English Country Dancing -
highlights from my folk dance year, 2016 - the diary of an unlikely folk dancer.
The aims of this diary are primarily to raise the profile
of English Country Dancing (Folk Dancing) and to highlight specific strengths and
weaknesses of folk dance clubs and folk dance festivals in the UK. Also, it is aimed to
show - week by week - just how much enjoyment can be experienced at small local dance
clubs. Thereby, it is hoped that standards may be improved and more people may be
encouraged to learn and properly to enjoy English Country Dancing - and indeed other forms
of traditional dance. If you're not a dancer - why not try it?
The selected excerpts in these green boxes occur
within the main diary webpages - but I'm not telling you where.
One quotation is from this page, and a couple are from here. Again, I'm not telling.
I became 'well known' in folk dance circles in the UK owing
to having contributed for five years to a small folk dance magazine
and prior to that for having documented aspects of the Sidmouth
Folk Festival for some 15 years.
As a consequence of various vendettas commenced against me
in 2016 by the people I have termed the proxy parents, much
of the folk dance material on this website is now being restructured into an book or
e-book. The working title is "Twenty five years of folk dancing - fun, frolics and
feuds". So I'll have to finish it by 2027.
As a part of my 25 years in folk dance I am aiming to try
teaching the basics of many types of dance to a new generation of people - the working
title will be No Proxy Parents - Dance Instruction. I tried
the term by handing ouit a few leaflets during an election campaign in 2016 and it seemed
to strike a chord - even people who said they were not interested in learning to dance
wanted to know what a proxy parent was! So the name may yet be used.
You can agree or disagree with
Steve, but you cannot deny that he has an uncanny knack of touching on important and often
Chris Turner, Editor: Set and Turn Single (a magazine for folk dancers) STS issue 87, May 2014.
I know various women who
particularly enjoy dancing with Steve Wozniak because he can usually be relied on to liven
things up. (STS issue 89)
Freedom of the intellect means
the freedom to report what one has seen, heard, and felt, and not to be obliged to
fabricate imaginary facts and feelings. George Orwell. The Prevention of Literature.
At the present time (2016/7) folk
dance festivals are thriving, buoyed up in part by a generation of wealthy
recently-retired people who learned to dance in their earlier years. They are the
generation for whom austerity never happened.
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.
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.
.....it was especially pleasing to be asked by so
many women at the 2016 Eastbourne Folk Dance Festival (EIFF) if they could have a dance
with me. In my early years at EIFF (going back to when Ray Goodswen was in charge) most
women hadn't danced with me before and they didn't quite know what to make of my
And this is the way women should be dealing with
men finding their weaknesses and susceptibilities
not bringing in an army of
pseudo, proxy parents to put them down for you so you can preserve your perfect girliness.
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.
But where is the harm? English Country Dancing
(folk dancing) has a dreary image and needs to be livened up. The harm only exists in the
eyes of the malevolent, the prudish and the inwardly jealous - and there are quite a few
of those at Eastbourne Folk Dance Festival. (see for example this
letter). I am reminded of a comment by Chris Turner at Eastbourne many years ago (it
may be cited somewhere else on this website too) - that if you wanted to study a
collection of variously mad people you could do no better than look around the room.
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?
Jane Thomas provided a large number of
interesting dances, some unusual and all called at breakneck speed - and with a selection
of innuendoes thrown in. A kind club member provided surplus apples, pears and plums from
his garden and there was some sort of joke about what small plums a man had. No joke about
a woman having a lovely pear though - not that I heard anyway.
I danced with my corner woman rather
enthusiastically (even by the standards of fast Irish set) and wondered if she minded, but
ten minutes later she asked me for a couple of dances. In any case, at this weekend I
didn't rate as a particularly fast dancer - many of the women, especially those from
mainland Europe could easily have outpaced me, they were just so competent.
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.
