Letters about social dance at Sidmouth FolkWeek in Set and Turn Single - the magazine for Folk Dancers.

Following my webpages criticising the lack of adequate provision for folk dancing at Sidmouth FolkWeek I discovered that there was some parallel and quite lively discussion in the pages of Set and Turn Single (S&TS) - a small but very readable magazine published by Chris Turner.

For some reason it had escaped my attention - so in case it has escaped yours too - here are the details: Annual subscriptions cost only 6 (in UK) and back issues of the magazine cost 1. A printed directory of all UK folk clubs is available for 2. The postal address for all enquiries is S&TS, 9 Glendale Ave, London N22 5HL. Telephone 020 8889 0634 or email or website.

A flurry of letters in the January 2011 issue of S&TS about social dance at Sidmouth were instigated by one from June Eames in November 2010.

It all makes for depressing reading - as does that fact that Derek Schofield declined even to publish my letter to eds on the same topic. Other letters refer to English Country Dance as having been 'cast adrift by the national body' (EFDSS) and being left to fend for itself.

Elsewhere in these issues of S&TS it is stated that some folk festival directors regard social dancers as 'dinosaurs' - presumably already extinct?

Social dance at Sidmouth FolkWeek

Dear Chris

If you were at Sidmouth this year for morning social dance workshops and evening dances, you may have been disappointed. If you did not want American contra dancing, you would have been even more disappointed. The highlight of your week would have been the Playford Ball. On the Sunday evening there was no evening dance at all. This could have been because only church halls were used, but surely the organisers could have planned for this occurrence. On two occasions when there were three evening dances there were not enough dancers to fill them. No doubt this this will be used as an argument that they are adequately fulfilling demand - not knowing that dancers have voted with their feet and have not come to Sidmouth following the decline in English dance and top callers over the past few years. What a shame for an event that originated as a dance festival!

When it was the Sidmouth Folk Festival, I regularly ordered 30 tickets for our folk dance group. When it was reorganised as the Sidmouth Folk Week, I was lucky to get ten members who wanted to come. This year, I could not even get ten! Last year, many regular dancers said that they would not come again and after the American bias, a number said this year that they definitely would not be returning. My concern is that as the numbers of dancers diminishes even further the organisers will say. "Well, there is just not the demand for social dancing." Then it would prove very difficult to get the dancers to come back even if the organisers did realise that they were losing out on overall numbers. Over the years Sidmouth has taught us to enjoy a variety of dance styles - Rapper, Longsword, Appalachian and Clog dance - which we would not have done had we not attended the festival through our original interest in English social dance.

Chippenham Folk Festival gives equal status to social dance, concerts and ceilidhs, why can't Sidmouth? Many years ago, Sidmouth Folk Festival began as a folk dance festival, now social dancing appears to be the poor relation. I am fortunate in that, as well as dancing, I attend singing workshops and concerts, but I can't help but wonder how many of my dancing friends I will see at Sidmouth in 2011.

June Eames

Social dance at Sidmouth FolkWeek

Dear Chris

I heartily endorse everything that June Eames says about the demise of Social Dance at Sidmouth Folk Week (STS 66). The Social Dance programme for 2010 was very poor indeed. At the close of 2009 we were promised a new dance venue but this became unavailable. Like June I was unable to fill a list for the 10 season tickets I have purchased in the past, and do not expect to be able to do so in 2011 either.

Sidmouth appears no longer to appeal to Social Dancers, and I feel this is a very sad state of affairs, bearing in mind that it all began as a Dance Festival. By all means expand and embrace all forms of Folk Art but do not forsake your roots.

Colin Gammon

Dear Chris

I was lucky enough to be at four folk festivals last year. Whitby and Chippenham were terrific, showing the world everything that is best in English folk music. Eastbourne was wonderful too, but in a much quieter way. Sadly, my all time favourite festival seemed to have lost its way. After four days at Sidmouth I packed up and went home, very disappointed.

Tony Robertson

Dear Chris

We would like to echo June Eames' sentiments as expressed in her letter in S&TS 66 regarding the Sidmouth Folk Week. Two friends and I were a little disappointed at the programme this year. Once again, Scottish Country Dancing was poorly represented, and, despite our interest in other forms of folk dance, such as English and Appalachian clog, we missed the input of jigs, reels and strathspeys. It was only a few years ago that Scottish country dancing was high on the agenda with workshops in outlying villages such as Sidford but I think, probably due to health and safety issues, these venues were sadly abandoned.

Through Sidmouth over the years, we have gained a passion for Playford, albeit as novices, but we ware disappointed by the ball in Sidmouth this year. We thought the atmosphere was poor and, although we hadn't dressed up 'in Playford style gowns', we had tried our best but were disappointed to see no dancers in 'costume' this year. As June says in her letter, the planning of the programme meant that some evenings had no dances and some evenings had several, making it difficult for the dancers to choose. One previous year, the Playford Ball was oversubscribed, not allowing us entry, but we could see that ladies and gents were dressed in 'Jane Austen' style costumes.

I don't like to be the thrower of a 'brickbat' but hope a little constructive criticism doesn't offend. Keep on dancing.

Pam French

The same issue of S&TS contained an update of the letter from Joan Crump as published in eds - with the added (and unwelcome) information that Robbie Thomas had withdrawn for helping to organise the social dance programme. Joan Crump seems to be in typically ebullient marketing mode - a pity that numbers attending may not live up to her hopes.

What Sidmouth needs is a return to the large dance venues of pre-2005 and maybe less emphasis on Joan's near obsession with very loud bands and attracting 'yoof'. After all, it is social dancers as well as concert goers who could once again buy hundreds of full price season tickets!

Elsewhere in issue 66 of S&TS it is indicated that Broadstairs festival is attracting many of the people who used to dance at Sidmouth - indeed there is talk of having to find bigger venue(s). For more details - read the magazine - the more subscribers the better!

Joan Crump, Artistic Director of Sidmouth FolkWeek writes:

Over the last few weeks, we've been talking to a number of people about social dance at Sidmouth. We are absolutely committed to maintaining and extending this area of the festival. In 2011, there will be more workshops every day, morning and afternoon, at all levels, and some of these will be in the larger venue, the Blackmore Gardens Marquee. As before, there will be evening dances, every evening of the week. We recognise that the NuCeilidh was an experiment that didn't quite work out the way we intended. Our key concern now is to keep and grow the dedicated social / English Country Dance visitors to the festival. We will also he including contra dances and workshops, aiming to achieve a good balance of events. With the social dance workshops, we recognise the need to provide for experienced dancers, as much as for those new to dance, and will ensure that the programme is full and stimulating for dedicated and experienced dancers.

Robbie Thomas has withdrawn from his advisory role because of work pressures, and, from our ongoing consultations, we anticipate appointing someone who will advise and also manage the dances and workshops during the week. We are already talking to top-notch callers and bands, and when confirmed, the details will appear on the website. Add your contact details to the website to receive emailed newsletters. www.sidmouthfolkweek.co.uk  and please send specific comments on the social dance programme to press@sidmouthfolkweek.co.uk

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