Temporary page from dictated text before transferring to diary and other folk pages.
On Friday evening I went as usual to Waitrose - so I called in at the Stowford Rise venue to see Reel of Three playing.
I just chatted to a few people but it didn't seem worthwhile to join in the dancing because of the low numbers in the hall.
The festival started for me on Saturday morning with the first session in Blackmore Gardens with Carol Ormand from the USA. The band was Minor Contravention - they included a couple from the well known Vertical Expression but with Charley Roberts playing keyboard rather than fiddle. Somehow it didn't seem to have quite the verve and infectious enthusiasm that Vertical Expression achieves almost as a matter of routine.
The other band were Reel of Three from Denmark. Right from the start on the Sunday they played to great acclaim. On the Monday Carol gave us some dances from the Southern Appallations, including to start with some big circle dances. These were rather simple - verging on silly. It might well have been valid to use these as an example of dance types but crucially, they did not provide the level of dancing that many people expected after what we had experienced from Tom Hinds in 2015.
Two that stood out were a simple version of Dutch Crossing, the name of which escapes me but the basis of the figure was chaining through the stars, these being at the corners of a double square (two couples on each side of a square). We did this dance twice, on different days and the second time it just seemed to be too simple. The same could not be said of the dance Seasick which Tom Hinds called at least twice if not three times in 2015 - and even then it was a challenge.
It all therefore whilst Carol proved to be highly popular and with an infectious enthusiasm she could have pitched the level of dances somewhat higher - and perhaps spent less time in general chit-chat to the audience and less time on the geographical origins of various dancers. This would have been very interesting within a workshop dedicated to the origins of dance types.
The Irish Set Dance workshops were very much as expected. They were poor value for money compared with the sessions in the Blackmore. The major points of criticism of the All Saints venue was the floor - always remarkably hard - and the less than ideal ventilation. On the Monday I danced the Moate set with a regular partner (Sally) on the Tuesday we danced the Sidmouth set which Gerard Butler had written and called the previous year, and again with a regular dance partner. I missed the stepping workshop on the Wednesday simply because my feet hurt so much I didn't think I could do it - and in any case I'm no good at proper Irish stepping. I just manage to get from A to to B and most partners seem quite satisfied with that. On the Thursday we did a particularly pleasing little set- the ..........My partner for the afternoon was a lady I had not met before, from Warrington.
Turning now to Stowford Rise, I avoided this venue on the Saturday because of the Playford Ball and went instead to an American evening with Geoff Cubitt in St Teresa's Hall. This was very well attended and with a wide range of good partners. It produced the first of two notable memories in respect of people being far too sensitive about what was said or done to them. In a particularity spirited square set when I was at the top of the room dancing with a partner I had not met before Geoff Cubitt called a succession of 'silly' instructions such as swing your opposite, swing someone from another set and (finally) cuddle your partner. So I did. She didn't mind at all (fortunately).
Sometime later in what proved to be a fast and demanding dance she went wrong to a minor extent so I just nudged her in the correct direction. This produced almost an outburst when she said that if I did such a thing again she would walk off the dance floor. It was a minor correction and to someone who previously had been chatty and an altogether fun partner. Talking to one of her friends afterwards I was asked if I had made any sexist remark, to which apparently she was exceedingly sensitive. it was just one of the very minor issues that these days, and some situations, can get blown completely out of perspective and it usually involves ardent feminists. I suggested it was her hormones - and that didn't go down well either......Unfortunately she appeared to attend only a long weekend so I didn't see here again.
My remaining evenings were all at Stowford Rise, the first of these being with Carol Ormand on the Sunday. She very quickly became aware of just how good we were as a group of dancers - we got things right first time that she said would take several walk-throughs in the USA - and I don't think she was being patronising.
Notes from Sunday.
On the Monday we had Transatlantic Crossing with a couple of callers, Bob Morgan from the UK and Carol Ormand from the USA. The music was simply superb and provided by Reel of Three. I had to sit out one dance - Levi Jackson done by six couples, and with the dances then repeating it but swapping roles. But it was not done as a mirror image dance because the men were still doing right-hand stars in the 'miss one take one' move. This dance can be done as a true mirror image. I sat out the dance simply because I was not quick enough to find a partner - most annoying.
