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

Irish Set Dance and Ceilidh

The Irish ceilidh on Wednesday led by Pete Maw was almost a flop. Despite the two Tuesday workshops having been well attended there were very few experienced Irish set dancers - and only a couple from all those who live in and around Devon. I spoke to a few at a subsequent Irish set dance afternoon near Sidmouth - some had telephoned the Box Office to be told there was no Irish Set Dance or Ceilidh at Folk Week!!

The Wednesday ceilidh started abysmally with about 6 or 8 people. Stewards were invited to join in to make up the numbers (this happened in several social dances too, including with Bobbie Ritchie). It never became a ceilidh because so few of the people knew what they were doing - it turned into a workshop with simple dances albeit on a very lively floor - just a pity it was solid. The message was clear enough - of the 30 or so serious Irish ceilidh dancers who live in and around Devon only a couple bothered to come to Sidmouth FolkWeek - and despite that Pete Maw is both well liked and a good teacher. Something similar happened at Chippenham earlier in the year - all very strange.

One lady certainly made an effort to attend - she had hitchhiked from Wales with her guitar to get to Sidmouth Folk Week but it had taken her a day longer than she had planned and she had arrived too late for Tuesday's Irish workshops. She attended the ceilidh (as it was supposed to be) but as she had only had two dances she offered 5 rather than the 10 charge. The steward readily agreed - I had previously suggested the stewards drag in a few people off the streets to make up the numbers and given her devotion I would have let her in for free. This episode is illustrative - for 20 or less you get to see a first class concert for over 2 hours in the Ham -a venue where there has been (almost) no expense spared to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.

However, for 10 social dancers are treated to a small hall with (if they are lucky) a few partners during the evening. The value at workshops is less good - 8 for 1.5 hours. This doesn't seem comparable value for money, looked at from the viewpoint of attendees. Here is one comment on the social dance as a whole - and from experienced social dancers one of whom is a well known caller:

Hi Steve,

We paid 68 each for the weekend tickets so didn't get to dance with Adam. For that we got one decent dance in a crowded hall with Geoff Cubitt.

Else it was all beginners workshops, nothing for good dancers at all. We went to a couple of ceilidhs, but couldn't take the loud noise.

We probably won't bother with Sidmouth next year (like so many others) unless things improve.

I can still remember my first introduction to Irish Set Dance in Church House Lawn marquee and with Pete Maw calling. It was maybe 10 or more years ago, in the days of the Sidmouth International Festival. I hadn't the faintest idea what I was doing but his clear instruction (using a radio hands-free microphone so he could move around the floor helping individual sets) left a lasting impression. So did the helpful attitude of some of the women who pulled and pushed me in the right directions. Nowadays, partners occasionally tell me that I'm quite good (which does wonders for a flagging ego!).

And why did I ever try Irish Set Dance? Because I saw the dances taking place at Church House Lawn marquee, I loved the music spilling out onto the street and was tempted to try it - despite that it looked both complicated and impossibly fast. I would never have ventured into the cloistered confines of a Church Hall. This is one reason why social dance needs to be seen and heard and in the heart of the town - so people are tempted to join in. It could also add to the whole festival atmosphere in town - and not just during the few hours of the street processions and displays that are the subject of so many sets of photographs.


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