Article in STS 75: (May 2012) Folk Dance Club Image. And (once again) sound levels at dances and the finances of running dance clubs inside and outside of London by Ellis Rogers.

In STS 74 Tony Weston addressed the question of the poor and dull image of English country dancing. Here Linda and Neville Selwood provide some further discussion.

An important contribution in the letters column of this issue was from Linda and Neville Selwood. They address the 'bad image' of English Country dancing and conclude that it needs three things - social interaction, a fun atmosphere, and flirting. Their letter is also cited here, where the demise of English country dance is further discussed.

They make the point that not everyone aspires to be a 'good' dancer - yet accept that more could be done to raise the standard of calling and teaching of dance. Five years on, every point they make is still valid. In that time many more folk dance clubs have closed. Whilst folk dancing cannot (they argue) be made 'cool' there are certainly many spirited younger dancers in the UK. The problem may be that there are not enough of them to sustain the hobby into the next generation. There was also a letter from Ron Rudd - I'll maybe add that later.

Linda and Neville Selwood address the 'bad image' of English Country Dance

Dear Chris

It is sad that your correspondent Tony Weston (STS 74) chose to raise some legitimate issues in a manner which invites a deluge of angry responses. His concerns fall into two broad categories: the local or club ethos and the broader development and appeal.

He forgets that the origins of English country dance were social, fun and flirting. The dancing was performed mostly by the younger element whilst the mature engaged in good conversation and, most likely, some informal business. This means that he would certainly have been considered an oddity dancing at his (now) age. Change is inevitable. Country dancing cannot readily be made 'cool' and is hardly an appealing form of socialisation for the young in today's world, given the vast wealth of online and mobile distractions which his generation did not have fifty years ago when he started dancing.

We salute the 'sitters' who take pleasure in watching others do what they now feel less able to. They are still contributing to the club ethos by their interest, encouragement and conversation - not to mention their pennies. His reference to 'shufflers' is demeaning. He may be fortunate enough not to have, so far, been visited by the physical limitations in foot, knee and hip experienced by so many in later life. Their fortitude and determination to follow their interest is admirable and not a target for disdain - they deserve encouragement and consideration. Also, not everyone aspires to be an 'accomplished' dancer and seek mostly the fun and good company. Perhaps he should attend clubs exclusively for like-minded dancers.

Good venues cost and most people of this generation have limited budgets and are grateful for a social activity that is kept at affordable levels.

His point about irritable callers is well taken. Where can one go to be taught the skill? Where can the beginner and novice dancers go for help? Sadly, the answer to both is usually (and only) 'to the club' where we strive to do our part. Surely we can do better. Cannot the many workshops and festivals offer sessions restricted to helping address these needs?

Image and recruiting also seem to be addressed largely at the club level although Tony Weston omits to mention how many people he has introduced to the activity over the last fifty years. There has to be opportunity for the various bodies and groups to seek to involve the media. There are many productions that present our heritage but we see only Morris Dance and so this is what members of the general population inevitably associate with the term 'country (or folk) dancing'. Those who organise and call at Barn Dances and Ceilidhs could also perhaps do more to point people who have enjoyed themselves in this direction.

Linda and Neville Selwood

The cost of organising and running folk dance events in Greater London

Dear Chris

I found the article by Steve Wozniak (STS 74), where he analyses the financial problems of running a successful folk club in Devon very interesting and informative. It did, however, leave me with the impression that we in Greater London live in a completely different world. Let me illustrate this with a few financial details about Quadrille Club.

Because our membership includes many who travel long distances to attend, we meet only once a month, from 10.30 to 1630. The hire of the Trefusis room at Cecil Sharp House for this period costs over 200, to which must be added the annual costs of public indemnity insurance, 63, PAT Certification of electrical safety to our PA system, 42, insurance for the PA system, 30, and a licence to use recorded music, 61.90. Then there are the incidental costs of travelling 20 miles each way, the purchase of CDs and music and the cost of printing notices to members in England and Europe. A set of inks for my printer costs 82.

Taking all this into consideration, and as the size of our dance floor limits the number who can be comfortable accommodated in quadrille sets, you will see why it is necessary to charge members 12 or 10 per session. The very wide repertoire danced in the club precludes the use of the average folk dance band and contemporary practice would exclude the use of the piano accordion, so 'live' music at club meetings is limited to the occasional guest. For public balls we use professional musicians who are prepared to play our music in the way we want it; such a trio will cost 400 to 600 for an evening. The cost of hiring a local town hall is around 1,000 so the financial risk of arranging a public ball is not to be taken lightly.

After running Quadrille Club for 28 years, my wife Chris, and I have yet to break even in financial terms and I am sure there are many other club organisers in the same position. Our reward is the constant pleasure we derive from dance, music and the friendship of our members.

