Folk Dance Diary - December 2016 - a month in the life of an unlikely folk dancer.
If you persevere, you might find some small fragments of humour ....... and in the following sub-sections, hints as to what the future might hold:
So what future for folk dancing in England - based on my experiences in 2016.
Control freaks of the modern age - religious and historical perspectives.
Protecting women in dance clubs - merely a trivial example of the inverse proportionality of concern.
So what will I do in 2017? This is increasingly influenced by my views of global warming - I'm becoming quite pessimistic.
Thursday 1 December was American Square - and for once we had sufficient dancers to make up 2 squares, so it was more worthwhile than some of the sessions. As usual, I had to admire Jean and Janet for the amount of work they continue to put in to run this new small club.
My weekend should have been centred on an Irish away-day and evening dance. Unfortunately the away-day was cancelled (owing to low numbers confirming attendance) and a favourite partner had told me she wouldn't be going anyway. So instead I went to an American Square tea dance on the Sunday - and not at one of my usual venues. It was quite enjoyable, but I had to sit out all the 'plus' dances. At least I had the pleasure of watching some of the experts go wrong. One mistake in these complicated moves and the whole set can rapidly descend into chaos. It is a very unforgiving style of dance but it offers no physical challenge. I could do it for six hours without a break and still not feel tired.
Tuesday was Sidford Folk Dance Club as usual, but with Gill Spence calling in place of
Jane Thomas, owing to Jane being indisposed. The Amycrofters provided their usual music
(albeit with a new speaker system) and Gill, as always, tried to bring a party + fun
atmosphere to the proceedings. Unfortunately she succeeded - there were few interesting
dances, many mistakes and far too much noise and chatter. It was a 'do anything you like
so long as it is fun' type of evening and (thus) deeply dissatisfying for anyone
interested in mediocre yet alone serious dance.
Several people agreed with me too. I left feeling that I hadn't done anything interesting all night. With the same dancers, someone like Ray Goodswen, Aileen Wills, Jeremy Child or Jane Thomas can achieve far more. Gill is maybe too much 'one of the gang' as well as having a predilection towards simple dances and 'fun'. I thought the same about the club callers evening the following night - so this is a criticism of me as well as of other people.
Wednesday at Gittisham Folk Dance Club's Honiton venue was (predictably) little better than the preceding evening. There was a poor turnout (about 20 with a few leaving at half time) and in the huge Mackarness hall. We could have fitted into one corner. Janet Bulpin did a series of easy dances, but (as usual) the low ability of some attendees meant that everyone was dragged down. It is a routine problem in this club owing to an arguably misguided adherence to 'political correctness' (add email link).
Disagreements continue amongst club members - quite a few agree with me that those dancers who are capable of achieving far more should be allowed to progress instead of being held back. In the second half I had to abandon all my more interesting dances - just as I had to do a month ago. I seem reluctant to learn this lesson, or maybe I just don't want to give up.
It is just not worth the effort trying to get such a mix of people to do more complicated dances. I had spent ages learning them - I could (and probably do) recite these dances in my sleep. More experienced callers might succeed - but I certainly can't. I had to tell them three or four times how to do even the simplest things - and so did Janet Bulpin in her session. So the entire evening was a series of baby and infant dances, This is one reason why some good dancers tell me they no longer attend - it's just too boring despite they broadly support Gittisham club in its endeavours.
Nevertheless, some of the dances went down well and the music was excellent as always from a slimmed down J4G (Iain and Margaret Bryden). All we needed was more attendees who could dance - and to be released from the shackles of having to include people who will never (in my view) be any good. So why must they always be allowed to spoil almost every dance? By all means let them join with with some especially simple ones.
I found the whole evening deeply dissatisfying, the second such evening in a row - and I was not alone. The low attendance was undoubtedly owing in part to a subsequent Thursday evening event. As with Aylesbeare in November, many dancers didn't want to do two nights in a row (but why not?).
There is an interesting question here - given that ceilidh and folk festival organisers consider they have the legal right to exclude people from dances supposedly because they 'disrupt' the events by adopting a more lively (yet very popular) dancing style (but in reality because of personality disputes, feuds and vendettas) why cannot dancers who are demonstrably incapable be excluded from club nights owing to the proven fact that they spoil the event for all others present?
The other question to be addressed is what are these Honiton folk dance evenings for? This is addressed in this email (add link) sent to a committee member. These evenings originally had two purposes - to encourage new dancers from the Honiton area (in this they have failed almost completely despite extensive publicity) and to provide opportunities for new callers to practise and (it is to be hoped) perfect their techniques. The latter objective has largely been realised. A couple of club callers are now doing whole evenings at small clubs. Both started as novices at Gittisham Folk Dance Club. Mark Moran always does well-rehearsed and generally interesting dances at several dance clubs. That leaves me. Whilst I delight in teaching bright and often young people at (say) Towersey festival in ad-hoc sessions and assisting Madeleine Smith in her workshops I see little point in calling an endless stream of easy 'baby dances'. I could call them in my sleep. Three or more years ago I called a series of Richard Mason dances at Gittisham - nowadays I would be howled down even for trying. The club really has gone downhill.
