Social dance at Sidmouth Folk Week:
time to start arresting the decline?
Letter sent for publication to EDS
(English Dance and Song) - the magazine of the EFDSS, editor Derek Schofield.
The letter shown below was sent to EDS late
in October 2010 in response to one from Joan Crump in the Autumn
issue. The copy date was 1 November 2010 - so it arrived in good time. You would think
that the editor would have waited until the copy date before deciding which letters to
publish out of all those he had received.
However, one of the reasons Derek Schofield gave me for not publishing was that 'the
letters pages were already full'. The rest of his email was so illogical no wonder he said
it was 'confidential and not to be reproduced on the SeeRed website'. I will of course
I will also comment as follows:
My letter was sent after discussion with a number of local and other folk dancers - it
represents a widely held view and one that Sidmouth Folk Week would be wise not to ignore
if (as they claim) they are serious about building up the dance element of FolkWeek. It is
pathetic to suggest that the contents of my letter were a matter for discussion with the
festival organisers, and not suited to the pages of EDS.
have previously suggested that Sidmouth FolkWeek organisers should try to determine
why so few folk dancers who live in Devon attend their local festival. There seems to be
no enthusiasm to do this. In the meantime, an extract from the 2011 Sidmouth FolkWeek
website and newsletter is given at the bottom of this webpage.
In terms of marketing, it seems that
FolkWeek organisers may believe that the way to attract more social dancers now and into
the future is to give priority (and cheap tickets) to youngsters and to gear events
towards 'thrashing about' rather than learning to dance. Most social dancers may take up
folk dance in middle age (this is certainly true for many I know) and overly loud music is
neither the way to attract nor to keep them. Joan Crump takes a different view, she seems
to believe that dancers start young and simply progress to other tastes as they get older.
There may be few such people. Here is a posting from Joan Crump on the Mudcat website:
The younger element is as important to the
festival as any other audience - any festival hoping to replicate Sidmouth's longevity
would aim to keep raising up the new generations. As they get older their tastes and needs
will change - but hopefully at that point there will be new youngsters coming up to take
their place. Hurrah for the multi-generational festival.
As a final comment, some folk dancers have
been investigating holding an 'alternative' folk dance week but not in Sidmouth. The idea
was to host the event around large university venues. In my view it would be better to
concentrate effort on improving the facilities at Sidmouth and encouraging more people to
attend - and to continue to make views known to the organisers.
Social dance at Sidmouth. (Letter as sent to eds, October 2010)
Many folk dancers who live close to Sidmouth
or attend FolkWeek from afar have a different perspective than was given by Joan Crump and
Robbie Thomas. (letters, EDS Autumn 2010).
The reason why some social dances were so poorly attended this year was not that there
were so many competing non-dance attractions. It was because so few dancers came to
Sidmouth! Up to and including 2004 the festival was characterised by a huge variety of
events and with large dance marquees filled with social and/or ceilidh dancers - and with
experts helping newcomers. It was routine to see House Full signs.
For five years, dancers (and especially social dancers) have had a raw deal. Whilst
everyone has admired the way that the new management team have kept the whole festival
week alive it is clear that concert goers have been a priority - understandably so because
concerts produce more income per square metre of marquee. Few UK folk dance festivals have
a substantial participatory dance element: those that do need to be nurtured.
The Ham concert marquee is now bigger and better than it ever was. Unless social dancers
are offered a similar quality of in-town venue it seems likely that they will continue to
vote with their feet. Below a 'critical mass' social dance at Sidmouth will die.
Sidmouth is not an ideal festival town because large venues have to be constructed -
unlike at Chippenham for example. It is also a long way from anywhere - which adds to the
cost. The campsite is far from ideal, but in the days of the International festival all
the drawbacks were forgiven - if not forgotten - such was the affection felt by all types
of folkies towards the first week in August.
When the management next claim that local people are now so wholeheartedly behind FolkWeek
perhaps they could reflect that out of maybe 250 folk dancers who live within 30 miles and
who attend one or more of our thriving local dance clubs, about 3 buy a season ticket and
probably fewer than 10 attend at all. Again, competing events are simply not a factor.
Dr Stephen J Wozniak (and others) Sidmouth
Note the Editor: the penultimate paragraph (Chippenham and campsite) could be omitted.
Extract from 2011 Sidmouth FolkWeek
newsletter/website, December 2010.
We've been talking to a number of people about social dance at Sidmouth. We are absolutely
committed to maintaining and extending this area of the festival. In 2011, there will be
more workshops every day, morning and afternoon, at all levels, and some of these will be
in the larger venue, the Blackmore Gardens Marquee. As before, there will be evening
dances, every evening of the week. We recognise that the NuCeilidh was an experiment that didn't quite
work out the way we intended.
Our key concern now is to keep and grow the dedicated social / English Country Dance
visitors to the festival. We will also be including contra dances and workshops, aiming to
achieve a good balance of events. With the social dance workshops, we recognise the need
to provide for experienced dancers, as much as for those new to dance, and will ensure
that the programme is full and stimulating for dedicated and experienced dancers.
We are already talking to top-notch callers and bands, and when confirmed, the details
will appear on the website.
Extract from letter in EDS from Joan Crump Autumn
Social dance at Sidmouth
The NuCeilidh initiative worked well, attracting capacity mixed
audiences for the two evening dances in the Blackmore Gardens Marquee
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