Social glue - the missing ingredient in folk dance clubs?

Some small folk dance groups seem never to take off, others die, some are revived. What are the secrets of success?

Here is one email sent to a couple of small groups in Exeter following a number of poorly attended evenings. I suggested to them that the missing ingredient might be 'social glue'. This idea follows from why Gittisham Folk Dance Club was so successful over more than 10 years. This is further discussed in this section of my website.

The email was sent immediately following a superb contra dance evening with some visiting members of ICBINI (I can't believe it's not IVFDF) in early November 2016 - most of them were talented young women. Jeremy Child called the dances. Apart from a few Irish Set weekends, it was simply the best dance evening I could remember since IVFDF in Coventry, in February 2016.

Social glue: a missing ingredient?

Hello Jeremy,

I agree last night was superb - pity they can't all be like that with such divine dancers (the women that is).

Some of your 'regulars' have been discussing that it seems hardly worth continuing unless more people can come - one point is that it makes getting partners difficult for people who come alone.

Increasingly, I only go to dances where I know I have at least one 'assured partner' - preferably a good dancer too. It doesn't worry me if there is only one square set in the room, so long as I have someone who likes dancing with me and is not 'forced into it'. A whole evening doing dances like Colin Hume's 'Busy Busy Busy' or Seasick (you promised we could do it sometime!), even with only one square of competent dancers, would be fine by me.

Personally, I hope it does continue, I can come on 9 Dec if you get a viable number. There is Aylesbeare as well that night which can attract quite a few (5+) contra dancers. Aylesbeare is regular, it's a known quantity. Despite being all 'older people' Ted gets a really fun atmosphere sometimes - and always with interesting dances.

Your events can be well attended or sparse - no telling in advance. Aylesbeare ranges from 18 to 32, usually 24 to 26 out of a possible total of maybe 38/40 - but there is never an evening when everyone turns up. Gittisham has c. 60 members, generally 22 to 36 attend.

I believe both Exeter Contra and Contra Ceilidh have much the same problem - lack of a secure base of 'regulars' and this must include viable partners for those of us who often go alone. There are several regular events that are so dominated by 'couples who never split up' that several single people (including single women) avoid them primarily for that reason.

I was discussing at Willand the demise of several folk dance clubs - one encouraging example from Somerset is where a club member persuaded 20 or so of her 'keep fit' class to try folk dancing. It is working, so I was told. The key point here is that they all felt immediately at home having some existing 'social glue' to make them feel comfortable.

This 'social glue' is largely lacking from both Exeter Contra and Contra Ceilidh - something both you and Julie might like to consider. Maybe you should centre some marketing on local keep-fit clubs and offer a group of (say) 10 or 15 members a block booking at a 30% discount? Then arrange to pair them off with existing good dancers for the first half of the evening so that they can more easily learn the basic moves.

Rather too many words as usual.....

Steve W.

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In September 2017 there was a contra dance in Exeter with music by Tiverton based band Stick the Fiddle. At the end of an excellent and well attended evening I complained we hadn't yet danced a square. So with 8 competent dancers Jeremy called 'Seasick' (saying that everyone could blame me for it). It was all much to the bemusement of a few onlookers, especially as we danced it a sufficient number of times to get to the level of doing it without calling - quite an accomplishment for people who hadn't done it before. The figure requires some precision - it consists primarily of a series of fast 'square through' moves but starting with the left hand - heads left square through 4, followed (with heads now facing sides) by square through 3. If I remember correctly the heads then do square through 4 in the middle of the set, you meet your corner, left turn and promenade your partner. Something like that.......

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