In past years (and centuries)
moralists and religious zealots sought at every opportunity to curtail dance or aspects of
dance. Today, the church has little or no influence in England. As a social force it has
been replaced by 'political correctness'
One interesting dance (I think it was a square)
featured finding a new partner, immediately taking her in waltz hold and doing just 6
steps back home. Whatever it was, Ray didn't think much of how some people waltzed. He
demonstrated a close hold - 'gapless' he exclaimed, showing the woman clasped close to his
chest. So I tried it. Most partners were all too happy to join in the fun. One woman was
terrified, holding me at arm's length as if I was about to strangle her.
Three hours here for £3 including tea and
biscuits (+£3 fuel) was far more enjoyable than an entire day at Towersey Festival with
its stupidly loud music. Towersey cost me more than £50 per day - it offered no tea and
biscuits but far more hugs.
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)
Later in the weekend we did the West Kerry (one of my favourites
because it is so fast). Fortunately I had asked a spirited dancer from Belgium for the
next dance (not knowing what it was going to be) - so we really flew around together. She
had danced the previous set with another woman from Belgium and it was a difficult choice
which of them to ask - both danced with such racy enthusiasm.
En-route I delivered a chair I had mended for a
fellow Gittisham dancer - and on the way home I made a 30 mile detour to fix a lawnmower
for an Irish dance partner. She had taken the whole thing to pieces because it had stopped
working and couldn't get it back together again. It turned out to need a new handle (part
of the on/off switch). I can be so useful sometimes......and I'm so little appreciated.
For two centuries, dancing
masters became central to English Society. Many of them were both French and despised.
Some had a sleazy reputation, but anyone who was anyone had to dance the minuet - and that
required proper teaching.
Some dances were slow but the evening ended with
a very fast square - Jeremy had us doing spin chain through moves in all manner of ways
(men, women, a mixture). I wanted to do it all again. No-one else did - and it was already
His attitude to life was 'I've got a bad back and
bad wrists so I'm driving what I want while I still can'. He was rightly scathing about
the Tesla and its huge mass of batteries - in terms of sustainability a tiny high
efficiency liquid fuel engine mated to a small battery pack and an electric motor for town
use (thus limiting in-town pollution) seems far more sensible. There was as usual the
Nissan Leaf on show from the local Sidmouth dealership - a patently stupid all-electric
design with a tiny range once you use the headlights and heater in winter.
We were down to 2 three-couple sets at one point
- 12 dancers in a hall where there used to be 60 to 70.
This is all so many dance clubs and festival
dances need - a few people to put some real life into them.
So the evening comprised 3 hours of dance, many
chocolate biscuits, two cups of tea and all for £4. And one of the university girls asked
me for dances - which made it all the more enjoyable. Why can't every dance evening be
like this? Indeed, why can't all of life be like this?
Only about 20 people attended but it was great
fun all evening. We even did Richard Mason's Weevil dance (which I sometimes call). I
advised people several times to make sure that the 'threes' faced gaps in the 'fours'
(which is the key to getting the R and L diagonal changes correct) and was told to shut up
- I thought the woman concerned must have had a committee meeting recently. She usually
gets bossy when her committee hormones have been aroused.
The 'quality' concept could be applied to dancers
as well as to events. Each dancer at a festival or ceilidh could have a numbered badge and
after each dance, their partner would 'score' them from 1 to 5 (using an app on their
smartphone of course) and at the end of the evening those men or women deemed to have
given the most pleasure to the largest number of partners would be awarded a prize.
It seemed to be just a layer of political
correctness that had been imposed then forgotten about. Other clubs have told me they do
it 'because another club did, so we felt we should too' - so political correctness can
indeed be caught, like a type of infection!
It is a similar story at Chippenham - venues full
to overflowing, house full signs, crowded dance halls and often an unending supply of
willing and capable partners. Social dancing at Sidmouth FolkWeek
has been reinvigorated - so much so that the town centre venues are now full to
overflowing despite (in the case of Blackmore Gardens) having its floor area increased.
And yet local dance clubs are closing all over England
Intellectually, it was a boring couple of hours
but the venue itself provided amusing examples of how the other half live - trim
20-somethings from the club in tight little skirts, high heels and with too much makeup.
