The Kennedy Grant Library at Halsway Manor by Cynthia and Bonnie Sartin

This week we are delighted to have guest bloggers Cynthia and Bonnie Sartin talking about the work that goes on behind the scenes in our Kennedy Grant Library At Halsway Manor which houses a huge collection of mixed media folk treasures – over to the Sartins…

HalswayManorLibrary (9 of 13)After 15 years of slogging away the 4,000 books and 2,000 records, CDs and tapes in the collection are catalogued, listed and key worded on the computer and accessible. We still have a couple of hundred LPs, about 100 CDs and the archives to sort but we’ll get there. Having said that we are continually receiving donations of CDs and other material from generous performers and visitors to the Manor so the work will carry on even when the final recordings from the Peter Kennedy collection have been added. We are happy to accept any folk related books etc. on the understanding that if we have copies already we will sell any extra ones to raise money for the library. Back copies of EFDSS Journals and Magazines regularly crop up in boxes left for us so we have a good supply of these for sale. By re-cycling these items the library is self-financing. Recently these funds have enabled us to purchase a new computer, a wonderful oak table to put it on and a top quality CD player.  

A lot of interest has been shown recently by people wanting to do research, which is very gratifying. At the ‘Give Voice’ weekend in October we were able to show the residents around the library stock and how to use the computer to find songs etc. This worked well and we were able to help in finding new material for people to sing.

HalswayManorLibrary (3 of 13)The library has provided material for several publications. The William Winter Tune Book and Songs & Stories of Ruth Tongue. Both were local characters; William a fine fiddle player from the 19th century and Ruth a self-styled folklorist and song writer who used to come to Halsway soon after it opened in the mid 1960s. We have also assisted authors writing books about John Short (Yankee Jack the shanty man from Watchet), Charles Marson (who helped Cecil Sharp with his song collecting in Somerset) and the tradition of the Ashen Faggot. Mary Rhodes is now Halsway’s official archivist and she and Cynthia are searching for material to include in a publication that celebrates the activities at the Manor since it opened as a Folk Centre in 1965.

HalswayManorLibrary (8 of 13)The collection covers a wide spectrum of folk-related material. Song, dance, music folklore and storytelling and tutors for many instruments as well as clog, sword and morris dancing. We have noticed that people come in and immediately panic when they see a library but it is very easy to use if you keep a cool head. There are printed catalogues for people who aren’t up to speed with computers but for those who are happy with modern technology a simplified catalogue is also available on the web at www.halswaymanor.org 

HalswayManorLibrary (4 of 13)If you would like more information on the library or would like to make an appointment to book some time in for doing some research, then please contact Viv on office@halswaymanor.org.uk

Cynthia & Bonny Sartin

A lovely bit of feedback!

There is nothing quite like receiving a card or a letter these days – there is still something so much more personal about handwritten notes, than an email – especially when it contains some great feedback!

We received this letter a few weeks back and the only reason for not posting (technically) it sooner, was that we wanted to write to the author to ask permission to use it… so what did we do? We sent them an email…There is just no stopping the flow of process – nor should we – but I can’t help but feel the difference between the two types of media, even if for speed it was more valid to use email. However – I digress and snail versus email is definitely a discussion for another day – either way, we were happily given permission to share so here it is…

Dear Viv,

I am enclosing the voucher for our booking for the next storytelling weekend, next year – I enjoyed the storytelling weekend so much, it was the 4th time I had come and I can’t wait for the next one. The events are very well organised and so much is fitted in, the tutors are excellent!

I am always sorry when it is time to leave, Halsway Manor is a beautiful place and all the staff make you so welcome. The meals are marvellous and I would like to thank everyone concerned for making it so special.

Best wishes

Valerie Marchant

So – there we have it! Another satisfied customer! It puts such smiles on all our faces and is so fabulous for morale when people write and tell us how much they enjoy coming to Halsway – it makes all the hard work so worthwhile. So, many thanks to Valerie for putting pen to paper and letting us share (in) her appreciation! Halsway is a wonderful place, but it wouldn’t be the same without all the wonderful people that come to visit.

Here’s to more special moments, special events and special people at Halsway Manor.