Calling more interesting dances with unusual moves has proven difficult in the increasingly 'inclusive' and politically correct context of the Honiton Folk Dance venue. Yet when I do try these dances, some dancers tell me they want to try them again. Given the low numbers now attending Mackarness Hall on 'first Wednesdays' it is a drain on club finances - the hall costs over £40 and the band maybe £35. With the cost of refreshments added, 25 or 26 people are required at £3 each. So, whilst it used to pay its way, it often no longer does. Should club money be further expended in assisting callers to progress when some of them are already earning money plying their trade locally? I certainly don't need paying to call interesting dances - I just need a venue with dancers who know what they are doing. This does not of course exclude others watching. A better (more experienced) caller could work with less accomplished dancers, but to date I have found it difficult - so maybe I should give up the idea? One of my conclusions from documenting 2016 is that a new generation of lively callers will be required if folk dancing is to survive, and shake off its dull and dour image.
Thursday was American Square in the afternoon and again we had enough people for two squares. One newcomer slowed down progress a little but it was 'OK' - but not half as good as some recent sessions. Exasperation almost gave way to annoyance with some people. For some reason I couldn't fathom the recycle move. Maybe I had almost lost the will to live after Wednesday evening.
Thursday evening was the Willand Party night - and I expected a better experience than I had had so far during the week. It was a longer drive - 25 miles each way. It was also the last of these evenings before Christmas. It started slowly with about 20 people but rapidly built up to around 40. Music was provided by Jigs for Gigs (Iain and Nick on this occasion) and they were predictably excellent even in this 'acoustically difficult' hall. Somehow the music was perfect but the caller - Simon Maplesden - seemed a little strident. Overall it was simply superb - dancing from 8.00pm to maybe 11pm with a half hour break for food. There were no grumpy people - just as well because my enthusiastic and spirited swinging with favourite partners would have been sufficient to get me banished from Bridport ceilidhs or Eastbourne Folk Dance Festival for an extra four decades. Simon really kept the dances going - he did about 20 and told us he held the record for the most dances in an evening locally. Jane Thomas did 22 at the ill-fated Bridport evening.
After the tedium of Sidford and Honiton, this was simply one of the most enjoyable club nights for a long time. I use it here to illustrate cost per enjoyable dance. The evening starkly illustrated the difference between Gittisham and Willand - they used to be very different yet equally enjoyable folk dance clubs. So especial thanks to Sally and Sam - two younger partners both of whom (many months ago) were initially suspicious of me but who now test my limits for fast swinging. Also Gill, Mary, Penny and probably a few more I may have forgotten. Unfortunately Jane Thomas was still unwell - she would have added yet more fun. Simon did a dance that had particularly appealed to me at a previous Sidford evening - Trip to the Village. I got it wrong at Sidford (I can't think why, it is so easy) and I almost got one reel wrong at Willand. Other dances included Christmas Hornpipe and Christmas at the Heath - both old favourites at several local clubs.
So in all the evening cost £3 entrance, £7 fuel and zero for food, because I undoubtedly ate more than I took with me. We did 20 or more dances - so that is 50p per dance. Elsewhere, in the introduction to this diary, I advocate that folk dancing should be more popular because it surely offers more enjoyment per unit cost than many other forms of leisure activity.
At this time of year there are often 4 or 5 dances in a week as clubs put on their party nights and special events. Aylesbeare on the Friday started with only 9 or 10 people - and me with no partner. It looked grim, but soon built up to 20+ and with the usual selection of dances that on paper were so simple. Yet we kept getting bits of them wrong. Ted called a dance that he said he hadn't done for 40 years. In all it was good fun for over two hours for £2 - including tea and several biscuits. Petrol cost me maybe another £3. We did Christmas at the Heath yet again - and twice over to allow people to swap in, so in all I got to do this seasonally named dance three times in a week. The only time I get it wrong now is if I lose concentration owing to thinking it is too simple - always a risk when you switch to autopilot.
Saturday was a birthday/dance at nearby Clyst St Mary with a band from afar - known to the hosts but not to many dancers. I am often dubious about charity and birthday dances but this one was excellent . The caller was Ian Turvill and the band the Hersham Revellers.
Sunday was an Irish ceili a long distance away - over 2 hours of travelling in dismal weather. En-route I tried and failed to correct internet access problems for a friend - it turned out to be a fault at the server end. Plusnet were efficient in sorting it out - once you got through to them. The dance venue had been much improved with a coat of paint. A favourite dance partner didn't appear until nearly 9pm - she got lost, despite having recently purchased a £25,000 4x4 with sat-nav. I booked all the dances with her in the second half.