All smiles and little brain? The comfortably off and comfortably retired spending hours
putting balls into holes and (no doubt) discussing how the world has gone to pot. It was
useful overall in confirming that I am not alone in having missed so many opportunities in
life - by taking my eye off the ball?
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.
Is there any other folk dance festival on the
planet where incidents of normal dance behaviour are logged and recorded to be used in
My excuse for getting it wrong was toothache - it
wasn't at all difficult, it just needed tighter calling and people to be told to keep
quiet and pay attention during the walkthroughs. Done properly it would have been a very
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
I had spent literally days (it seemed like weeks)
learning off by heart 5 or 6 interesting new dances, including a special one I had danced
at Lichfield festival. In the shower, whilst washing the dishes or when walking around
Waitrose they worked beautifully. Dancers were attentive, they did as they were told and
they understood my every word. Maybe dreams are like that. I even bought 48 sticks of
chalk for £1 to draw lines on the floor as an aid to teaching my Lichfield dance, using
notes kindly provided by Roy Garrington.
After a few dances the man said that Sidford was
not slow compared to (XX) in Lancs "You even do two dances in a row, most of our
members couldn't do that!". This spoke volumes about the state of English Folk Dance
clubs - if a tedious evening at Sidford could be described as lively, what are other clubs
like? Totnes perhaps, before it closed down?
An absurd amount of food was provided at the seminar, almost none of it was
eaten. I thought about people who exist on little or nothing. What was most depressing was
the lack of concern for 'the world' in all the discussions. All that mattered was reducing
tax (avoiding paying it) and how to ride the next upwave, wherever it was going to occur.
Examples were given of how an individual had saved £24,000 tax in a year by rearranging
investments, all quite legal. Another example was of a wealthy couple who had arranged to
draw £50,000 a year income tax free, maybe it was £50,000 each, I forget.
I probably responded by whispering something suitable into one of her ears (I
don't exactly remember) but whatever I did, it would have been behaviour that Maureen
Knight or another member of her Star Chamber would have noted down as 'inappropriate'. It
would be yet another hearsay witness statement for their collection. Yet it was the woman
who asked me for dances and who both encouraged me to swing her faster and who initiated
the flirting. (And you think Donald Trump has problems being misunderstood!)
I often get comments from women about how nice it
is to be held 'properly' instead of as if by a limp lettuce leaf. Many years ago when I
used to attend evening ceilidhs regularly, one man was nicknamed 'lettuce' because he
seemed frightened to touch a woman with more than a limp finger around her back.
There was no air-con to worry about in the Exeter
dance venue - just no heat and no dance partners. The evening started with 12 dancers, and
me sitting out, freezing despite still wearing a coat. It was an interesting dance with a
box circulate in columns.
The event ended at noon, I spent some time
wandering around Topsham (delightful little town) and made a major investment - four new
wooden coat hangers for £1 from a charity shop. It put the millions of pounds, the credit
rate swaps and the bond durations into perspective.
I asked the band if they could play a suitable
tune at the end of the evening ........So off we went around the hall, faster and faster.
It turned into a marathon and (as has happened at a few other venues) I wondered if the
band was trying to kill me.
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
We did one square that Jeremy said was difficult.
It wasn't. Some of the music was very good - Committee Band tracks that brought back
distant memories. At half time we had the club AGM - this was commendably short, only one
person spoke (and only for a few minutes), it was agreed the club should continue without
a formal committee structure just 'everyone helping when they could'. How refreshing! This
is how so many small dance clubs are run (and should be run) and without the tedious
formality and 'rules' that are infecting other clubs and festivals.
Tea time marked a return to Thursday's high
finance and cost benefit analysis. I had two cups of tea and five biscuits - included in
the £2 entrance price. Why is folk dancing not more popular - it can be huge fun, it is
inexpensive and most of the people in most clubs are pleasant company. On the downside,
there were no young women with tight little skirts and high heels.
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.
Nevertheless, I have continued to gather
anecdotal evidence of the behaviour of women in general and divorced women in particular.
