Folk Dance Diary - August 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 first week of August was of course FolkWeek.  Some of my 'analysis' is covered in the FolkWeek pages here and here. What follows are additional anecdotes and observations, often those not central to any analysis of how things might be done differently. There are no small local folk events in August.


add anecdotes from Sidmouth


The next few days after FolkWeek were very warm - and dancing would have been uncomfortable. All festivals will need to consider how best to adapt to warmer and maybe wetter summers.

I arranged to go to Whitby Folk Festival for the first time (400 miles each way) but just didn't get organised in time - I just had too much else to do. The same weekend (20/21) I could have gone to an Irish Set 1.5 day event but 180 miles each way seemed too far - and I would have missed a local dance. So again I didn't bother with the travel - driving is just not as enjoyable as it used to be. I promised myself a visit to Towersey if the weather held. Yet the list of ceilidh bands made me have second thoughts - Tickled Pink are always absurdly loud, but there were a few others. In the event I went - and what a mistake it proved to be, despite the generally good weather.

Towersey 2016 EVENT BY EVENT

Most of my comments on this festival relate not to dancers but to infrastructure and management. They are therefore here.

What follows are just notes about a few of the individual events taken largely from my written notes at the time.

FRIDAY 26 August

Workshop ceilidh with Madeleine Smith - as competent as ever and with some eager pupils. One feature of Towersey is that there are always lots of newcomers, which is good in itself. However, it does imply a lack of loyalty over the years.

ceilidh with Tautus Roks, LOUD - far too loud.

Euro dance workshop with Ella Sprung - poor quality instruction.

Bismarcks Ceilidh - excellent dance music, just as we all remembered it from all those years ago! Yet rather too loud. The interval spot went on for too long.

Evening Euro Dance event with Topette - absolutely superb. Excellent music (they had their own sound engineer), superb dance partners (thank you all.....even the ones who couldn't dance until I had taught them) and altogether enjoyable. If only all dances could be like this - superb music, a wonderful floor, a true festival and flirtatious atmosphere and as many lovely partners as one could wish for - none of whom I had met before (unless I had forgotten them from some previous encounter).

SATURDAY 27 August

Swedish dance with Ella Sprung. Silly level of instruction. Politically correct. Suitable maybe for children.

Cajun Dance workshop. Not a good level of instruction, too rushed, and only really suitable for experienced dancers of this genre.

Evolution Ceilidh with Urban Folk theory and Hannah Bright. This just got bigger and louder. I would normally travel some distance to avoid Hannah Bright, and this event did not change my views. On the plus side, at least I got one of two memorable dances including one with a delightful young girl. She offered to dance with me when I was wandering around looking for a partner. She didn't know how to do a stephop swing with arms around each others waists and was initially nervous about being held fairly closely. But by the end of the dance she had become very good indeed at what was to her a new type of swing. One more pupil suitably improved!

The Cock and Bull band suffered from having Cate Haynes as a caller - I've experienced more competent callers at Devon Club evenings. It was also too loud with some instruments being drowned out by others - a typical problem when there is a poor sound engineer. I didn't bother with the predictably loud late night event.

SUNDAY 28 August

The second beginners workshop with Madeleine Smith was even better than the first one. She is an excellent teacher - even if I did know it all already. A pleasure as always to help her with the demonstrations. Good sound provided by lone musician Mollie Koenigsberger. We learnt the flirtation reel - always a good mixer dance to meet new partners. Madeleine crams in a lot of good teaching - she doesn't waste time on silliness and frivolities.

The afternoon ceilidh with Lasair and Barry Goodman calling - my notes say a useless band but good clear calling. I can't remember the band now - maybe that's just as well.  We did the flirtation reel again - a dance that newcomers had earlier been taught by Madeleine Smith. Was this the one example of integrated dance planning of the whole festival? Unfortunately when repeated in the ceilidh it was a popular dance ruined by awful music - and needless to say it was far too loud.

I danced with Barry Goodman's daughter. A tiny girl and a very good and smiley dancer - she takes after her mother! I had a few very enjoyable dances with a woman I hadn't seen before. My notes say she was dressed in white - I just wish I could remember.....

The topic of 'personal space' was mentioned during a group discussion (or was it a hug-in?) and one very tall and strong man who had just previously almost carried one of my regular partners from Devon half way across the dance floor exclaimed "Dancers don't have personal space!". An apt comment within the uniquely enjoyable confines of Towersey....I was reminded of the Towersey festival headline from years ago - "another lovelier world"!

towersey2014crop.jpg (51984 bytes)

Entrance to site 2 at the old Towersey Village festival.

