What is Folk Dancing?

Folk Dance is easy to learn and does not require formal tuition. You just go along to a club and join in with the help of more experienced dancers to guide you. Couples will make up groups of two, three, four or more couples to dance moves or figures called by the dance leader or caller. If you have been to a Barn Dance and mastered a right hand star or do-si-do you already have the basics although there is much more to learn.

Traditional Folk Dances have been passed down from generation to generation and are the basis of the varied dance styles called ‘Folk or Country Dance’ today. They are still danced at barn dances, in schools when country dance is taught and most of our clubs will include some in their programmes. The dances are lively and consist of a few basic figures, skipped or danced. They will have been danced in the open air or in barns at harvest time and at other celebrations. You might have seen traditional dance in Lark Rise to Candleford or Thomas Hardy films.

Playford Style Dance

In 1651 John Playford, a publisher, collected and published some of the traditional dances. This was the beginning of a new style of dance. The dances were taught in large town and country houses where elaborate gowns, heavy gentlemen‘s coats and roaring fires made lively dances uncomfortable. The dances soon became slower, stately and elegant although still skipped in parts – an opportunity to flirt and pass secret messages. Before long new and more complex dances were being written and performed in the Playford style. Balls like those in Jane Austen films were regularly held.

This Playford style dance flourished until Victorian times when the waltz and other couple dances became popular and English Country Dance declined.

Folk Revival

Cecil Sharp sparked a revival in folk music and dance in the early 20th century. After watching Headington Quarry Morris Men dance on Boxing Day 1899 and speaking to their musician William Kimber, he started to collect folk tunes and later dance notation. From that an interest in Folk Music, Dance and Morris spread across the country, giving us a very healthy folk scene in Oxfordshire today.

American Squares and Contras

The early American settlers took their traditional dance with them to the New World where it evolved into American Squares and Contras, characterised by a fast moving dance that is walked rather than skipped. The dance style became popular in England in the mid 20th century. The figures and calls for American dance are based on the traditional English ones but have developed into a distinctive style. Most clubs will include American squares and contras as part of their programme.

Ceilidh is a Gaelic word and originally meant an evening of song, story and dance in Scotland and Ireland. In England today it now describes a high energy dance, usually with a music, song or display team spot during the interval. The dances will be traditional, contras, squares and modern. Not too difficult, you will exercise your body rather than your mind.

Modern Dances

Today dances are being written in all styles. They can be slow and elegant, fast and lively, have simple flowing patterns or complex figures which require concentration.

Folk Music

Most of our clubs will feature live music at some if not all their club evenings. The bands will play traditional folk tunes, but you will also hear Mozart, Handel, Purcell, O‘Carolan, Praetorious etc and a wealth of modern tunes composed specifically for dances.