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.
I thought to myself - 150 miles for a few dances
and on a dreary day - is this madness or obsession? How many miles did I drive per dance?
What was the total cost and carbon emission per dance? I didn't even win the prize for the
most distance travelled. How environmentally friendly was this hobby compared to either
staying at home or going on a cruise?
She hung onto me around my neck - the result
being severely stiff shoulders the morning after. The Borlin has a lot of doubling in one
of the figures - amazing to watch when competent dancers do it. I can only do it well with
a competent partner - and one who doesn't mind being held fairly closely. The closer you
are to your partner and the closer your feet are 'meshed', the easier it is to spin
around. Some women are magical, others are incredibly hard work.
Exeter contra and a special dance with around 20
students and ex-students from ICBINI (I Can't Believe It's Not IVFDF). It was quite simply
the most enjoyable dance evening I can remember since IVFDF in Coventry. A contingent from
Durham arrived, all very friendly. We danced spirited and fast contra and a few squares
from 7.30pm to 11pm with a half hour break. Initially the room was too cold and I wanted
the heating on. Soon afterwards we were opening windows and doors - and it was a very cold
evening. Jeremy Child used the opportunity to test out a few dances for his impending
visit to Alcester - one of the few large contra dance clubs in the UK. They all worked
very well - maybe he could prepare all his dances with the same degree of care? He asked
if we wanted a long tune or an even longer one for one of his contra dances. Obvious
answer - the longest possible.
I cured it by injecting a little gear oil with a
medical hypodermic needle, a job I remembered doing on Gill Spence's Ford Fiesta about 10
years previously, except on the Fiesta it was easy and on the Berlingo it entailed half an
hour of tortured access. Isn't it strange how men can remember some things and yet forget
their wife's birthday?
Contra evenings are usually fun and especially if
well attended - Jeremy's dances are more often than not unknown (at least to me) and
interesting once we had understood what he thought he meant to say during the
Women often tell me how good I am at swinging.
One example came to mind at Sidford - an episode at Towersey in 2014/5 (add link to
unpublished STS letter) when a delightful young woman told me my swinging was 'amazing'.
On that occasion too I had swung her faster and faster each turn of the dance, to test her
limits, and much to the disapproval of some people who thought I was abusing her. She
didn't seems to have any limits. Towersey is like that most years - you meet a few
superbly competent and fun dancers and yet so many seem to be one-time-only attendees.
I said I didn't mind paying tax - it helps
schools and hospitals. There were blank faces. Somehow we got onto discussing cars. I said
I could easily afford to drive an expensive car but I didn't want one. More blank faces.
This led to investments aims - one of mine was to make even more money so I could give
more away to charity each year (see HMRC letter). There wasn't even
any discussion of how impending crises could affect energy sector investments (for
example), just the usual 'we are in an uncertain world, expert advice is what you need'.
As presentations go, they were better than some I have attended but the whole mind-set of
financial planners seems to be so narrow.
I know several women who just attend festivals -
they don't folk dance anywhere regularly during the year because they simply can't
tolerate the poor standard in their local clubs.
I never understand why some people get so tired
just doing a few dances. One younger woman who seemed terrified of me a few months ago
(she complained I held her too closely) now regularly asks me for dances - and she says
how good I am. Could I disagree? I just need to be appreciated. In compact Irish sets you
have to hold quite closely, especially when doubling.
At the end of the evening the band played a
polka. I asked the older of the women in the group of six if she'd like to try - she said
she couldn't polka but she proved very capable. I danced her around for quite a while,
holding her very securely and stopping only when she said she felt dizzy. She
collapsed into my arms (I rarely object when women do this) much to the amusement of her
As 8pm approached there were around 14 people and
no partner for me. Then a new lady (Andrea?) appeared on the dot of 8pm and we had the
first dance. She seemed incredibly fluid and balanced, a natural dancer.
I asked if she had ever done folk dancing before - "Yes, but a long time ago".
I spun her round in a close swing and asked if she minded. "No problem."