The event lasted over 3 hours with some excellent food. We did 8 sets, each lasted maybe 8 to 12 minutes but the actual dance time was maybe an hour in total compared with 4 hours of driving. The total cost was around £20 fuel plus £8 admission. If I had assumed use of an expensive new car and using the full economic cost of ownership (50p per mile?) the evening would have cost me nearly £100 for an hour of actual dancing, or £12.50 per dance. As it was, using a car with almost zero depreciation, it worked out at about £3.50 per dance - seven times the figure at the Willand evening earlier the same week. It also cost me over 4 hours of largely motorway driving, compared to a total of around 1.3 hours for an evening at Willand.
These are examples of what I have come to view as the preferred calculation methodology for assessing local dances, occasional nights away and weekend festivals. Costs per equivalent unit of enjoyment range from 30p to around £10 - yet it is the £10 end of the market that is flourishing with dance festivals being 'booked out'. Of course, some festivals offer much more than just dance - but Eastbourne and Lichfield in particular offer little.
In contrast, Chippenham offers a wonderful campsite (in good weather) and a compact, easily accessed and welcoming town centre to wander around. I could happily spend a weekend at Chippenham even if for some reason I was unable to dance. The demise of many small folk dance clubs that could so easily offer 30p to 50p per dance (if they could become less boring and staid) is in stark contrast to the burgeoning recent success of dance festivals.
Tuesday was Sidford party night - not a good portent because the last party night was dismal - and again the same band had the misfortune of playing with the same caller. In the event it was an even worse evening than before despite about 32 attending. I discussed this with quite a few attendees and they all agreed. Rarely have I heard such a unanimous chorus of criticism. Several people said they were sorry for the band. These emails say it all (and there are one or two more besides).
So what useful conclusions and lessons can be drawn? Sidford is agreed to be a slow and often almost lifeless club teetering on the limit of 22/24 dancers for most evenings. If it was in hospital it would be on life support. But some evenings are really worth attending - and it is the caller who, with typical attendees, can either create and sustain a lively atmosphere or merely accept what is there already (dismal and unadventurous) and not seek (or be able) to change it. Some clubs can have fun with almost any caller (even with me). Others really need a good caller to lift them out of their torpor. Whether there is a band or recorded music makes little difference.
Eileen Nightingale called some singularly trivial and dull dances. These succeeded only in making the already half-awake feel terminally bored. It was exactly what a party night didn't need. The one 'interesting' dance featured grim-dolphin reels. With a different set of dancers (or even with Sidford dancers had they been suitable primed), it could have been taught speedily and executed with verve. In the event, it was taught too slowly and danced with little distinction.
Once explained the grim dolphin was dead easy. The key is don't overtake. But it was called to an already almost comatose group of dancers whose expectations had already been lowered further than I had thought possible. Other experienced callers - Jane Thomas, Aileen Wills and certainly Jeremy Child or Ray Goodswen could not only have produced a far livelier evening overall (as they have done several times before) but they could have made even Sidford dancers do the grim dolphin in a third of the time or less. It was a move that (if I had been calling) I would have demonstrated from the floor or at least been on the floor to show a group exactly where they were going wrong.
The most useful conclusion from the evening is that a slow club like Sidford really does need a succession of competent lively callers if it is ever to attract any new members. If it doesn't attract and keep new members it may soon go the way of Totnes. Having a band is optional - Fresh Aire were very good - they even managed to give the impression that they were enjoying the evening. With a caller more attuned to what Sidford dancers could do when they are pushed, the band could have made a better evening better still. The atmosphere was dull and quiet even during the meal - such as it was.
The key lesson therefore - and from several recent evenings - is worth reiterating.
Good lively callers who are willing repeatedly to push slow dancers to their limits are essential at a club like Sidford. Elsewhere - dancers may be good enough and fast enough that other callers can produce a lively evening with less effort. Eileen Nightingale tends to treat Sidford dancers as little old ladies - so they behave as such. Gill Spence tries too hard to be 'one of the gang just wanting a fun evening' - and so little worthwhile gets done amidst the noise and silliness.
The callers who can get the best out of elderly dancers are often those who use a roving microphone.They can move around the floor correcting mistakes in a third of the time or less than trying to do it all from the stage. There are probably many other folk dance clubs in the UK at the stage of Sidford and Totnes (as was). Either they are reinvigorated with some high calibre calling (and not always using baby dances) or their decline may continue - and with an inevitable final outcome.
