During my time in England, one question that I asked all of my friends (dancer and non-mover alike) was “What is the National Dance of England?” After a somewhat pensive-to-quizzical furrow of the eyebrows, the answer most popular was Morris Dance, at which point I promptly squished up my own eyebrows and like any curious person thought to myself, “Morris Dance… who’s Morris?”
Well, once I began my search for the answer I stumbled on an amazing number of traditional dances passed down from generation to generation in the United Kingdom. At this point I knew I would need to seek a little guidance from someone who has been involved with traditional dance for most of her life. Cue: Kerry Fletcher. Performer, teacher, choreographer, director, philanthropist, and overall English Folk Dance enthusiast.
1. WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND WITH ENGLISH FOLK DANCE? I’m very lucky in that my mother, Dixie Lee, ran a folk club, Duke’s Folk, in Whitstable, Kent in the 1970’s so I was brought up with traditional music and dance. We went to folk festivals and I started dancing at ceilidhs (pronounced kay-lee) from about 9 years old. I started learning English clog dancing at 14, American Appalachian clogging at 15, and joined Oyster morris (Cotswold morris) at the age of 16. I moved to London in my early 20’s and joined a brand new Molly dancing side, Paddington Pandemonic Express, Urban Molly Dancers – we wrote all our own dances, based on the London Underground Stations such as Euston Square and Turnham Green and the band used both traditional tunes and wrote their own tunes too.
2. WHERE CAN I LEARN ABOUT THE HISTORY OF ENGLISH FOLK DANCE? There are many great websites that have wonderful information far as I’m concerned – I’d like to say that folk dancing is seeing a very positive resurgence with more young people getting involved in social dancing and morris dancing. This has been helped by companies such as The Demon Barber Roadshow and their folk/hip hop show The Lock In, plus a rise in really good folk musicians, instrumentalists, and singers who make the music and the dance accessible to a new audience. The music festival scene has also helped folk dancing as more of them are including ceilidhs and that gets people up and dancing together. Here are some of the research projects that explain the dances in more detail: ENGLISH FOLK DANCE AND SONG SOCIETY and INSTEP RESEARCH TEAM.
3. WHY DOES TRADITIONAL FOLK DANCE PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN ENGLISH CULTURE? Traditional folk dance brings people together – the social dancing definitely fosters the sense of community and social cohesion. It’s great fun! People really do like feeling that they are connected in some way to the past and to their own cultural identity – the tunes and dances that have been played by their forebears and are distinct from other cultures such as Scotland – although it’s important to say that much of the repertoire has moved about and been shared too. The performance groups, such as morris dancers, also build a strong sense of place, belonging to a side from a particular town or village and performing dances that can be hundreds of years old.
4. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FOLK DANCE PROJECTS AND COMPANIES YOU ARE CURRENTLY WORKING WITH? I now work as a freelance folk dance artist in a wide variety of settings, from community events to working with asylum seekers in detention centers and in schools, both primary and secondary education, and I continue to perform and choreograph regularly. I run my own regular classes in clogging and European couple dances and travel around the country teaching at festivals and dance clubs. I sing and step dance in a group called JigJaw – we both sing for dancing at ceilidhs and perform at concerts at festivals and folk clubs.
I have been working on two school projects as part of The Full English Learning Programme – one with A level students (17 & 18 years old), using Molly, broom, step, and social dance and one with GCSE (14 & 15 years old), using Cotswold morris dance. The projects have introduced a new group of young dancers to the joys of folk dance and they have been surprised at how much they have enjoyed it! We had a big show at the National Showcase Conference on 25th of June in Birmingham.
Folk Dance Remixed is my main focus now. I am also Co-Artistic Director, along with Natasha Khamjani, of Folk Dance Remixed – a groundbreaking company creating unique fusions between Folk and Hip Hop styles with live music. We are aiming to put in a funding bid to tour nationally next summer and develop a youth dance company in the autumn. This summer, we had a short show out and lots of Street Dance the Maypole workshops and Ceilidh jams – funked up social dancing for all to join in! [CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO OF THE DANCERS IN ACTION]
I also work for the English Folk Dance and Song Society as their Folk Educators Group Co-ordinator and have recently been awarded a place on Dance UK’s Dance Teachers Mentoring Programme. In this programme, a mentor will help me to develop my own practice and achieve the goal of helping to develop a larger professional folk dance workforce. There are, at present, only a small number of professional folk dance artists.
I am passionate about folk dancing and believe it has the power to transform lives and bring people of all kinds together to enjoy good music and dancing.
Thank you so much, Kerry, for taking the time to share and continue to build the folk dance community. What an honor to learn about the rich cultural history of England and the United Kingdom! Cheers!