised the dance events.

At Eastbourne and at Chippenham, infrastructure costs must be considerable (just to rent out the buildings) but there are no construction costs. At Sidmouth, major dance venues are necessarily expensive. So Folk Week could well be rid of them.

Yet for Sidmouth as a town and a tourist venue, the events should surely be important. They are (were) a large part of what created the atmosphere in and around the whole town. In the old days you could hardly turn a corner without seeing a troupe of colourful often Eastern European or African dancers en-route to their next demonstration or workshop. Going back to the 1960s and 1970s, Sidmouth festival was primarily a dance-centred event, albeit on a smaller scale..

Nowadays Sidmouth High Street looks just busier than normal during FolkWeek - and you could hardly tell it was a special week unless you walked along the Esplanade at an opportune time and met a few Morris dancers or musicians. Dance that is contained in a few secluded Church halls adds nothing to the atmosphere in the town. Thus, whilst social and display dancing may matter very little to the organisers (except those concerned with artistic merit), it should matter very much to Sidmouth as a town.

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