Folk Dance Diary - July 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.

July should have started with a Gittisham club dance at Honiton - the usual callers evening of first Wednesdays. These are sometimes quite enjoyable and an improvement from the early days of 'club callers' at Gittisham using a mixture of CDs and scratchy old tapes. But I had an evening appointment in London - a canapés and wine charity 'do' with a minor Royal in attendance.

I spent some time working out a suitable mix of travel by road and rail to enable 'late night' London events to be attended without the need to indulge in an expensive and possibly seedy hotel - but Air B&B is apparently recommended these days. Whilst a cheap off-peak day return to London from Honiton is only £16 the last train back is in the early evening. But by driving as far as Basingstoke it is possible to buy an advance day return (again for £16) but with late night trains being allowed - as late as 11pm from London. It seemed to offer a viable option even for a few days and evenings in London - use Basingstoke or nearby as a 'base' and get day returns into London from there.

As I wished to avoid travelling on the Underground I used the Transport for London website for buses. It was excellent - a really well thought through and user friendly website that allowed each and every bus route to be examined for suitability, and with the location of every stop clearly shown. These I programmed into a well as taking sketch maps. A dance partner kindly provided B&B for a couple of nights - and I got fed! (Thank you J). And full marks to Transport for London. The sat-nav was useless, it didn't work amongst the tall buildings and narrow streets of London. I navigated with a little help from the sun.

I went more for the change than anything else - I don't usually even like canapés or wine but some of the canapés turned out to be toasted cheese and ham cut into delicate 1" (25mm?) squares. I asked one of the waiters to bring me a plateful. If you don't ask, you don't get.

One couple engaged me in conversation - "I do admire the way you are dressed" (casual clothes for a day wandering around London parks, everyone else was in their posh frocks and suits). It turned out he was a rebellious spirit from the 1960's and had been on ban-the-bomb marches in Hyde Park. He related a tale of how he and other protesters had tried to get afternoon tea in a posh nearby hotel after a demonstration and were not allowed in because of their dress and muddy shoes. Some years later he became a consultant surgeon.

A terribly proper woman trying to be sociable asked me what I did for a living. I said I gave money away to charities because I had too much of the stuff. Conversation moved onto dance - "Oh I dance, but you do folk dance?" she chirped, "what's that, what actually do you do in folk dance?" I was tempted to say it was quite popular amongst the upper classes in the years after 1651. The room was too crowded for a demonstration.

The minor Royal appeared, smiled, listened to tributes about her having helped in fundraising, didn't say a word and then left. It must be a hard life being a figurehead patron.

Back home in Devon, Saturday was the last Willand dance of the season with Simon Maplesden calling to a largely 'unknown' band - unknown to locals anyway. It didn't go down well at all. Numbers were low - about 35 out of the usual 70 (ten or fifteen years ago Willand managed 110 to 120), and the sound system was poorly set up - we couldn't hear the caller at all for some dances. This was a pity because Simon used a very interesting selection of dances. So the whole evening was a missed opportunity.

On Sunday I spent some time helping a dance partner through the logic of playing one car dealer off against another using carwow. The website was new to me and an interesting learning curve. I did advise never to buy a brand new car (they lose so much value in the first year or two) but it fell on deaf ears. Women can be so single minded.

The following week I did Irish Set, followed on the Friday by a trip to Bristol for more of the same. On Saturday it was contra in Exeter with Jeremy Child. Another disappointing turnout - between 12 and 16 depending on when you counted. We did one mildly interesting dance and Jeremy announced that in the USA it would have been viewed as difficult. I could hardly believe what he was saying - as a dance it was almost trivial.

I have since learnt both from Jeremy and other callers (including at Sidmouth Folk Week) that contra dancers in the USA are generally of a much lower standard compared to the best in the UK. Kathy Anderson has to travel to England or Denmark to do her complicated dancers - people in the USA just can't handle them. Sunday was again Irish set locally - and on a hot day.

I also missed Gittisham on 20 July owing to sore eyes - maybe the weather. Attendees told me that Monty Crook tried to give a demonstration of how to swing - I'm glad I missed it then. The word 'ridiculous' was mentioned to me.

I managed to attend the end of term Gittisham evening on 27 July despite spending the day carrying buckets of concrete down a step ladder into the river (best not to ask). My notes for the evening say it was all 'simple dances'. It was free to attendees with the usual bananas and biscuits replaced by strawberries and prosecco. I called a couple of dances in the first half, both went remarkably well.

The end of July saw the start of Sidmouth Folk Week.......On the last Friday of the month a motor-home arrived in my front garden. Sometime late in the evening a tent appeared in the back garden. The tent stayed for 3 nights, I never met its occupant. Tourists stand on the bridge by my rear garden and take photographs - it's quite a nice spot if you ignore the Britain in Bloom neighbours and the threat of an invasion of Japanese Knotweed. (add photos and web link when done)

I could have gone to a FolkWeek dance on Friday evening at Stowford Rise but somehow I couldn't get enthused. Instead I just listened to some of the dance music played by Reel of Three (a band 'spotted' by Gareth Kiddier in Denmark). It was not a well attended event but for the first evening of FolkWeek maybe much as expected. Seeing so many favourite dance partners probably ignited my enthusiasm for the rest of the week.

Folk Dance Diary - index page

Folk dance section

Folk festival reviews 2016

Gittisham Folk Dance Club

Home page