As the band started on the final polka my sciatica had become really painful. I was going to rest but a very attractive woman rushed up and asked me if she could have the last dance. I agreed despite messages from my legs that they had had quite enough. I don't think I even thanked her for asking - I just took hold of her and off we went. Halfway through she appeared to be flagging. I asked her if she wanted to continue - parts of me wanted her to say 'no'.

"Oh yes, keep going".

So I did. By the end she was virtually a rag doll holding on to me. I had somehow passed through a pain barrier and could have carried on for a lot longer. She collapsed into my arms for a hug (or was it two?) and told me how good she thought I was. I didn't argue. I never do.

Such occasions are always useful for bolstering my deflated ego. They don't happen often enough but are a regular feature of the fun dancers and fun atmosphere at Towersey - and such a change not to have self-appointed arbiters of dancing etiquette overseeing proceedings or (in the case of Eastbourne International Folkdance Festival, taking notes to add to the summary charge sheet). Dances such as this are what make Towersey so special - it's been the same for ten years, always uniquely fun, always flirtatious and in recent years ruined by dance music that is far too loud

A local partner told me of the number of occasions she had been 'propositioned' by men when she was either dancing or stewarding. She recounted that she had to keep saying "Well, my husband and I.....". And she usually wears several rings to confirm the point. But that is Towersey all over - harmless fun, delightful women and such a change from dour people. (add link to 2010 emails)

In many ways Towersey has been and remains my favourite festival - but such a pity about the sound levels that spoiled it for so many people in 2015/6.

After a short interval we had the ECDB and Andrew Swain calling - an excellent combination, some interesting dances but again simply too loud. Parts of this event were almost up to Sidmouth standard - quite a complement. My notes say - many excellent dances and with a wide range of very enjoyable partners. One of the dances was the Devil's Backbone which I must try and look up.

The evening ceilidh was with Tickled Pink and Fee Lock calling. It was stupidly loud. I tolerated it with earplugs. Other people used tissue paper stuffed into their ears.

MONDAY 29 August (with a dance partner and caller from the Midlands)

The first workshop was with Ella Sprung. This was abysmal (more in the folkreview discussion). Teaching dance by separating people into a's and b's or right hand and left-hand people or leaders and followers might be appropriate for experienced dancers but for newcomers to a French mazurka dance, (which is difficult enough for beginners to learn in a short time anyway) it would have made more sense for some people to assume always the mans role and some always the womans.

Strangely, the politically correct concept of gender neutral dancing does not seem to accommodate the idea that a majority of people dance because they want to dance with someone of the opposite sex, especially in couple dances.

This session reflected badly on the whole festival.

The midday ceilidh was with Heron Valley. Again it was an almost complete waste of time for any serious dancer. My partner for the day was by now forming a low opinion of Towersey - but I had warned her that Monday was not the best day to come.

The family ceilidh in the afternoon was fun (in a way) and at least the sound level had been turned down.

The final event for us was the Whapweasel ceilidh. It was predictably stupidly loud.

We both left the Whapweasel ceilidh at half time before the display by Customs and Exiles - a display that I was subsequently told by a couple of musicians was spoiled by the bass music being turned up so high so you couldn't hear any of the string instruments. I missed both the display and some of the dances afterwards because I walked my partner for the day back to her car.

I returned to yet another rendition of the dance Mrs Arrowsmith. I decided that I'd had enough of Towersey, its ridiculously loud music and childishly simple and often repeated dances. On the first occasion during the weekend that I danced Mrs Arrowsmith I had to teach virtually the entire set to do it because they had not been listening to the instructions. I had my ear plugs in so I was probably shouting at them and not realising this, but at least they listened, did as I said and managed most of it.

Somewhat in disgust at the standard of the ceilidh music and dances, I went to bed. I completely forgot both about offering a delightful woman another lesson on waltz (she had asked for one) and about the informal 'on grass' small ceilidh traditionally held outside the dance marquee on the last night of the festival, and organised by Steve Harris. His 'pre-festival' on-grass dance was enjoyable (and with acoustic instruments!).

In all it was a disappointing end to what could so easily have been a much more enjoyable festival.

Folk Dance Diary - index page

Folk dance section

Folk festival reviews 2016

Gittisham Folk Dance Club

Home page