Coverage in STS magazine, issue 95: some further views of Sidmouth Folk Week 2015 from festival dancers - including from the new social dance organiser, Gareth Kiddier.


Last year I was asked to take on the role of Social Dance Co-ordinator for Sidmouth Folk Week, and I ran a survey of dancers to collect opinions on Sidmouth and dance. I based my strategy on a personal reading of those comments. First, intensive full mornings in American and English dance. Followed by interesting afternoons, including Early Dance, Quadrilles, Irish Set, and Beginners, Finishing with fun evenings; not workshops, just fun. I also wanted, where possible, to use performers who are genre specialists not generalists. Here are my thoughts after the week.

19 things that could only happen at Sidmouth Folk Week:

1. The Blackmore marquee is packed full of contra dancers at 9.30. That's 9.30am.

2. You go to a Playford workshop and people are actually moving quite enthusiastically. Then you notice that there appears to be a giant blue squid operating the sound desk.

3. You spend a happy morning dancing New England squares to an American caller on the south coast of England.

4. You have to start queuing at 7pm to get into a contra dance that starts at 7.30, because you know they'll put the house full sign up at 7.29.

5. You're at an evening dance at Sidmouth Folk Week and the IVFDF coach arrives. No, really, the Inter Varsity Folk Dance Festival coach actually arrives, full of old and young IVFDFers.

6. The sight of a three hour morning workshop in the programme looks a bit daunting, but once you're there you can't quite bring yourself to 'sit one out'.

7. Your keenness to attend all the Irish set dance workshops has nothing to do with getting to spend several hours listening to the caller's mellifluous accent. Of course not.

8. You know you're looking tired halfway through the week when the sound engineer offers to make you a cup of tea during the morning workshops.

9. You attend at least three separate dances with 'scratch bands' and realise the musicians are from some of the most well known bands in the folk dance world.

10. Best. Festival. T-shirts. Ever.

11. It takes until Tuesday before you have time to go and look at the sea because you've been so busy trying to get to all the events you want to dance at.

12. You consider trying to get hold of a Harry Potter style TimeTurner for next year so you can attend all the events you want to dance at. Either that, or extend the festival to a month.

13. You dance a Playford dance to the tune of a 1940s Brazilian song played by an American style contra dance band at least once.

14. You spend so much time walking around Sidmouth and up and down from Stowford Rise that you need a foot massage.

15. You turn up to a mid-afternoon quadrille to find the band and caller dressed up in full Ball regalia, despite it being the middle of summer (allegedly).

16. You know more about dancing by the end of the week than you did at the beginning, even if you didn't intend to, from beginners to quite hard.

17. The Blackmore Gardens Marquee is still packed full of contra dancers at 9.30. That's 9.30pm, On the last night of the festival.

18. You get to the end of the festival, realise it's over, and don't want to go home.

19. You realise this whole thing works because of the amazing contributions from the performers, festival workers, and dancers, especially dancers. It would be rubbish without the dancers.


From one dance organiser to another, I would like to congratulate Gareth Kiddier on a highly successful first year as Social Dance organiser for Sidmouth Folk Week. There have been many issues there in recent years, and Gareth might have thought that he had been handed a poisoned chalice, but he had clearly done his research and hit the ground running with a superb programme, which included the first ever visit of the legendary Tom Hinds to the UK, who delivered an amazing three hour workshop every morning (wow - what a coup for Gareth! How could we have overlooked Tom for so long?).

I feel that Gareth has begun the long-awaited revival of the social dance element at Sidmouth, My family has been going to Sidmouth every year since 1984, and witnessed the gradual demise of the social dancing for many and varied reasons. It would be so good to see the social dancing returning to Its former glory as a core activity; and it looks like Gareth could be the right one to achieve this. Good luck Gareth for 2016. Now all he needs is the support of the Social Dance community.

Hoping to see even more of you there next year.

