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Dancing English

Potts is enthusiastic about the current state of English ceilidh. "It's been getting better for four or more years," he says, "and in isolated pockets like Sheffield, Cambridge, Bristol and Exeter it's been very, very good with a predominantly young audience. If you're in your 20s you can look too old and if you don't wear black you stand out like a sore thumb. I've known a lot of those involved since they were kids and mostly they are very knowledgeable. The Intervarsity Folk Dance Festival which was at Exeter this year is wild... just students doing folk dancing for a whole weekend and when the official band finishes they get scratch bands together, play acoustically and just carry on dancing."

Collage of photos of dancers and bands in action

Was there a particular catalyst that launched the latest wave of English dance? He thinks not, that it's just the natural coming of age of a generation weaned on folk culture and involved with it all their lives, like Richard and Jess Arrowsmith of Hekety. "I've got lots of friends in the dance fraternity who are 45 to 80 and lots of friends who are 17 or 18, but almost no friends in their 30s. A lot of credit must go to festivals like Sidmouth and Chippenham for keeping with it as opposed to chasing trends or the next big thing."

"In some ways it's quite a conservative world. Everyone loves the Woodpecker Band so why do they want to try anything new? Hekety and Whapweasel are about the only two who have broken through in the last two years. There's a slow turnover but you have to learn your craft."

Potts believes old stigmas and stereotypes about barn dancers have been well and truly buried, along with the recent line dancing boom which deprived musicians of work at private events while American music - and the record player - briefly dominated. He is also on a one-man campaign to rid the dance world of the breed of superior-than-thou know-it-all dancers who invariably discourage the hapless beginner. "If anybody tuts we ask them to leave," he says. "We eject people for being superior. Dancing is about interaction and good dancers adapt, they never tut. It's only the dancers who aren't very good but think they are who behave like that. I've no time for them."


This feature first appeared in fRoots 250, April 2004

 

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