So on the next turn of the dance I went rather faster - then faster still. Was this still
"Your swinging is cool."
I couldn't recall ever having been told that before, and especially not at sleepy Sidford.
Then she told me she used to teach ballet.
Behaviour like this would have been enough to
trigger a lifetime ban from Eastbourne Dance Festival - it was far too exhibitionist. So
we danced from about 8.30 to 11.30pm with a 15 minute break to allow the band to recover -
and all for £7. Even allowing for £7 petrol costs the cost per dance would be well under
£1. Where else could you do this with such a range of talented and appealing partners?
Ted Farmer announced that in the season we had
done 182 dances - with some repeated. It is little wonder that Ted has such a loyal
following. Surely all clubs should aim for such a mix of always interesting dances?
Then we did a square in which both men and women
did contra corners at the same time. Easy once you got the pattern. That's the problem
these days at club nights and even at festivals - most of it seems too easy. So many
callers settle for 'comfortable' easy dances, wrapping the dancers in a blanket of cotton
wool, lest any should feel mildly discomforted by having to think.
So here we have universal condemnation of my
dancing style - which as always has been aimed at injecting some enthusiasm. Some dances
(and dancers) at Eastbourne Folk Dance Festival need it. Of course, the malcontents or the
simply jealous (many of the women I don't ask to dance and/or those men who are simply
incapable of keeping up my pace and/or people who just have an axe to grind?) may seek to
promote the view that all women seek to avoid me.
I often try to test Sylvia's limit - I'm
beginning to think she doesn't have one. It's the same with some Irish Set dancers, they
are simply so accomplished.
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.
Gittisham 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.
The last 15 minutes when a few people had left
were great fun - like Gittisham in the old days - and we really whooped it around the hall
in dances that would have had me blacklisted at EIFF - yet my partners loved it too. We
had enough dancers for three square sets which in that hall is a comfortable number.
This year, an occasional dance partner sent me an
encouraging email - I just thought I'd mention it by way of a riposte to the malcontents
who run Bridport Ceilidhs and Eastbourne Folk Dance Festival!
"I will look forward to swinging with you, so many men do not swing well, the support
you give your lady is really good and I always find it easy to stay light on my feet with
you....see you at the weekend"
I did remind people that they only needed to get
three things right to do even Jeremy's dances - be in the right place at the right time
and facing in the correct direction. Discipline on the floor - being in the right place
even - was almost non-existent in some dances, and such a contrast to Irish Set where
everyone always tries to get every move right. This really needs to be tightened up.
Similar psychology can be used to explain why
some women hate seeing other women dancing with me and having so much fun.
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).
When with grace (albeit tinged with reluctance) I
accepted the invitation for a dance or two with perhaps the youngest and arguably the most
attractive woman in the room I swung her around fairly fast and asked if that was OK. I
told her I could go much faster if she wished. "Oh I bet you could" she
whispered in my ear "but not in a room with so many people".
It was maybe a good job I didn't because so few
people turned up they had to cancel the whole event and refund money. But I thought at the
time - maybe if I had attended and taken a partner (or two), the evening might have gone
ahead with enough dancers to make up at least a single square set?
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!).
At lunch, one woman passed a salad bowl and
managed to tip a full beaker of water all over my trousers. I did have some spare ones in
the car but by end of lunch the originals were dry enough to dance in. Months ago she was
very nervous of me - now she asks me for dances.
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.
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.
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
I watched a little of Andrew Shaw taking a
roomful of attentive dancers through their paces - it was House Full and said everything
about Lichfield Festival. Maybe in 20 years' time I might enjoy it more.... instead I
tried Roy Garrington again doing some of Charles Bolton's dances. Tedious, interesting but
not for me. One woman came up to me "your face says it all - was it really that bad
for you?" There was no need to answer.
The other dance I called was one the club has
done at least 3 times before but it caused far more trouble than previously, owing to some
inexperienced dancers in one set. But as had happened on previous occasions after one of
my 'interesting' dances several people asked me if we could do it again sometime. So many
people are satisfied with being mediocre, they hold the others back.