The one highlight of the evening was provided by a new member - Mikey - a young man from Poland. He brought in a laptop to show his dance group back home. It reminded many of us of the old Sidmouth festival (pre 2004) when the streets of Sidmouth became a riot of colour as foreign (often East European) dance groups descended on the town to experience life in the West and also to showcase their expertise. On the DVD were all of these elements - bright costumes, disciplined dancers, traditional music and a sense of patriotism often seen in Eastern Europe and in Ireland, but not in the UK. Those days are long gone - in the Knowle Arena venue during the Sidmouth International Festival we had maybe 3000+ people. Dancers in costumes were walking up and down from the town all week. Nowadays, Saturday in Sidmouth FolkWeek looks and feels much like any other busy Saturday.
Wednesday featured the same band at Gittisham and with the same number of people - about 32. The two evenings could not have been more dissimilar. It wasn't one of the best evenings at Gittisham - some grumpy committee people were there - but it was close. And it was a little too crowded for exuberant swinging. Aileen Wills gave us a selection of simple but interesting dances a few of which I might not have done before. These two clubs simply couldn't be further apart in some respects - yet with a good determined and maybe resident caller, Sidford could still survive.
Thursday was an afternoon with Jeremy Child teaching American Square. We had two squares but some of us (me included) seemed half awake. Maybe it was delayed depression from Tuesday or just a poor night's sleep. But as it does at Sidford, Jeremy's enthusiasm shone through and we accomplished quite a bit by way of revision of moves we should all have known.
Thursday evening was my first visit to Axmouth Hall for a party night with a 'plus' American Square dance club. They kindly made the evening a mainstream/plus mix so we could do some of the dances - and watch the experts go wrong in some of the plus moves. There was a surplus of food, so I probably brought home more than I took - always a bonus! It seemed a lively club with four squares much of the time and in quite a small hall. I got a lift there so my expenses were £2.50 to charity for several hours of entertainment and maybe 4 or 5 dances - quite good value by any standards. These clubs generally don't use live bands - all the effort goes into getting the dance moves right and there is no time to look at the band and interact with them. Gittisham Folk Dance Club has developed an expensive model of 'almost every evening has live music' but this is by no means essential. English folk dance clubs could maybe spend more time on getting discipline of dance moves perfected and less on the 'status' of having live bands.
Two people who 'knew who I was' at Axmouth engaged in conversation. One said he missed all my controversial letters to local newspapers (I spent a few years becoming infamous a decade or more ago, and all tied up with being a local councillor for a year). The other asked if I was looking for a rich widow.
Friday was Aylesbeare party night with Ted Farmer. Well attended and great fun and again with too much food. At these evenings Ted allows us each to choose a favourite dance and the picks from those selected. He simply arranges 50 or 60 of his cards on a table and we pick one each. Mine was Mississippi Mud Pie - a square set which is easy enough but which features so much calling I'd never attempt it myself. And it needs good dancers. Many of Ted's dances do - and we still occasionally get them wrong.
Ted almost got cross once - so we had to quieten down and pay attention. One dance is outlined here (add link). It is ever so easy once you've appreciated what is needed but so unusual that autopilot cannot be engaged. That's the trouble with so many club and festival dances these days - we can just switch to autopilot and admire the view. And of course we did Christmas at the Heath once again.
Maybe I was tired at the end of a long week of dancing (surely not?) but I got a few complaints from women - I wasn't swinging them fast enough, I wasn't holding them as firmly as I usually do - so what was the matter with me? In fact I was being boringly normal and they didn't like it. One woman even admonished me for not looking at her properly in a gypsy move. That's the problem when you have a reputation for dancing with enthusiasm - women don't want to settle for anything less. Other descriptions of my dancing are used by committee members in one or two clubs and festivals but who is the better judge - the women I dance with or dreary control freaks? I could cheerfully have ended my pre-Christmas dances at Aylesbeare but there were more treats in store - including an evening at Willand with Geoff Cubitt calling with the English Contra Dance Band (ECDB).
Willand was predictably excellent. There was only one person there to avoid and only one woman tried all night to avoid me - so out of almost 100 people in the hall that seemed acceptable! Everyone else was great fun, save maybe one regular partner who seemed miffed that I didn't dance with her - but I can't be in three places at once. The band (Linda Game and Gareth Kiddier) were simply superb and the calling was very clear - perhaps enhanced by use of column speakers - the type advocated for 'difficult' venues. These emails give some discussion and links.
Dances included the Christmas Hornpipe (again....) and also Sea Caves (?) an unusual five couple longways set where you do need to think, at least during the walkthrough. It features reels across the room of 3, 4 and 3 people simultaneously and also 'go through left, and around three standing people - to get back into lines opposite your partner. This is what makes it easy enough. If there was a change partner version it would be far less forgiving. But Geoff explained it all so clearly - and Willand has in the main such good dancers that it all went (almost) perfectly, and twice over too.