On Tuesday expectations were really high for the IVFDF evening. In 2015 about 130 people attended most of them students but with a sizeable number of very good older dancers. At 7:15 and onwards towards 7:30 PM there were only about 20 people in the room, most of them students. Everyone was wondering what was happening....In common with several other older people I decided not to pay for a ticket immediately because if the attendance for the whole evening was to be maintained at such a low level in a large hall - and with mainly very much younger people it could've been a lonely experience. I therefore drove into Sidmouth to assess the alternative dancers at St Teresa's Hall and the Methodist hall. The former was packed full, as in sardines, and with about 85 people in the hall is sensible capacity is about 70. I was told by the stewards that Geoff Cubitt's policy was just to let in as many people as possible - on the basis that many of them would simply go away when they found it was too crowded.
This is fair enough if you have a season ticket but not if you are paying on the door. Whilst I was there the stewards decided that it was really too full and I had no intention of dancing all evening in such a crowded venue. The Methodist hall had only about 28 or 30 people in it, less than half full, but having looked at the selection of potential partners I decided to go back to Stowford Rise. If there was no improvement I was intending to go home!
Several other people did very much as I did but they ended up at the Methodist hall having been unable to get into Saint Teresa's. They did say that the dance in the Methodist hall with Mike Courthold was not particularly exciting, probably this was because of the audience. At Stowford Rise, things gradually improved and near to half time I decided it would be reasonable to attend for the rest of the evening. Very kindly the stewards allowed a half price ticket - so not only did I get some dancing with a few excellent partners but the hall benefited from my attendance (at least I like to think it worked both ways!)
The there were many memorable moments of IVFDF but the main talking point was the low numbers. These built up to around 48 to 50 people but at one stage in the second half we only had three square sets. It will no doubt be a matter for for debate and analysis. There was certainly nothing wrong with the local band Abacus and with Richard Mason calling. Richard is known for some particularly interesting dances and indeed his session at the previous 'proper' IVFDF at Coventry was very well attended. I don't know what went wrong.
Probably for me the most memorable moment was when a precocious girl of around 6 to 8 years old came up to me after a dance and announced that she would be dancing with me.
"I'm dancing with YOU next."
"Are you really?"
"YES." (she was quite determined)
The dance was once again Levi Jackson and again in a set with six couples.
I asked my diminutive partner if she knew the dance.
"YES" - pause - "it's the one with the baskets".
"No it isn't. It does have star chains though."
The whole set did of course cooperate in correcting her mistakes and indeed she did some of the dance very well without being aided. I still have no idea who her parents were but I remarked to another dance partner that she was by far the youngest woman who had ever asked me to dance. I said to someone else I could probably get arrested for less.
The Wednesday evening was the much awaited Irish ceili. This proved popular with eight or nine square sets although it must be said that a majority of the people present were local dances from in and around Devon and Somerset. There were few other attendees. Therefore although the evening was exceedingly good in terms of the quality of dance and partners if it hadn't been for the attendance of so many local people it would have been a flop. Thursday was the last evening for a Stowford Rise event - a superb and well attended evening with Geoff Cubitt and Reel of Three.
Amongst the memories are woman whose name escapes me who lives in Germany with her delightful daughter. She had been ill during the early part of the week but I persuaded her to try a few dances. Towards the end, when I was getting tired, her daughter neatly substituted herself for her mother - thus I had a change of partner rather unexpectedly. Unfortunately she did this at the top of the set when I was confused anyway - so I really lost it.
The final evening, Friday I attended the English contra dance band at the Blackmore Gardens marquee. This was okay, the music perhaps was not as spirited as normal but given that Gareth had been run off his feet working all hours all week, that is perhaps not surprisingly.
I managed to get a dance with a local woman I tend to see only once every three years. So that alone made the evening worthwhile. (Thank you J)
Quite deliberately, I did not dance very much at the Anchor. My first day was on the Wednesday with the Windy dial band with Sue Coe calling. This was notable for me because I had had too much to eat for lunch and promptly fell asleep during several of the dances. I awoke when they were doing one of my favourites (La Russe) and to one of my favourite tunes The Sloe. So I was doubly annoyed. My first impressions of Sue Coe were of a woman with too much lipstick and eye shadow - and with a strident manner. However having observed her for some time as a caller she was exactly what was needed in the Anchor gardens. She kept the dancers well in order and with very clear calling. I joined in the circle waltz - safe enough even on that surface!
