An article on folk festival financing, online (computer) dating and Zumba dance - published in STS magazine March 2013.

The full article analysing a couple of UK dating websites is here.


Stephen Wozniak launches the STS dating agency!

As you know, I use the internet a lot. I would like to summarise my view of what is likely to happen to STS when it goes completely digital and online. There are essentially two valuable aspects to STS as it is now. There is the magazine with its somehow 'unputdownable' quality and with many people reading it over coffee at breakfast just because it lends itself so readily to lying on the kitchen table. I very much doubt it will be as widely read when it is online because people will have to make an effort to read it. It may become the preserve of a few internet-savvy contributors. There are many examples of 'forums' where this happens and the only people who read most of the rubbish generated are the people who write it. I suspect therefore that the active STS readership will reduce.

As for the directory, this is far better placed online and kept up to date. Yet even here there are question marks. STS is trying to build a 'one stop shop' for all folk dance events, but there are already many well established and much used regional sites: devonfolk.co.uk, sadfolk.co.uk (in Somerset and Dorset) and no doubt others. There are also other 'national' sites such as simplywhatson and the very new Whats On websites run (in Devon) by Prestige Media where any club can log on and add their events. Thus anyone wanting information on a dance may need already to search many unconnected and disparate resources, and indeed needs first to find the resources themselves. There is a striking parallel here between the fragmentation of online folk date services and the online dating industry that I alluded to in my very first article for STS back in early 2011.


I drew attention then to the parlous state of folk dance and contrasted it to online dating. Over the last few years I have undertaken a study of a couple of these dating sites and this is now published - there is a link on my home page (www.seered.co.uk). But I warn you - it's 22,000 words and you need to like numbers. There are two aspects that should be of interest to folk dancers and indeed to hard pressed festival organisers.

We all know that folk dancing is both good exercise and an excellent way of meeting many people in a single evening. Yet it is characterised  by failing attendances, an ageing clientele and an awful image problem. This has been discussed half to death in STS. The UK government is becoming alarmed by inactivity and obesity: the NHS bill alone for treating avoidable diabetes may run to hundreds of millions of pounds annually. Should folk dance be available on the NHS?


There are several hundred small dance clubs in the UK. Their collective turnover is probably less than 2 million. We have a few good ceilidhs - maybe 10 or 15 with a combined turnover of maybe 100,000. The exact numbers are not really important. All of these are excellent places to meet people and indeed to get your hands on them. (Steady on! This is a family magazine - Ed). Given however that probably 90% of the people who go to these events go with no intention or desire to ‘meet someone new' the money expended by the other 1% is maybe no more than about 200,000 per year.

Now contrast this to the sums of money spent on online dating websites where annual turnover is variously estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds in the UK and billions of dollars worldwide. Much of this money is spent in vain partly because (as I argue in my study) many of the sites are variously fraudulent.

Somehow, and as I first suggested two years ago, these two aspects of meeting people need to be combined. There is demonstrably an enormous appetite for 'meeting other people' and perhaps especially amongst the fast growing 'single again at' 50 or 60' age range. The online dating industry continues to attract maybe 2000 times as much money from people who 'want to meet someone' as folk dancing seems to manage, and to this one can add the huge sums paid to bespoke upmarket matching agencies; up to 50,000 per person! And this is despite the fact that in terms of physical wellbeing it is far better to dance than to sit hunched for hours over a computer. I therefore put it as a challenge to folk dance and festival organisers (and to the STS readership! - Ed) - how best to link folk dance with the huge demand for people to meet up with each other?

Finally, consider also the new craze for Zumba dance: it was recently reported in the business press that one major company is now valued at over 300 million. Zumba is apparently already practised in 13,000 locations across the UK and attracts 1.2 million people. The aim is to attract 6 million. Contest this with the total number of folk dancers in the UK; maybe 10,000 spread over 600 clubs and with fewer than 1,000 of them really competent? Personally, I find spirited folk and ceilidh dancing far more fun than Zumba workouts, so where is the leadership and money in promoting it?


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