The only problem with Geoff Cubitt's calling is that he makes it all seem so relaxed and easy. Reality kicks in with a vengeance when I attempt anything similar. It would take me years of practice (or maybe several decades that I don't have left?). One dance (written by an attendee at a Halsway Manor weekend) featured a men's star chain - it would have defeated some clubs but at Willand it just happened perfectly - or at least it did in the set I was in. My one mistake of the evening was to disobey an instruction to stand behind my partner facing her back to commence a simple dolphin reel. I didn't. Everyone noticed I had been told off and there were the usual delighted shouts of "Steve went wrong!" from a few local dancers. But it was only once in an evening.......
A few sets fell to pieces as Geoff tried to go faster and faster with unpredictable moves - some of the more elderly dancers simply couldn't keep up. There was some of Geoff's usual fun interludes - "go swing someone in another set, swing some one of the same sex, back to swing your partner". At Sidmouth FolkWeek in St Teresa's Hall he risked "cuddle your partner" - it would have worked at Willand too, for most attendees.
Driving home somehow felt vastly more lonely than usual - maybe it was the fog, maybe a recognition of impending Christmas (which I detest owing to its decadence, waste and insincerity) or maybe a realisation that there would soon be no more dances for nearly two weeks.
Sunday was an Irish set party afternoon with a live band. They were as good as ever in yet another superb venue. But it was lacking a few of my favourite partners. We had seven sets in a hall where normally there are two or three. The local pub was reported to be deeply aggrieved that so many people wanted to book a meal. It was a splendid afternoon. One woman who I had not met before came from deepest Dorset and was kind enough to tell me I was good to dance with (I returned the compliment). We did the last dance together - the BVJ. The food was excellent and it was so informal - 70 people paying £7 each yet not a sign of paperwork, checks on money or other 'administration' - you just put your money in a tin and that was that. It's the sort of club where people simply trust each other. A few exist elsewhere, and often run by the same couple for decades.
Sunday was going to be my last dance before Christmas - but a partner offered me a lift to another Irish Set party on the following Wednesday - all I had to do was meet her half-way. In her car we somehow got to discussing that she was still having to work because had too little money to retire on and I had far too much - and I spent far too long looking after it all rather than spending it. Again the dancing was splendid despite the less than ideal floor. It was also smaller with only 3 sets. We had a few small 'floor spots' and yet more sandwiches and mince pies. I'm not sure if it was free - in all the excitement I forgot to pay. We were allowed to choose sets - someone picked one of my favourites - the West Kerry - and the woman who I was going to dance with thought better of the idea - she was not too well (and needs to be pulled around at the best of times). The West Kerry is a very lively dance. So Maggie - our dance teacher - had to suffer me instead. It's so pleasurable dancing with a woman who really knows what she's doing.
Then it was the pre-Christmas lull and finally Christmas itself. Even the weather was dismal. An ex-girlfriend provided roast lamb for Christmas dinner. I was due to have lunch with a dance partner from the Midlands a few days later but we called it off - she had an impending cold and I was feeling unsociable.
The New Years Eve dance at Willand was predictably very good. Chris Toyne's Big Band provided excellent music and they brought with them a few 'groupies' with whom I could dance. Many regulars didn't attend (New Year's Eve is always like that, there are so many competing events). Some members of Gittisham club defected to a party night at South Petherton featuring Iain Bryden, Jigs for Gigs and with Simon Maplesden calling. In all we had 79 at Willand so the hall felt adequately full. In the old days (ten or more years ago) it used to accommodate 110 to 120 dancers.
Fortunately Sue Rivett from Stick The Fiddle turned up at Willand so I could have a few dances with here - she's always a favourite partner. Ray Goodswen suggested to her that she had drawn the short straw having to dance with me - and I think he meant it. Sue was happy enough though, and later told me so. Two other favourite partners were rumoured to have been 'poached' to another event but this turned out to be paranoia.
The callers for the Willand evening were Jane Thomas (recently recovered from illness) dressed as Hilliary Clinton and Robert Blackborow playing the part of Donald Trump - complete with a convincing wig. The food was even better than usual - I simply couldn't have eaten any more. I discussed with one couple that dance clubs were getting older, becoming terminally dreary and finally closing down - he confirmed that view from near Plymouth also.
One of the women who came with the band sat out most of the time so I asked her for a dance - she managed. She was a little giddy after a moderately fast swing so with my arms wrapped around her (by way of platonic support) I suggested she should take some clothes off before we danced again. Just for a moment, Willand felt a little like Towersey. She was wearing a warm pullover in a hot dance hall, and probably many other layers as well. Here are my suggestions We were later paired up for the final circle dance - again she managed the swinging, but I didn't go very fast. Later still I did some polka with her around the room. By way of a hint, I told her it was a good job that I knew what I was doing.
