Folk Dance Diary - May 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.

May saw a spirited first Tuesday with Simon Maplesden at Sidford. He was on top form with jokes and innuendo - one example of which is not best repeated within a family website. Few callers add such 'spice' to evenings - Jane Thomas is one, Simon is another and both get away with it. Folk dancing needs far more people like this to add to the 'fun and flirting' atmosphere that is so sadly lacking in some clubs (and amongst a few festival organisers and grumpy festival dancers) - despite that it is a traditional and arguably essential part of folk dance (see sts75). It proved that even Sidford can occasionally still have a really lively atmosphere.

Gittisham Folk Dance Club's Honiton dance on Wednesday went well enough but again illustrated some weaknesses of organisation (add link to May email) Overall it was not too bad and the club made 25 profit - owing to callers not being paid for their efforts on these 'club caller' evenings. Mackarness is an expensive hall to hire so maybe just as well that lots of people attended.

Thursday saw a rare chance to vote for a new Police and Crime Commissioner (but of course, this being Devon, the stuffed sheep with the blue rosette got elected). I took the chance to encourage the people in charge of the polling booth to come to the hall to dance during the next season.

I missed an Exeter Pride ceilidh on the Friday (not my scene...especially not without a woman in tow and in any case I have given up on ceilidhs these days unless they are something special). I was intending to go to Birmingham for Contra ceilidh with Cis Hinkle - but again couldn't find a partner to go with. I had hopes of one from near Wales but she couldn't find a dog sitter.... I told her men are far less trouble.

10 May saw the Sidford party with Eileen Nightingale calling - and how dreary and with far too simple dances. It was depressing even before it started - just no atmosphere. About 30 people turned up but it was so slow. This was despite Fresh Aire being the band (and again with the volume turned right down). With a different crowd of dancers Eileen can give a polished performance.

As a party night it was a damp squib, enlivened (for me at least) by my inadvertently grasping a partner around her left breast instead of around her back, at bra strap level. It was her fault - she turned the wrong way and was 180 degrees out of alignment. At the time the event seemed rather like falling off a ladder - time suddenly seemed to pass very slowly and the whole (not unpleasant) episode seemed to last far longer than it probably did.

The dance was the Cornish Six Hand Reel and I had told Eileen that she'd kill half the attendees if the music was fast.

The slip of etiquette referred to above could illustrate one advantage of dancers wearing body cameras to record both dances and partners - (add link STS letter) because the images could confirm I was entirely blameless. Yet on other occasions video footage could wrongly apportion guilt. It is not unknown during a promenade move for women (especially small ones) to pull a man's hands close in to their breasts. Again the sensation is not unpleasant, but in any video it would look as if it was the man who was imposing himself too much on the woman. So universal use of cameras may not be such a good idea. The UK is one of the most 'watched' nations on Earth with CCTV cameras almost everywhere. Occasionally they can help to prove innocence - and they can prove that the CPS has a policy of prosecuting men who are obviously entirely innocent of sexual offences.

For some reason I missed Jigs For Gigs at Gittisham the following night - maybe I was just fed up. Mary Marker initially had very few attendees the following evening at Willand, and with local one-man band Chris Toyne playing. Chris travels a long distance with a car full of equipment - and all for little more than petrol money. But the evening at Willand filled out to a very acceptable number - maybe people made use of the sunshine for gardening until the last minute.

This is folk dance - people do it for the love of the music and for the fun, frolics and flirting of dance - not to mention the occasional inadvertent fondle (see paragraphs on Towersey festival at the end of August).

14 May: An excellent dance night at Willand with Jane Thomas calling - the listed band had been replaced at short notice by Broad Band - a little known local group. Their first few tunes were uninspiring but once they had warmed up (and played a few contra tunes often used by Vertical Expression) the music was better. There were very few dancers there to start the evening but it soon filled out. And no Monty Crook to put a damper on the dances. A few newcomers attended - I danced with one and almost swung her off her feet (but I did ask first and she was OK about it). Her husband showed a marked reluctance to get involved having not quite mastered his first dance. Jane did some very interesting dances including a Scottish one St Marias (or similar name). Also Colin Hume's 5 star square - all far too easy (except for the newcomers). The food was as good as always - again, folk dancing at its best. It seemed to end far too soon.

15 May - Irish Set and an excellent afternoon (I should have been on the beach though), we did the new Wessex Set written by UK dancers in various cars touring Germany, so it was truly European in its origins. A couple of unusual moves in this new set but it all went very well.

18 May - I should have gone to Gittisham but a regular partner couldn't go, and up at Waitrose I met an occasional dance partner I hadn't seen for a year or more, so we chatted. That made me almost too late - I returned home to a phone call from another woman wanting a lift but it was too late for her also by then. So neither of us went. Attendance was lower then normal owing perhaps to the splendid sunshine - again good gardening weather.

20 May saw a rare opportunity to try French and Breton dancing again - it usually conflicts with either (or both) Aylesbeare or Contra dance in Exeter, both of which are closer and with more certainty of partners. The local French/Breton club has for years suffered from a very uncertain attendance - sometimes the hall can be full, on other nights only a handful of people turn up. This was one of the not-so-inspiring evenings and somehow I just didn't get back into the swing of it. I managed a schottische or two easily enough, surprised myself at still being able to do a passable mazurka and was even more surprised when I found myself teaching it to a newcomer who knew even less than I had remembered. But the circle dances aggravated my back, so maybe it is time to bid a final farewell to Breton dancing.

The group had an interesting evening recently - the small hall saw 80 people crammed in to listen and dance to a visiting musician. Some people turned up and yet went home because they couldn't find anywhere to park, which is unusual in that village. Moving to a bigger hall is being considered but it would be a dubious proposition on the strength of just one 'special' evening. We were taught an unusual circle bouree dance - the usual 4xA just being in and out of the circle, but the B music was five (not four) times through of an unusual travelling step around the circle - LRL, then a spin right round RLR (with most of the spin occurring on the first R), followed by LRL and RLR. This leaves the left foot free to start the sequence again, so it felt rather like a German mazurka where one lot of mazurka steps blend into the next group, all in the same travelling direction. Easy enough to do, but somehow I just didn't take to the entire evening.

25 May at Gittisham again - oh dear me! Notes I made included pedestrian, lifeless and dull. There were 32 dancers (a sensible maximum for the hall) but lacking several of the key people who add life to any gathering. And there was a new 'etiquette' notice from The Committee (in other words probably from Monty Crook, the self appointed Oliver Cromwell of his day) adding further dismal thoughts. Only one dance had much life to it, the rest of the evening just seemed simple, ordinary and pointless - comments that could surely never have been applied to Gittisham Folk Dance Club 4 or 5 years previously. The microphone used by Aileen Wills seemed to produce a muffled sound all night, the music from Meter Rite was adequate but the whole evening was far from inspiring. And my ankle injury from Eastbourne started to twinge a little.

26 to 31 May - Chippenham Folk Festival. This was splendid - we even had sunshine every day, so it was the best Chippenham for several years made better still by some excellent and well attended Irish Set dances under the supervision of Val Knight.

add Chippenham details here - when I can find my notes......just a few jottings to add to folkreview page


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