Mike Courthold
Social Dance Manager at Chippenham


I was apprehensive as Sidmouth FolkWeek approached. I had tennis elbow in both arms (unfair as I don't play tennis), a sore foot, painful shoulders, a stiff neck and a bad back. However on the first day I developed a frightful headcold and sore throat which laid me low for most afternoons and evenings. I even had to miss the Irish Set Dance ceili at Sidmouth's Stowford Rise venue.

Many dancers complain this is 'soul-less' and too far out of town but it has a superb floor, adequate acoustics and good ventilation - all good points. The Inter Varsity Folk Dance Festival (IVFDF) event attracted the highest number of attendees ever for a folk event at this hall and I believe it may be repeated next year.

Having somehow made it through the week but dancing about a third of the time I normally do (and never going to the Late Night Extra) I realised that my tennis elbow, bad back and stiff neck had almost disappeared. Maybe it was all the aspirins and menthol lozenges. I prefer to think of it as justification for spending the rest of my life thrashing around crowded dance halls with a selection of delightful women.

When is Tom Hinds going to be invited back to the UK? For many of us it cannot be soon enough. Sidmouth has a problem for next year - how do they organise anything equally superb or even more memorable? His three hour workshop sessions were simply the best dance events Sidmouth has offered for years - I believe the peak attendance was over 200. Perhaps the perennial shortcomings of the venue could be addressed? Once again these were inadequate ventilation and a difficult floor (May we look forward to your advice? Ed.)

ADRIAN WEST PRAISES SIDMOUTH - except for the journey down to Devon!

To report on Sidmouth Folk Week as a whole is clearly an impossible task, since 864 events were listed in the programme - and of course there is so much more going on than the official events. Everyone's experience of the week will have been different. The one experience that, sadly, most of us seem to have shared, is that whatever route one took the journey down to Devon was horrendous.

As far as the social dancing was concerned, perhaps the first thing to say is that Gareth Kiddier, the new Folk Dance Co-ordinator, has been working hard and to very good effect. The pattern this year was that there was 'serious dancing' in the mornings, 'interesting dancing' in the afternoons and 'fun dancing' in the evenings. I thought this worked very well in the main. The only drawback was that the morning dance sessions lasted the whole morning, whereas most other activities lasted half a morning, so those of us with other interests as well had to leave halfway through.

The great discovery, for me and my wife Gillian was a band from the north-west called Albireo. Apparently they are known mainly as a ceilidh band, but they brought an alertness and verve to PIayford dances that made the feet tingle, bringing each one to a joyous and exciting climax. There were excellent callers too: Nicolas Broadbridge introduced us to dances which, though not easy, were well worth mastering, and we also enjoyed the calling of Bob Morgan and Rhodri Davies. A special mention for local caller Sarah Bazeley and Moor Music, who did extremely well to create an enjoyable evening at Stowford Rise, which sadly seems unable to attract large numbers for our kind of dancing.

We divided our time almost equally between social dancing and other activities, and for us this was, as always, a wonderful week packed with enjoyment. We only regretted the many things there just was not time to do. Our sincere thanks to all those tremendous people who work so hard to make it all possible.

Coverage of Gittisham Folk Dance Club in STS magazine issue 95:
teaching folk dance callers how to call and folk dancers how to dance!


Like many other clubs, Gittisham holds regular club callers nights with a view to giving novice callers a bit of experience. We recently went one better, and organised a callers' workshop. This was held at our usual venue, but as an extra to our weekly club night. All members were invited, so that there were a useful number of dancers, and the evening was run by Aileen Wills, a local experienced caller. Music was provided by Chris Toyne, a brilliant accordion player. We had half a dozen callers of varying degrees of experience and skill. We felt that that number was about the optimum, so that everyone had a chance to do their stuff.

Aileen began the evening by telling us something of her background in folk dancing, and went on to talk about what was needed in a caller, pitfalls for the unwary, and tips for getting out of trouble when all on the floor are failing over their feet and each other. Each caller then had a go at calling a dance of their choice and after each turn Aileen gave feedback, positive and encouraging, and always wise (and tactful!), highlighting good points and suggesting ways in which less good points could be improved. We had the usual tea and biscuit break, and then there was time for any of the participants who wished to have another try.

