Further Dance Matters
English Dance & Song, Spring ’98.

It is a sad yet unquestionable fact that Folk Dancing in England has decreased in popularity over recent years. Dance club membership is, on the whole, static or declining and the average age of dancers is increasing as years go by.

If no action is taken within the next decade then Folk Dance in England could die a death or at best be reduced to a mere fraction of its current population.

Folk Dance is no longer fashionable. It has been replaced by several other forms of dance and dance-oriented exercise, e.g. Sequence & Ballroom Dancing, Tango, Salsa, Irish Set, Line Dance, Aerobics/Step etc.

So how do we reverse this trend? There are no easy solutions.

Perhaps if we consider what it is that makes Folk dance different from the other forms of dance we may get some clues.

Considering the others for a moment:

Line Dance and Aerobics/Step are essentially solo activities. The aim is of course to dance in unison with others, but the success of one dancer in executing the routine has little or no impact on the other dancers;

In Ballroom, Sequence, Tango, Salsa etc. you work as a couple, again hopefully in unison with others, but similarly you are not reliant on others (except your partner) to execute the dance successfully;

Irish Set, of course, has similar origins to English and American Folk Dance. In the main however you are working as a couple, with some dependency on other members of the set, yet still to a lesser extent than the degree of interaction between dancers in the vast majority of English and New England Folk Dances.

It is this working together as a group, often as frequently with others as with your partner, that gives Folk Dance its unique flavour. This I believe is its great strength and one we should market for all it’s worth.

There are however problems in doing so:

Unfortunately many experienced folk dancers have forgotten the fun of dancing with new or less able dancers and see such people only as a means to progress on to friends or more expert dancers further along the set;

This ‘attitude’ to other dancers is I believe a major factor inhibiting new recruits from regular involvement and hopefully becoming accomplished dancers. It is also in conflict with any campaign to market our style of dance. Our attitude to our fellow dancers is all-important. Another title for it is ‘Dance Etiquette’.

Let me give one or two examples that I have experienced recently at ‘dancers’ events’:

Firstly at a recent event at Cecil Sharp House my partner and I had been dancing with friends in a Longways set in front of the caller and at the end of the dance had progressed to the top of the set. We were standing chatting, in top place, not three or four feet from the stage. The caller announced the next dance (a square set). We finished our chat and turned to look round for two other couples to join us, only to be unceremoniously bundled out of the way as three couples suddenly arrived from nowhere, squeezed into the space between ourselves and the stage and then spread out forcing us out of the way. The whole action took less than 5 or 6 seconds and left us feeling annoyed, spurned, and frustrated at their rude behaviour. I have since chatted with other friends who have sadly experienced similar behaviour at our ‘prime venue in the country’ and at other dance locations too.


Another instance – recently whilst chatting with another caller at a festival, I was informed by them that they were one of only two people in the whole country who actually taught people to dance, yet this same person, whilst leading a subsequent event, proceeded to push less experienced dancers round the set when they went wrong. No one likes being pushed around, yet we seem to accept this as a norm when assisting new or less able dancers. How often has this type of behaviour discouraged people from joining our ranks?

A third instance – My partner and I were at a recent event and were actually the second couple to get up onto the floor after the dance (a 3 couple Longways dance) had been announced. We had been sat well down the room and as we approached the top of the room another couple got up and moved into second place. Almost immediately a 4th couple who were sat near the stage decided they would be in the top set and despite our approach quickly moved into 3rd place. We therefore arrived in 4th place. By this time several other couples had got up and quickly formed into 3 couple sets further down the room, leaving my partner and I stranded in 4th place having no couples to dance with.

Eventually after a rather embarrassing interlude we joined the 2nd set. There were several couples, not only ourselves, who were glad when that particular dance was over.

I’m sure many of us can relate similar tales. In the face of such behaviour is there any wonder that potential new recruits prefer either solo or couple dancing?

Just imagine now that the above three situations had arisen at a costumed Playford Ball. I am sure that etiquette would have prevailed and all three scenarios would have resulted in amicable and even gracious solutions.

Is not the etiquette displayed at a costumed ball equally as pertinent to every dance event we attend?

I used the word ‘attitude’ earlier in my discussion; it is truly the key factor in welcoming new recruits to our fold. It can also be seen that an individual dancer's attitude has far more impact in folk dance than in the other less ‘social’ dance oriented pastimes.

We need to cosset our new and less accomplished dancers rather than ignore them.

If we are to encourage new dancers to join our ranks we cannot just market our attributes; we must actively improve our dance technique and our ‘attitude’ to our fellow dancers. This should be our New Year’s Resolution.

In a subsequent series of articles I would like to discuss Dance Etiquette and its practical application.

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