English Country Dancing - Folk Dance Diary - March 2016 - a month in the life of an unlikely folk dancer.

If you persevere, you might find some small fragments of humour .........

If you've never thought about learning to dance consider this - if I hadn't persevered I would probably be spending many evenings in front of a television. Which offers the most enjoyment and exercise? Which best aids both physical and mental wellbeing? In the last fifteen years I estimate I have danced 30,000 times and with hundreds of different women (and I wish I could remember half of them).

Take a few hours to read about a year in the life of an unlikely folk dancer. If I can learn to do it, so could most people. Quite a few women even tell me how good I am these days. I never disagree with them.

The month started with a tedious and acrimonious AGM at Gittisham Folk Dance Club - my advice (given elsewhere on this website) is never have a formal committee if you can possibly avoid it. Committees seem to bring out the worst in some people. 4 March was Aylesbeare. It can be a relief to escape from bureaucracy to the certainly to some good dance partners and interesting dances. Sunday saw another long drive but again maybe worth it for an all-day event.

The second week in March was again a 'six dances in a row' week - or it would have been if an ex-girlfriend has not fallen very suddenly ill and I had to miss Gittisham at the last minute - my dance partner even called to pick me up, it was that close. Willand on Thursday with Ted Farmer and Mary Marker's Big Band - good as always and followed by contra in Exeter with about 30 people (a record?) on the Friday. There were almost too many men though..... Willand on the Saturday was OK but the dances were mediocre - simply far too easy. Some people went to a mixed French/English dance evening in Honiton instead. Gill Spence was calling the English dances but it was poorly attended. Sunday saw a very early start, then to Irish Set in the afternoon then a 2 hour drive to Bristol for a rather disappointing evening with live music from Polka Pests - I wasn't the only person who thought the music didn't really help many of the dances.

15 March was Sidford with Jigs for Gigs - a favourite at Gittisham who make the occasional trip to Sidford - it is really at the end of their range, based as they are in South Petherton in Somerset. An excellent evening despite only 27 or 28 dancers. Wednesday was a rare chance to dance to Ray Goodswen at Gittisham. Instead of the usual excessive chatter and disorder it was quiet and attentive. It may have been the first time I had done tandem reels in a long ways set. And I got it wrong first time through. Listen to the caller........

A few days later I was driving 120 miles down the A303 and M3 for an Irish set weekend - it wasn't advertised - it was booked out in advance, as are so many dance weekends. I stayed at a local campsite, as did several other attendees. The dances were all enjoyable but the music was too loud and difficult because of poor acoustics in the hall with its high ceiling and hard surfaces. Dance partners were almost perfect - most of the women could swing superbly. What a difference to many English folk dance clubs where few people have ever bothered (or had the opportunity?) to become so competent. I later prepared some information on how to deal with acoustically difficult buildings.

I probably monopolised one of my favourite partners too much - but she didn't seem to mind (thank you J....). By way of fair exchange I gave her some advice about her car. I was annoyed I didn't have time to dance with so many other prospective partners. Irish weekends never seem long enough. I was just nicely warmed up as midnight approached!

Back to Sidford the next week - Jane Thomas was late in arriving - the A373 having been closed so they had to drive via Dunkeswell - never a pretty sight, even in daylight. But the sound equipment was set up very quickly and hardly anyone noticed. As usual it was poorly attended. Wednesday was a rare Irish Set party in Newton Abbot to bid 'farewell' to a dance teacher who was retiring. Gittisham the same night was a half and half callers evening and with some 'rude' (boisterous?) dancers according to one of the callers. So maybe I made a good choice in going to Irish instead. Thursday was Jane at Willand - usually a winning combination.

Easter was a dead period for dancing but my good deed was to mend a dancing partner's RAV4 exhaust system - Toyota quoted 1000 for new exhaust sections, I found a stainless steel repair kit on ebay and it cost her 28 (and the promise a cooked meal sometime......). I'm still waiting.

March was rounded off by a very good evening at Sidford despite only 24 or so attendees. Ray Goodswen again illustrated his command over a roomful of dancers - they paid attention - and we did a triple minor with a reel in it. This illustrated perfectly why the first instruction for a reel should always be to tell dancers the line along which the reel is to occur (unless it is obvious). I got it wrong the first time.

Also we did a new square set dance, bits of which I can still remember. Few callers could get Sidford dancers to do such dances so readily - one reason why the evening stuck in my mind. Sidford needs more dancers - and the existing ones need to be pushed more. It has become an almost routine conversation amongst the people who are intent upon trying to save this long established club. It was formed in 1961 and even as recently as c. 2005 attracted 60 to 70 dancers for mid-week evenings.

Gittisham Folk Dance Club with Graham Knight and Meter Rite was awfully slow, somehow it didn't get going until half way through. Graham taught the Schiehallion Reel dance and it took far more calling and explanation than the same dance called (again by Graham) several years previously.
Not for the first time I thought that Gittisham club had moved backwards over the last few years.


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