The salsa instructor was competent but I just
didn't get most of it - it is good sometimes to be taken so far outside of a comfort zone.
I was so busy doing all the dances I forgot there were nibbles available - by the time I
remembered most had been eaten.
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.
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.
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 step-hop 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!
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.
This included a dance I first did at Halsway
Manor with Rhodri Davies - it included a sequence written by one of his daughters, in a
longways contra set there is a ladies chain up and down the room, a symmetrical do-si-do,
a double figure of eight and then a dolphin reel with the first couple (man in the lead)
passing down through the second couple - or something like that. It worked splendidly - as
it did at Halsway once I had figured out what with hindsight is patently obvious - that
the man initially leads the dolphin reel.
I still had eye problems - but I did open them
occasionally to see where I was going..... the IVFDF partners were all superb - one very
chatty young woman spent some of a dance telling me about breast feeding and how she had
been away from her dancing for too long (I'm unsure now if there was a connection.)
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.
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.
I only attended about half of the final session -
highlights were a superb Regency dance called by Ellis Rogers (not a caller I had met
before). I made a note that if all Regency dances are that stimulating I must try some
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
Additional factors include the greater carbon
emission of people whilst they are dancing (owing to increased metabolic rate). In fact, I
might sometime try calculating the carbon emissions and costs per unit of pleasure for
different forms of activity. Once an energy scientist always an energy scientist.....sad I
know. I am sure someone has done this already.
A long weekend at Towersey
costs me around £200 yet in 2016 I had only a few 'enjoyable' events - the rest being
dominated by music that was far too loud. So the cost per event that I actually enjoyed
might be about £50, and the cost per actual dance perhaps £4 to £10. That starts to
Friday was Contra in Exeter - I took along a
woman who had never danced before and she was uncertain about the idea, owing to an
existing troublesome leg. She managed, but decided folk dancing was not for her - not at
the moment anyway. Jeremy Child was his usual ebullient and sometimes perplexing self.
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.
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.
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"!
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 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
The band was Jigs for Gigs and the caller Jane
Thomas - recently returned from a trip to Europe and with her usual selection of almost
bawdy holiday anecdotes, including a man running down the hillside in pouring rain stark
naked. He was with a woman but (unfortunately for the men present) she had some clothes
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.
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.
As shown here, in 2016
I did 40 hours of dance at Sidmouth for about £150 - less than £4 per hour. The cost per
actual dance (and most them with superbly competent and selected favourite partners) would
be well under £1 and that includes the Sidmouth atmosphere.
It seems to be difficult to assemble even twenty
moderately competent folk dancers in central Exeter with tens of thousands of people
living only a short distance away. Like so many English folk dance clubs it seems to be
surviving on a year by year basis. Jive evenings held nearby attract up to 100 people -
despite that they cost almost three times as much.
As so often happens, the better dancers said they
wanted to try my dance again sometime - that's the spirit!
In essence, what many self-righteous staid
dancers seem unable to tolerate is watching so many women having a whale of a time with a
dancer who puts far more enthusiasm into dancing than they are capable of doing.
But as Gill Spence reminded me some days later -
I was living in England, I was still able to express my views freely and I hadn't been
born to become a troublesome university professor in Syria, tortured and eventually killed
for my opinions. And - for the moment - dancing and even a little flirting is still
permitted under English Law.
It's so pleasurable dancing with a woman who
really knows what she's doing.
So now to the diary itself. April contains a lot of
discussion about the Eastbourne Folk Dance Festival at St Catherine's College (formerly
Bishops Bell School) Eastbourne (add links) - and it's not all complimentary. November and
December are where I start to get more analytical. The early months are more just an event
by event record. I'll do a different type of diary for 2017
and onwards, centred more on lessons for the future than on a week by week dance summary.
Please pass on this summary page to all your
folk dance contacts. The link is seered.co.uk/links.htm
Folk dance section
Folk festival reviews 2016
Gittisham Folk Dance Club