Sidmouth FolkWeek 2016 - dances, costs and venues - from the perspective of a folk dancer.
add photos later.
The first observation is that, as usual, very few local folk dancers participated in the festival - maybe six or eight out of 150 regular attendees at local clubs. Out of these six or eight, only one or two purchased a season ticket.
Whereas in previous years the absence of so many good local dancers might have been regretted, in 2016 there would have been little or no room for them. A few local dancers tried to get into a couple of American evening dances in town - and found they were house-full.
As usual, local dancers thought the festival was 'expensive'. Whilst this is a valid observation for workshops lasting just over an hour and costing £10, it is not true for the major morning workshops or the evening dances. Morning workshops cost only £12 for 2.5 hours (3 hours with a mid morning break) but reduced to about £8 using a book of workshop tickets - these cost £46 for 6.
Having been denied a stewards ticket (add links) my original intention was to buy two books of workshop tickets but I later managed to buy a part used ticket - so I did 10 workshops for £70. Had I read the programme in advance I would have bought two full books for £92 and gone to the classes on stiff necks and aching shoulders - just what I needed. Local sports injury clinics charge £40 per half hour - so the Sidmouth sessions might have been a bargain! But I only saw they were available after the event. Sidmouth FolkWeek is helpful in publishing a full downloadable programme well in advance of the festival - so there was no excuse for my lack of forward planning.
In addition to the workshop tickets I attended 6 evenings at Stowford Rise or St Teresa's Hall (£72) and (unusually for me) the final ceilidh in Blackmore Gardens. I probably only went because it was the English Contra Dance Band - so that was an extra £10.
In total therefore I would have spent £152 on tickets - but actually I spent only £146 because I was allowed a half price entry to the very poorly attended IVFDF event - more of which in my 2016 dance diary.
This confirms what many dancers say - they would have to do more dancing than would be comfortable in a week if they were to get close to the season ticket price of £214 (which excludes evening Ham concerts). The All-in-One tickets are even more expensive.
Therefore whilst Sidmouth is indeed expensive if you buy a season ticket and don't make maximum use of it, it is quite possible to do all the dances you reasonably want to do for £140 to £150, or around £20 per day.
In previous years (several years ago!) I used to do around 60 hours of dance in the week. This included all or most of the LNEs as well as regular afternoon dance workshops. In 2016 I didn't go the Bulverton marquee at all. Every time I went in previous years I had thought - it can't be as bad as last time - but it was. So now I don't bother - yet there is still the feeling I might be missing something. Regular attendance at the LNEs would push the expenditure to in excess of that of a season ticket.
Yet there are several good reasons not to buy a season ticket - if you lose it you've lost over £200. If you buy a cheap (early bird) ticket in advance and then can't make use of it for whatever reason (illness, appalling weather, too hot to dance, etc) again you make a large loss. But 'paying as you go' incurs little risk and is less expensive unless you want to go 'dance-mad' and do 50 or 60 hours - having first confirmed your health and the weather for the week.
In 2016 my dance time totalled about 17.5 hours in Blackmore Gardens (7 mornings with Carol Ormand), 16.5 hours at Stowford Rise (5.5 events x 3 hours each), 4 hours of Irish Set workshops (3 events) and one evening ceilidh (2 hours). The total is therefore 40 hours - 20 fewer than my historical total but with the advantage that I wasn't really tired at the end of the week. In fact, I wanted the festival to last a few more days. This is a serious suggestion - extending it over the second weekend might not incur disproportional marquee costs and so the 'marginal cost' of hosting extra events could be attractive. Maybe one day.....after all it has already been extended to include pre-festival events.
Several dance events in town were 'house full' - and not only the popular evening dances. Far more use was made of Stowford Rise and the venue is now accepted by many more dancers. It has a superb dance floor, is well ventilated and well run. It remains inconvenient to get to without using a car but by midweek the festival bus service had apparently been sorted out. A few people walked from town but for me it's easy - I go to Waitrose several times a week so my car already knows the way. For a general discussion of dance venues click here.
The Blackmore Gardens marquee was notable for having a dance floor spanning the entire length and width of the marquee. But it was not the quality that we had had in 2015 because it was just a basic floor without another layer added. The stewards had gone to some trouble to try and remove old nails, screws and staples etc, protruding through the surface. I found a couple of screws that needed dealing with and the steward in charge (Paddy) produced a tool kit, so I removed the screws.
The side flaps were this year often opened without the stewards needing to be prompted to do so - an improvement on some previous years. The marquee became so crowded early in the week that Gareth Kiddier decided to remove one row of chairs from either side thus freeing up more dance space. The stage had a colourful backdrop (add photo)
Notably, when Gareth asked dancers for their opinions of the sound, the band, the caller etc, he didn't this year ask for opinions about the floor! In 2015 we had a floor laid upon a floor because the original layer was so awful someone rejected it as not fit for purpose. It was however an expense in 2015 which the festival had decided not to repeat in 2016.
The dancing in Blackmore Gardens was dominated of course by American caller Carol Ormand. She got off what to what seemed like a very slow start with some simple dancers - and to some extent this pattern was repeated on subsequent days. Unlike in 2015 the workshops did not build up to a more complicated level. Rather, the emphasis was on outlining various types of dances from different areas in the United States. It is debatable the extent to which dancers in England are seriously interested in the origins of dances at a general 'contra' workshop or evening. Whilst there may be some interest it is not as great as in the United States - or so I am told!
Also, Carol may initially have underestimated just how proficient a group of dancers she was dealing with - we were hardly pushed on the first morning and this continued through the week, although one of two dances - chain through the stars (a simple version of Dutch Crossing) and a contra with squares at the corners of the dance floor - both were memorable. Yet both were easy once you had understood them. However, Carol proved to be an extremely able caller and most of the time produced dances that were interesting but simply not as challenging as in the previous year.
Thus, the structure of Carol's workshops perhaps did not best suit a competent English audience. Nevertheless the events from 9.30 to 12.30 each day were very well attended and once again confirmed that social dancers had been persuaded to flock to Sidmouth. The parallel events in the Methodist Hall were also apparently very well attended with several 'house full' decisions being made at around 70 persons - a sensible limit for this hall as was outlined in 2009.
Stowford Rise was very much as in 2015 - an excellent dance venue, maybe lacking in 'atmosphere' but with excellent ventilation and adequate acoustics. In 2015 the bus service had problems - and changes had to be made to arrangements in 2016 also. Whether providing a separate service is cost-effective is a moot point - it would be interesting to know how many dancers actually used the festival buses to this venue. Some people walked - but the weather was good except on the Monday. The big disappointment was the low attendance at IVFDF - more here - and I can't explain it.
Add - diagrams photos and discussion of Ham marquee, seating and ventilation.
The Ceilidh in the Ford was particularly well attended in 2016. It was also potentially dangerous because of the growth of very slippery algae on the slopes leading down into the water. Several people fell over on this as indeed did a couple of cyclists. Although the event obviously does not take place and is not an official part of FolkWeek it would be an advantage if (for example) Devon County Council could arrange to have the sloping areas of concrete pressure washed in the week before the event. This could not logically be undertaken to benefit an event that doesn't happen but it would facilitate safer passage of those cyclists who during FolkWeek make considerable use of the shortcut through the ford despite the warning notices. No doubt there will be some youtube videos of 2016 but as of mid September I can't find any!
Further 'general observations' and anecdotes for the week are given here.
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