Having seen in the New Year, a depleted number of us danced until around 12.30. I could have done it all over again for another four hours. It was probably 1.30AM when I got back home. I had eaten too much and I was still on an adrenaline rush. I had vivid dreams. I wrote down the outlines of one of them - I was lecturing to an audience that included another dance partner - one who had been to my home a few days previously needing her car to be fixed. I was explaining all about world energy consumption, how it was out of control and why it was now too late to make the necessary adjustments. There was an impending release of methane from melting hydrates. The Earth would warm rapidly past a major tipping point. Some life would survive but humans would be all but wiped out by war and starvation.
It was probably quite a good lecture - and it may well all happen very soon (see lower down this page for a discussion). I'm usually right.
Some ideas from 2016 - I'll add more later, tidy up the arguments and reposition this section within the website.
There are currently probably many thousands of competent folk dancers in the 55 to 75 age range. There are hundreds of competent students - many of whom go to IVFDF. There are also many tens of thousands of people who learnt folk dancing at school and have attended the occasional dance since - you meet them all the time at charity and birthday and barn dances. They dance maybe once every few years and usually not very well. Vast numbers could (somehow) be attracted back to the hobby.
Lichfield festival features many attendees at the upper end of the age range, and if younger dancers do not fill vacancies as they occur, the festival may die within a decade. Similarly, Eastbourne may struggle within 15 years especially as it is so far away from so many major centres of population (except London). Travel is likely to become both more expensive and more tedious as the overall population density of the UK increases. The present generation of 'wealthy retired' folk dancers hardly need to consider costs. Their problem is more usually how to spend surplus wealth. Future generations may not be so fortunate. Also, to judge from the 'ethnic mix' at typical dances and festivals, there is little or no interest amongst 'minority communities' in traditional English dance.
Venues such as Halsway Manor may suffer in any prolonged downturn - and they may lose much support from folk dancers within the next ten to fifteen years as a generation of older dancers and other 'folkies' die off - just look at the average age of Halsway dance attendees and the fact that they are (in the main) impervious to Halsway's perceived high prices.
Sidmouth FolkWeek is a long way from anywhere but it is a full 7 day festival in a beautiful part of the UK - and therefore well worth visiting for a one or two week break. Chippenham is a long weekend and has added attractions of a good caravan site and very easy travel between venues. Like Sidmouth, Chippenham is a pleasure to wander around. However, Halsway Manor does a great deal more than cater for English Folk dancing, and with young musicians especially. Even if all of the older folk dance clubs die out, this would impact little on the overall budgets. A few new folk dance clubs are springing up across the UK - this is seen by some people as a more viable route than trying to reinvigorate older clubs.
The best local folk dance clubs currently offer excellent dances at 30p to 50p each - and may be able to continue to do so. Thus they are a cost-attractive route to preserving local folk dancing. A new generation of callers and bands may be needed, and they may be required also to work for the love of the hobby rather than at commercial rates. Festivals offer dances at 50p to over £10 each (a dance lasting a few minutes) depending much on travel distances and accommodation costs.
Many bands are composed of middle aged or soon to be elderly people. There are many younger bands - but maybe few that play 'traditional' folk music. Festivals are going the way of 'rock ceilidh' and/or stupidly loud music to attract 'yoof'. Few if any long established local folk dance clubs attract sizeable numbers of youngsters - certainly not in the way village halls did 40 or 60 or more years ago when a village dance was a highlight of the local calendar. I am told there are a few 'completely new' folk dance clubs comprised mainly of youngsters, friends of musicians who want to play folk music. This could form part of a 'revival' but on what scale is unclear.
Therefore, there are several 'negative' factors to be overcome in the next few decades but already a few positive developments. Folk dancing in Ireland seems set to continue - as it does in what was Eastern (Communist) Europe, but here there are much stronger social and 'cohesive' forces still at work as part of a 'living tradition'. I would guess the same may be true in Scotland.
In England, and as noted above, a few local dance clubs have been revived and some new ones have started but usually there has been a 'special factor' - either the 'social glue' that enabled Gittisham to grow and survive (so far) and for Over Stratton club to become reinvigorated or because a well known caller has been a prime mover or because the new dance club has been spawned via a group of young musicians. Many university folk dance societies are either nowadays apparently much smaller than in previous years or have ceased to operate. This is a particularly disturbing trend - do schools teach folk dancing these days? Exeter Folk Dance Club was in effect 'reborn' as a generation of very elderly dancers departed and the club management was taken over by a couple of university girls and with a few students from the university attending as dancers - whether it survives remains to be seen.Control freaks of the modern age - and historical perspectives.
The current rash of advocating variously thuggish and/or bossy behaviour by people like Monty Crook, Maureen and Graham Knight and Robin James of Eastbourne Folk Dance Festival (and a few others) may well be replicated at other venues but is best viewed as temporary - it may either be reined in by legal moves or fade away as soon as the people concerned either retire from various committees or die.
These people are best viewed also as merely a part of the current (and quite sudden) vogue for over-reaction and gross intolerance - examples include men prosecuted for walking past a woman on a rail station, students demanding the removal of statues, students demanding that Israel should no longer be allowed to exist (or even be discussed on campus).