Everyone who attended felt it was a very worthwhile exercise. As a dancer, I enjoyed it very much, and I think all the participants including Mark (my husband, and a novice caller) found the evening extremely useful. Even musician Chris Toyne said he had learned a lot. Incidentally, if any other club is thinking of organising something along these lines, the decision to have a single musician was a good one. Chris responded quickly and apparently easily to each individual caller's idiosyncrasies.

At Gittisham we think that it is very important to encourage the callers of the future - one of our members Is only fifteen and shows every sign. of becoming a brilliant caller. If other clubs out there are considering a similar initiative please do get in touch (markmoran AT and we will be happy to answer any queries you might have.

Stephen Wozniak writes:

I'm not sure whether I am annoyed or just puzzled.

In November last year, I attended a Halsway Manor callers evening as a local dancer. This event was promoted as an opportunity to learn from Mary Devlin and Bruce Hamilton - experienced callers from the USA. As has been described before in STS, each course attendee then had the chance to call a dance to a group consisting of other expert callers and a few local dancers, drafted in to make up the numbers. The next event was publicised in STS 94 and is again in mid November.

On the night, I wondered what all the fuss was about. As dancers we were all experts, we listened to the instructions, we did as we were told and we were quiet and well behaved. I thought what an easy time these callers are having! The dances were interesting but hardly difficult. At Gittisham club I can recall a callers evening where the room was in uproar most of the time, the callers could hardly make themselves heard, people went wrong just for the fun of it and to give some callers (especially me) as hard a time as possible. Why do people always pick on me?

More recently I attended the Halsway Manor 'Open Day' which was billed as 24 hours of folk dance and song. There was certainly far less dance than my partner and I had expected - just a few sessions in the day and an evening dance. The caller for one session was a lady from City Clickers, a well known clog dance side from Bristol. She started out apprehensively but soon remarked "You're all so good! You do exactly as I say! This is going to be so easy". The point was (again) that we were all paying attention and doing as we were told. So the caller's job was a piece of cake, and she knew it. The only problem was that so few of the Halsway 'open day' dancers had much life in them!

More recently still, we had a callers workshop at Gittisham where several aspiring local callers prepared and called one or two dances. There was some useful advice from veteran local caller Aileen Wills - prepare your dances in advance being a particularly pointed comment. As usual, I tried one of my complex fast dances and was roundly condemned for trying to be adventurous. It is a dance I know well and it has been successful elsewhere - but some of the dancers were simply not up to it. So here is the problem. Either callers can become popular by always giving people easy dances or they risk being condemned because they require dancers to switch on their brains.

A good analogy would be teachers or parents who either try and be popular with children by giving in to each and every request for sweets, or easy lessons, in contrast to those who insist that for the children's own good they should eat their greens, unplug the television and computer and do some proper homework.

We hear a lot these days about how mental and physical exercise can be good for patients who are suffering from mild depression and/or weight problems. Tony Battilana made a similar point in his article in STS94. We need not only to eat our greens but do at least 10,000 steps every day, and preferably quite quickly. A doctor described recently on a radio programme how he 'prescribed' walks in the country and gardening, both antidotes to sitting slobbed out in front of a television - and less expensive than drug therapy. But mental and physical exercise is vastly more beneficial when it is challenging. An endless succession of slow or simple 'baby dances' (as I call them) is equivalent to a gentle stroll. We need far more callers who are willing to risk condemnation by pushing people to their mental and physical limits - and how they enjoy it once a complex dance has been mastered! It is the difference between living or just existing. I'm reminded again of the comment by one of my dance partners after we had done a challenging fast dance called by Seth Tepfer at Chippenham last year - "why can't all dances be like that?"

I recently attended an 'advanced contra' evening led by Jeremy Child that was fun and required brains. Fortunately most of the people there were young university types, and we managed most of the time both to understand Jeremy and to do what he thought he meant to say.

It is the responsibility of callers to push both mental and physical boundaries and not to bask in the glow of shallow cheaply-won popularity.

Steve Wozniak.

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.