Don’t forget that if you would like to give us feedback, positive or otherwise, please do write to Paul James, CEO@halswaymanor.org.uk

Hothouse Reflections by Clare Parker

As the Hothouse Show have just received a warm welcome for their final performance at Sidmouth 2013, it is a natural time for me to reflect on the past 12 months dancing with young people at Halsway Manor since Paul James appointed me as Halsway Manor’s Youth Dance Associate. I met Will Lang a year ago at Sidmouth Folk Festival and we soon started hatching plans to integrate young dancers into the Hothouse project which Will has lead with musicians for the past few years at Halsway Manor. The idea was to bring together talented young dancers and musicians, who had limited or no prior experience of folk, to work with top dance artists and musicians and create a new show based on our folk traditions, for touring. The following January we had funding support from both Arts Council England and Futures for Somerset; and established partnerships with Take Art and Somerset Youth Dance Company, Bridgwater College and a number of schools in Bridgwater.

For a week in early Spring 2013, 23 talented young musicians and dancers got together at Halsway Manor to work with leading dance artists and musicians. Bringing fresh talents and skills to the mix, they explored traditional folk song, music and dance, alongside other styles like street dance and rock music. They created a new and exciting fusion, formed the Hothouse Show; presenting a new piece of original music and dance for touring to the Hothouse festival, and Priddy and Sidmouth Folk festivals in summer of 2013.

It was wonderful to see how the young dancers felt so at home at Halsway and embraced a totally new style of music and dance. As one young dancer said “I have gained experience of these different styles of dance. It has made me realise there are other good things out there”.

Hothouse Festival 2013 lores (94 of 213)

Photo: Hothouse dancers/musicians after their first performance at Halsway Manor Hothouse Festival April 2013

In the past year we have also worked with over 150 children in Taunton schools on our Spring Up! programme which aims to inspire a love of folk and social dance through regular country dance sessions in schools. Following sessions in their school, many of the children came up to celebrate May Day at Halsway Manor, and some teachers and their pupils were so inspired that they worked on their own dances to perform at local fetes. One teacher said, “The children learnt different dances – street, folk, country. They were great! It is a great opportunity for specialist dance – thank you!”. 

So what do we have in store for next year? We are taking Spring Up! to Minehead schools and hope to develop a schools flashmob shanty performance for the Minehead Harbour Festival of July 2014. Hothouse will continue to grow and merge traditional and new styles of music and dance. We will form new partnerships and work with young dancers in Bridgwater and Taunton to create our own youth dance company. And we have some exciting plans for a folk dance project for disabled children as we continue in our mission to bring the joys of folk dance to as many young people as possible.

A Playford Dance for you

English: English music publisher John Playford...

In honour of the Playford Liberation Front returning to Halsway Manor this past weekend! What an incredible weekend we had. Many thanks to everyone who came and especially to everyone who turned up and danced on Saturday night and of course to the brilliant PLF themselves! 

I am very grateful to Filip of the Marche who has typed up all of this fabulous information from The English Dancing Master 1651. Please do not print and distribute for profit… this is for information and enjoyment only.

What I love about this is that he has copied it directly, leaving all spellings and grammar the same as it was, with no corrections… this is simply the introduction – with one dance! If you would like to see more, you should go to his website. http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~flip/contrib/dance/playford.html#Playford_81

The English Dancing Master:
OR,Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance.
Facsimile of original cover
LONDON
Printed by Thomas Harper, and are to be sold by John Playford, at his Shop in the Inner Temple neer the Church doore.  1651.
To the Ingenious Reader. The Art of Dancing called by the Ancient Greeks Orchestice, and Orchestis, is a commendable and rare Quality fit for yong Gentlemen, if opportunely and civilly used. And Plato, that Famous Philosopher thought it meet, that yong Ingenious Children be taught to dance. It is a quality that has been formerly honoured in the Courts of Princes, when performed by the most Noble Heroes of the Times! The Gentlemen of the Innes of Court, whose sweet and ayry Activitity has crowned their Grand Solemnities with Admiration to all Spectatores. This Art has been Anciently handled by AthenæusJulius Pollux,Cælius Rhodiginus, and others, and much commend it to be Excellent for Recreation, after more serious Studies, making the body active and strong, gracefull in deportment, and a quality very much beseeming a Gentleman. Yet all this should not have been an Incitement to me for Publication of this Worke (knowing these Times and the Nature of it do not agree,)But that there was a false and surrepticious Copy at the Printing Presse, which if it had been published, would have been a disparagement to the quality and the Professors thereof, and a hinderance to the Learner : Therefore for prevention of all which, having an Excellent Copy by me, and the assistance of a knowing Friend; I have ventured to put forth this ensuing Worke to the view, and gentle censure of all ingenious Gentlemen lovers of this Quallity ; not doubting but their goodnes will pardon what may be amisse and accept of the honest Intention of him that is a faithfull honourer of your Virtues, and                                        Your Servant to command,                                                       J. P.