Other recent examples are students demanding that the work of 'white' philosophers such as Plato should no longer be on the syllabus, and students banning the sale of national newspapers on campus (those newspapers whose views or content do not suit the feminists on the Executive of the Students' Union?).
The folk dance movement itself has been the subject of 'politically correct' attacks by people who object to the custom of 'blacking-up' as used by some Morris sides. Shrewsbury festival were threatened with legal action - and caved in. At least one dance group were physically attacked when performing. A news report is here. The topic was discussed in an article written by Katy Spicer in the winter edition of EFDSS magazine. She traced the history of blacking up variously to people mimicking coal miners or chimney sweeps, or poachers who wished to avoid being seen. There was (so the article asserts) a Black Act of 1723 that made blacking by poachers punishable by death. It was apparently repealed in 1823. Predictably however, Katy Spicer comes down on the side of political correctness and EFDSS will no longer engage blackface Morris sides for their events. In adopting an 'inclusiveness' approach EFDSS has ensured that another English tradition will die out.
There have also been a rash of lifetime bans for even approaching a woman, lifetime bans for soccer fans, bans from airlines as the result of one chance remark to a steward, fines imposed by local council officials without evidence being needed, orders instituted under the new generation 'ASBOs', (link Manifesto club) and many more. Some discussion relating to folk dance is here.
Some of this behaviour has its roots in 'political correctness' but also in 'rampant feminism' - an over-reaction to the historical and institutionalised abuse of women by men. Even if you murder someone the sentence can be as little as 5 to 20 years (with or without 50% remission), yet lifetime bans are routinely issued for minor transgressions to some social code or another. This seems contrary to 'natural justice'. Freedom of speech is also under threat. (Add Devonfolk link etc).
History is a good guide here - the influence of the church (in Ireland for example) is now much diminished and people dance much as they choose to do. Yet such freedom is not available even today in repressive societies and not only within backward countries.
In Pakistan (for example) it was reported a few young girls were recently tortured with boiling water and hot coals before been put to death - and all for dancing for a few minutes. Other reports said they were simply shot on the orders of village elders.
Within what remains a largely primitive and almost totally male dominated society, a woman in Afghanistan was reportedly beheaded for going out shopping without her husband or some other male escort.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries continue to practice repression of women on a huge scale - and without much censure from the West. Maybe oil reserves and value of weapons sales are factors? This secretly shot video includes scenes of the public squares where beheadings take place - and with large purpose made drains for the blood (the actual beheadings are blanked out). The location is nick-named chop-chop square.
One German government minister took a brave stand for women's rights recently when she was in Saudi Arabia - we need more like her - and more women like Canadian Dr Samantha Nutt to show what women can do as equals.
Extremism includes examples of what has been a common feature of many societies for centuries - the repression of women by men and often 'for their own good' or 'for the good of society'.
Looking forwards, only when women are allowed and encouraged to stand up for themselves in all situations and in all societies will a suitable degree of equality have been achieved - and I'll leave it to an academic feminist to argue this case. She's quite a woman!
Today, she (Paglia) suggests, middle-class girls are being reared in a precisely contrary fashion: cosseted, indulged and protected from every evil, they become helpless victims when confronted by adversity.
We are rocketing backwards here to the Victorian period with this belief that women are not capable of making decisions on their own. This is not feminism which is to achieve independent thought and action. There will never be equality of the sexes if we think that women are so handicapped they cant look after themselves.
In the western world there is arguably no longer a need for any type of 'positive discrimination' or quota system for women. Indeed it is argued by Professor Paglia to be counter to advancing the role of women to suggest they need special treatment. For many years they have been able both to stand up for themselves and (where their ability allows) to rise to the top of their professions within the West.
Protecting women indance clubs - merely a trivial example of the inverse proportionality of concern.
The history of 'equality for women' in England goes back a long way - some people quote the Suffragettes but as far back as the age of Chaucer in the fourteenth century a woman made one of the first stands for equality by publishing a book in the English language - a twin heresy in the eyes of 'the establishment' at the time.
Julian and her book 'Revelations of Divine Love' (published in 1373) are now celebrated in Norwich, where she spent much of her life, the last 30 years apparently in self-imposed isolation. Born in 1343, she died in 1416 having committed many 'sins' any one of which might have been sufficient for some people to argue she should be executed. For example, her book argued there was no such thing as Hell (the church insisted there was) and that there was only a loving God.
The book was in English and therefore accessible to the small number of 'peasants' who could read. Latin was the official language for religious texts. Finally, she was a woman and was therefore especially not allowed to challenge any part of church teaching or procedures. This was the age when heretics were either beheaded (popular in France at the time with up to 50 executions per day), burned at the stake or simply crucified.