Whilst wandering around so I happen to watch Emma Wooders calling in the Methodist hall with the band personnel (and details). She was another caller I had not seen in action before but was calm collected and altogether impressive. I can vaguely remember her from about 10 or 12 years ago maybe in Church House Lawn marquee (as was in the old days). Into 2016 she struck me as very talented, albeit in slow Playford dance. All the instructions were clear, she was watching the entire hall and without constantly referring to notes.
The weather at Sidmouth in 2016 was almost ideal except on the Monday which was very wet, especially over night.
Otherwise the temperature was moderate and nothing like as hot as it could've been at the beginning of August.
I've commented already on the very low number of local dancers who attended on a regular basis, if at all, from Gittisham club there were four or five out of a membership of about 60 and from nearby Willand club only a couple of people out of a regular attendance of 70 to 80.
As for the people who I particularly remember in 2016, I must start with Carol Ormand from the United States. She was clearly the star of Blackmore Gardens. Gareth Kiddier should be mentioned as somebody who clearly did an enormous amount of work both before and during the festival to make all the social dance such a success. Indeed, Charley Roberts from Minor Contravention (and Vertical Expression) gave an short speech towards the end of the week paising everything that Gareth had done, including transporting bands to and from the campsite. I think it's the first time I have heard Charley Roberts say anything although I must have attended a dozen or more events when she has been in the band. This is a pity as she has a northern accent!
Amongst my favourite dance partners were Cathy from somewhere in the East of the UK. Last year she rationed me to one dance in every two after a period when I had asked her for every one. This year she rationed me still further so it became a sort of game as to how many dances I could have. On one day I didn't ask her at all - just to prove a point.
Obviously my Irish dance partners stand out, as does Gerard Butler who led the Irish workshops. If I had to pick a favourite band it would be Reel of Three from Denmark although Minor Contravention and The Perfect Cure (a local band) would be a close joint second.
Obviously I have to thank also all of my regular and not so regular dance partners most of whose names I have never known, or have forgotten, but Sidmouth would not be the same without them. Unusually I was asked for several dancers by women who have tended previously to avoid me, so I don't know what is going on there! And of course there was no Monty Crook all week - I could hardly believe my luck.
On a serious note for the future record of the festival, it really would be an advantage for folk dancing as a national pastime if good quality videos could be produced of some of the social dances, and especially at Blackmore Gardens and Stowford Rise. Many of these exhibited excellent dancing, accomplished calling and superb music. They would be excellent to showcase just how much fun English folk dancing can be and to promote it more widely.
So much on the Internet and on YouTube shows small dismal clubs with people moving around at half speed whereas at the Sidmouth venues it can clearly be seen that folk dancing can be a huge amount of fun. Not to mention the flirting of course - and in 2016 the extra pleasure of it being a Crook-free zone.
Unfortunately this year (2016) official photographers were not provided by the festival and this is perhaps one reason why so few people used their own cameras, maybe expecting that as in previous years a full photographic record would become available. There had been discussions between the photographer and the festival right up to the last minute and although 'festivals photographs' were advertised on the side of the music tent in Blackmore Gardens it was mutually agreed to that the arrangement would not work. Therefore there were no official photographs in 2016.
In 2015, over 20,000 photographs were taken and it was a huge amount of work (18 hour days) to get them all on computer and ready for sale during the festival. This proved to be the only time when significant numbers of sales were made - and the prominent and dedicated venue open to all passers-by was a key factor. Sales occurring after the festival were so few in number as to render the whole exercise questionable. Therefore it's an open question as to whether there will be official photography from the same group of people in 2017.
My own view is that dedicated high-quality video of some of the main events, even if these ran to several hours of video on YouTube, would be excellent, both as a permanent record for everyone who attends and as a record of just how far the festival has progressed in the last 10 years. I would certainly love to see myself dancing at such a festival when I'm old and past it, in maybe 2 or 20 years time!
The BBC documentary on the golden anniversary of the old festival is still a revered record of how things used to be - it can still bring back memories.The new festival, FolkWeek, has achieved much in the the last 10 years. The social dance in particular has achieved a standard during the last two years that it would be well worth recording. I would certainly welcome a record of my own involvement - to be able to look back at this part of one's life might be a comfort in old age! But that much of the Tom Hinds workshops of 2015 could have been video recorded!
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