What is a Dance Workshop?  Often the name just depends on the time of day: evening, Dance; afternoon, Tea Dance; morning — Workshop.  Especially first thing in the morning — that's real work.

I think the word “Workshop” should mean two things:

  A chance to do a more complicated dance which takes a long time to walk through and get right: the dancers (and caller) have to think harder.  Possibly dancing the dance more times than usual, so that you feel you've actually mastered it rather than just managed to scramble through it.

  A chance to see what's wrong with the way we dance, and what we can do to improve it.

This brings us to the dreaded word Technique, at which point many people pack up and go home.  Technique Workshops have a bad name in England.  It's partly that people don't like to be told what they're doing wrong — they'd rather not know.  Or they think they're perfect already.  You can see this at an evening dance, if the caller tells them to stand up straight or dance in time with the music — “What a cheek!  This isn't a technique workshop.  We did our penance this morning; we've come here to enjoy ourselves now.”  It's a bit like going to Church early on Sunday morning — to leave the rest of the day free for all sorts of sins.

The other reason that Technique Workshops have a bad name is that some leaders will do technique and nothing else.  “I want you to think about style, and not worry about remembering figures….  so we'll do Virginia Reel or Circle Waltz until you're all perfect.”  You can rest assured I won't do that.  I want to cover some dances that I find interesting, that I enjoy dancing — but I shall throw in some words about how you might change the way you do things so that you enjoy the dancing more.

And that's what it's all about.  Not to look good in front of an audience, not to impress an adjudicator at a competitive dance festival, but to increase your own and other dancers' enjoyment.


In the States [I was using these notes at Pinewoods]  I have to start a class like this by explaining what I mean by “English” — no, let's be dogmatic — what “English” means.  Because it seems to me that if most American dancers say “English” they mean “Playford style”.  I'm quite sure that back in the good old days — when CDSS was just a small branch of EFDSS and we sent teachers over to make sure you did things properly — the word “English” was more widely interpreted.  Because when Cecil Sharp started collecting and publishing English dances he wasn't looking at Playford.  He collected dances from the villages — traditional dances that were danced by the communities — very simple, energetic — and we would probably say boring.  They were the contras of the 19th century!  The equivalent in England today is the ceilidh dances, which don't seem to have caught on in the Boston area, though they had quite a following in Seattle for a while.  After his first book, Sharp indeed moved on to Playford's “English Dancing Master”, and his later books were his interpretations of these dances — apart from one which could be described as an Appalachian aberration.

I love Playford-style dances, and I'll certainly be doing plenty of them in this class.  But I also enjoy some of the traditional-style dances, and I'll be doing some of them as well.  You can tell me you don't like them — but you can't tell me they're not English!