Indeed, heretics were apparently burned alive for even reading the Bible in English, let alone for writing about God in English. Julian is also discussed in this particularly well written blog - by a female Oxford graduate, Eleanor Parker. She also writes for History Today.
Despots and control freaks are nowadays prevented by law from engaging in beheadings or crucifixions (at least in England) but the undercurrent of hatred for people who are in some small way different from themselves continues. Within contemporary tribal and ethnic wars it finds expression in the Congo, through Sudan, to Yugoslavia (as was) and more recently in Syria.
People who profess to be acting to 'protect' women are in effect merely displaying their own obsession with power. In effect, they are seeking to prolong men's dominance over women by discouraging women from speaking up for themselves and acting in their own self defence - which most are entirely capable of doing. It may all die out within a generation in England. It may take much longer in more primitive 'cultures', those where religion plays a more prominent role, and often allied to male domination. This is discussed further at the bottom of this page.
Over-reaction can also be seen within environmentalism and in charity funding. (I'll complete this page later).
People in the West busy themselves worrying about utterly insignificant environmental or animal cruelty problems (drunken louts men in pubs swallowing a goldfish for example) yet they largely ignore immeasurably greater problems elsewhere in the world - whole marine ecosystems being wiped out or rainforests being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. There is a sort of inverse proportionality of both funding and concern - and this has its roots in the narrow minded 'charity begins at home' ethos. It is similar to Donald Trumps 'America First' ideology.
Listening to Radio 4 on 11 October, a rebroadcast of an Andrew Marr show, there was an item interviewing a consultant at a chest clinic. He was explaining how he broke the news of cancer (often terminal lung cancer) to his patients. His best advice for the future - think what you'd most like to do in your last year and if possible, just do it now.
TED.com has a very widely viewed video on palliative care. In its sincerity, it offers a stark contrast to other very widely viewed videos - for example Mary Roach and her research into the female orgasm - but this does have an amusing sequence showing artificial insemination of a pig (yes really!).
Making the most of ones remaining years is a theme of countless dating profiles too - half the women have their 'bucket lists' and just need a man to help make it more enjoyable (and maybe to help pay for it?)
So maybe, travel the world, spend a year in Ireland dancing every night, buy a LHD motorhome and tour Europe for a year. Record everything on a GoPro so I could re-live the journeys during my last days?
Maybe tour Australia by motorhome.
Maybe write more to help warn people about the likely fate of the Earth if society does not become less wasteful and more environmentally aware. But it's probably already too late.
Less than ten years ago, rapid global warming owing to release of methane into the atmosphere was considered an unlikely threat. More recently some scientists have become alarmed that we could be heading for a massive increase in global temperatures - well above the supposed 2C 'safe limit'. Yet there is little public concern or discussion - an observation neatly summed up in this comment on the above video:
Beyonce gets millions of views for her videos. This gets less than 10K (ten thousand) . Further proof we're fucked.
Mass starvation would follow widespread failure of agriculture and would be accompanied by a metre or more rise in sea level - swamping major cities and leading to economic collapse. One such group argue their case here. It is a central theme of David Wasdell's Apollo-Gaia project - but as he has links with religion his views may (automatically) be viewed as suspect. The video has had only 1700 views in 5 years - again a trivial number alongside those of celebrity pop stars.
One of the most impressive (and alarmist) of the scientists arguing that we have little time left as a species is Guy McPherson, who was once a leading biology and Earth resource teaching professor at the University of Arizona. He has argued for many years that human destruction of our own habitat is leading towards the world's sixth mass extinction - something that is now widely accepted. It is a view that echoes that of David Ehrenfeld in his 1974 book "The Arrogance of Humanism".
One of Professor McPherson's many talks available on youtube is here. This is well worth watching - and lasts over an hour. It includes the widely recognised (but not widely reported) observation that global warming has probably already passed a critical point of no return but this has been 'masked' by enhanced reflection of sunlight by atmospheric pollution - itself caused by burning of fossil fuels and by aerosols injected into the upper atmosphere by aeroplanes. A ten minute interview on USA TV is here.
If (for whatever reason) humans suddenly stopped burning fossil fuels and flying across the world to dote on their grandchildren, the atmosphere would suddenly become less reflective. Temperatures would soar, agriculture might fail within a few years and we'd all starve. It is quite a serious argument. But who cares if they have the latest iPhone to play with?
Maybe I should spend less time in front of computer screens reorganising investments.
Maybe I will convert whole sections of this website into an e-book "Experiences of a folk dancer in contemporary England"? or maybe "Twenty five years of folk dancing - fun, frolics and feuds". So I'll have to write it by about 2027, by which time we could be well on the way to economic collapse and mass starvation - so I doubt folk dancing will any longer be of interest.
I might dictate a few brief highlights from 2017 as a dance diary.
Folk Dance Diary - index page
Folk dance section
Folk festival reviews 2016
Gittisham Folk Dance Club