Dull Sir John A square Dance for eight thus:

playford dance

playford dance txtDon’t forget that if you would like to join us, we are dancing Playford on Saturday 20th July  at 8pm. This is the saturday in the middle of the workshop, and it is open to non workshop attendees. If you would like to learn more about John Playford and the English Dance Master dances, then there are still a few spaces left – so make sure you give the office a call and see if we might be able to accommodate you.
Please visit our website for further information. http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk

In anticipation of a marvellous Playford weekend!

PLF_Jul12_another fine picWhen John Playford published the collection of tunes and dances in the Complete Dancing Master in 1651 from his shop close to St Paul’s Church in London, he would be astonished to know it would still be in print in the 21st century. Like all publishers he was trying to make money. To do so he brought together all the top tunes and dances of the time into one popular edition and hit on a winner! Although the tunes are anonymous it’s likely that popular composers of the day, such as Henry Purcell, contributed tunes for some ready cash. It sold out and there were many subsequent editions being published into the beginning of the next century, which is no surprise. Even now, in a world full of every conceivable type of music freely available 24 hours a day in every home, the book still stands out as being packed with great tunes. Tunes that are memorable, hummable, and which work  very well for dancing. There are a handful of duds but surprisingly few. When Paul Hutchinson and I came up with the idea for the Playford Liberation front in 2011, we got together with guitarist Chris Green, Clarinettist Karen Wimhurst, fiddle player Liv Dunne and bass player Wayne Lewis and played through the 1651 edition and we were all impressed by the high hit rate of great melodies.

pasted-file-2The idea of the PLF is to have some fun with the music and the dances. It’s not an original thought and many people have done it before us, but we did feel that, for a number of reasons, Playford wasn’t being taken up by younger musicians and dancers. From a musical point of view we’re keen to experiment with the music by seeing what we can do with the arrangements to make it sound fresh to modern ears. Like all great music it can handle a lot of different approaches. From the dance point of view, the PLF weekend is a great opportunity to get people who go to ceilidhs/barn dances and who don’t normally tackle Playford, to give it a a go!

For a sneak preview and a slice of playford, here is a video when the PLF played Portsmouth! Doesn’t it look fun?

The Halsway Manor Playford Liberation Weekend is 19th to 21st July 2013. For further information on this wonderful weekend of dancing please come and have a look at our website http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk/portal/alias__Halsway/lang__en/tabid__4461/eventid__328/default.aspx

Follow the PLF on Facebook too! https://www.facebook.com/playfordliberationfront

Spring Up! Halsway Manor’s local schools’ folk dance programme

Halsway May Day Hires-0824

Spring Up! is a programme of folk dance workshops delivered in local schools with the aim of giving children an opportunity to learn traditional dances, gain new skills like spatial awareness and sense of rhythm, work as a team and come up with their own creative I am setting up for my session in the school hall (newly swept to clear away the lunchtime peas from the floor) when the doors fly open and a swarm of eager young children spill into the room. You can always feel that moment of sheer joy that comes when children leave the confines of the classroom for a large empty space that invites them to move and burn off some energy! Of course, they are also keen to find out who I am and what we are going to be doing too… but, none of that – we get moving straight away!dance ideas. In summer 2013 Halsway’s Youth Dance Associate, Clare Parker, worked in Taunton primary schools taking country, folk and a little bit of street dance to over 150 children. Here she blogs about one of the sessions…

Halsway May Day Hires-1069We start with an exercise that involves using all the space available: the corners of the room, cutting through the middle, down on the floor, up in the air, making longwise, circle and square formations, working with a partner to gallop or form a right hand star. It  might look like utter chaos to anyone passing but there is a very real and serious purpose to the task  as it tunes in our awareness of the space and of each other. It is structured by the phrases of the music as we change direction or actions on musical cues; it is very inclusive and nobody need feel insecure, worried or exposed because any movement choices are OK and all importantly, it burns off some of the excess energy to bring the children to a place where they can focus.

Halsway May Day Hires-1009The exercise lasts for about 10 minutes and gives me a chance to observe the children and set up expectations for the session by reminding them to keep in their own personal space, be aware of people around them, listen to the music, listen to the instructions, using the whole of their body and their energy. It may also look nothing like folk dance but it contains the core elements and skills needed and helps children tune in to their spatial awareness, sense of rhythm, and to the sheer joy of movement. This is what the children tell me when they sit, all puffed out and very focused as a group, and I ask them what skills they have just been using.