Ellis Rogers

(Note by SeeRed author - Ellis Rogers was a caller at Lichfield Festival in 2106, I found his Regency dances most enjoyable)

Excessive sound levels at ceilidhs and other folk events - letters from Tony Garton and Erica Hickson in S&TS magazine May 2012.

Dear Chris,

I have a quite a bit of sympathy with Steve Wozniak in his campaign against the 'sound engineers', but I think he may be mis-stating the problem. Some sound crews have awful ideas about what makes good dance music, and most of the people who do it badly do it too loudly, but loudness in itself is not necessarily what is wrong. Can I firstly make a few comments on the technical and legislative points that Steve raises.

It is unlikely that anyone will suffer permanent hearing damage from loud music at a dance. The effect is a cumulative one and short (a few hours) exposure to loud music is not going to have very much effect. It will however almost certainly produce temporary hearing loss which will probably last a few hours but could be a bit longer. The problem of the prematurely deaf young is more associated with MP3 players with headphones.

It is correct that there is no legal protection for customers at a dance. They have the option of leaving and asking for their money back - and more importantly not going back. Workers (including stewards and bar staff at ceilidhs) who don't have that option are given legal protection, but would need to be exposed to the noise for quite a long time for the limits to be breached.

With a well set up system the level in a hall does not vary very much apart from very close to the speakers. Many systems are too directional and can give rise to the levels being too loud in one part of the hall and not clearly audible in other parts. In a tent at a festival the levels away from the speakers may be much lower because there are no normal reflections from the walls.

Environmental Health Officers do not measure 'average sound levels well away from the speakers': they do not measure levels affecting customers at all. I have not come across any disco (much less a folk dance) where the EHO has approved levels inside the hall. In fact, I cannot think of any legislation that would allow them to restrict it except for the effects on the staff. They will be concerned with the noise that escapes from the building and affects the neighbourhood. Licensing conditions could be used to protect children from excessive noise - or if the noise was so loud that it was considered to affect public safety.

The problem is mainly with ceilidhs because that is a style of dance where the punters really do expect - and want - louder music. This does not mean infinitely loud is OK: it just recognises that that is the style of music that is expected. Playford and similar dances are probably not affected by loud music but some contra bands also turn up the volume knob a bit. It is in part a question of what level of sound the punters want and expect and what level the organisers think the punters want. If a ceilidh was run at the level of the average Playford ball, there would be complaints that it was too quiet. I don't think that a test can be whether a normal conversation is possible or not. After all, when the music is playing you are dancing, aren't you?

I think that there are some people who run sound desks for ceilidh bands who know what they are doing and some who are just wannabe roadies. Even the best of them can have a bit of a problem when setting up in an unfamiliar hall and ideally they would have a set-up using more but smaller speakers properly placed in a hall to give better sound. In practice, they arrive at a hall that they may not have seen before with a few big speakers and have to make the best of it. Some do a good job: others don't.

It is usually more of a problem where there is no sound desk in the hall and the band control their own amplification. It is true that such bands do not normally have it turned up quite so loud, but also they do not know what it sounds like to the dancers in the hall and can thus produce some really awful results.

Some of bands and their sound engineers have the wrong idea that making a sound louder makes it clearer. My purely personal opinion is that the level of the sound is less important than its clarity and the intelligibility of the callers words. Many of the sound systems are operated by the poor sound crews beyond the linear range of the amplifier. It sounds awful not because it is too loud but because it is totally distorted. It is possible to turn it down to the linear range and it will not destroy the balance and, if it has been set up properly, the quieter instruments will be better audible, and furthermore the whole thing will sound clearer.

Finally I would like to come to the defence of Steve Heap. It is true that the Ceilidh Tent at Towersey has loud music, but in my experience of dancing there the sound quality is very good and it is not too loud - except when trying to order a pint.

Best Wishes
Tony Garton

Dear Chris,

Stephen Wozniak, in support of my letter against excessive amplification, makes some pertinent points, particularly with regard to hearing damage. However, he states that this 'is not usually a problem at folk dances and especially not in village halls'. Not so, Stephen! These are precisely the venues that I attend and already some dancers are dropping out of certain clubs because of the level of noise. Do bands and callers wish to drive dancers away? Let's hope that this message is heard loud (but not too loud!) and clear.

Best wishes
Erica Hickson


Index page for STS articles and letters.

Top of folk clubs page - folk dance clubs in Devon (etc)

Gittisham Folk Dance club - the original website

Sidmouth Folk Festival - the history since August 2001

How to run a folk dance club - experiences over 15 years (most pages not yet completed)

Folk Dance Diary 2016 - highlights of a year of folk dancing.