 

Halsway May Day Hires-1080I call out “longwise formation!” and we are there in a matter of seconds, ready to start learning the Cumberland Reel. I want everyone engaged so it isn’t just the top couple but every pair (the children keep correcting my use of the word ‘couple’ which they decidedly disapprove of!) in the set that gets to do right hand and left hand star.  Then it’s the moment they love best – the chance for the top couple to gallop like crazy down the set, spurred on all the way by everyone clapping. Now, this needs a bit of work. We need to keep the energy and exuberance, but refine the movement so that it looks slightly less like a cross between Hussain Bolt and a rugby hacker! It needs quite a bit of work too to remind them to keep listening to the music and make sure they arrive back in time to cast down. Then it’s another favourite moment at the bottom making the arch and pegging it to get back to the top – to start all over again!

Once we have mastered it and each group is ready to perform for the others, I have the luxury of being able to watch the children dancing because 3 of the children take on the role of callers. They bellow instructions enthusiastically and perfectly in time with the music. They come up with their own names for movements : ‘cast’ becomes ‘banana split’, and mysteriously a “stingray!” is featured!

What is clear when watching the children dance is that they are really enjoying themselves and enjoying dancing with each other.  They perform with clarity, focus and a massive sense of energy that is infectious. Their faces show a sense of achievement and as we feedback to each other at the end of the session I am thrilled when one boy asks: ‘Can we carry on? Can we do it again?’ 

“A contra dance is like an amusement park ride we make for ourselves.” –Unknown

One of the things I love about my job is that I often learn about things I never thought I would ever even come across or have the opportunity to know about – or know that I already know a bit about…(this could get confusing!) One of these things is American Contra Dance, but as we will very soon be welcoming some real Americans (yes, you heard me correctly, REAL Americans) to Halsway Manor for the American Contra Dance Weekend, I thought I had better brush up on my skills – not so much my skills, but more my knowledge of contra-dance. It won’t do to know nothing and whilst I am brushing up on my knowledge, I thought you might like to know a bit about it as well… Most of it has been gained from various parts of the internet, including but not exclusively Wikipedia  so please feel free to correct me if I have got something wrong. I will remove erroneous content immediately, or better still, hope that it might generate some fresh discussion.

My favourite definition of American Contra Dance is this: ‘Contra dancing is social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music‘. I could very well end this blog right here, after all, what more could we possibly want? That definition came from the Santa Barbara Contra Dance Society where they encourage you to simply find a place that does Contra Dancing, go there, see what they do, join in, have fun, meet new people, and then come back and read the rest of their definition as they warn that there is danger in simply reading the definition and making up your mind from that, about whether you will enjoy it or not! I think it is a great definition as in the same way, that is exactly what a Ceilidh or folk dance is. It is all about the dancing and making new friends and about family, community and connecting.

For a more in depth definition of Contra Dance I have come up with this, taken from a variety of sites. Let’s start with the history of Contra  Dance. At the end of the 17th century, English country dances were taken up by French dancers creating a mix of choreographies from around this period that use both English country dance steps and French court dance steps. The French called these dances contra-dance or contredanse. Over time the English hybrid dances spread to far away colonies and took the French form of the name  which later came to be associated mostly with American folk dances, especially in New England now often referred to as either Contra Dance or New England Folk dance.

Contra dances were fashionable in the United States until the early to mid-19th century, until the square dances took over, though these apparently only lasted til the late 19th century when they became passée and were no longer de riguer(lots of french going on here today!), though the tradition was kept up in some rural areas. It was not until around 1930’s and 40’s  that Contra Dances appeared in small towns and widely scattered parts of North east North America such as Ohio and northern New England, though the tradition was not revived properly until the 50’s and 60’s – according to Wiki!

So what actually happens at a Contra Dance? This is for all you guys out there that could, would, maybe could, might like (and should definitely) give it ago at some point, so that when you do, you might feel a little more at ease about what will happen…

According to the Boise Contra Dance Society, Contra uses many of the same traditional moves found in square dancing and sometimes if you go to a Contra Dance, you might even get to do a bit of square dancing too. There are about 8 basic moves, and 10 advanced moves. So with only 12 basic moves, learning contra dance is as simple as walking and smiling; Yet the near-infinite arrangements provide challenge and variety for even the most experienced of dancers. Additionally, the caller walks through each dance prior to starting up the music, and then provides helpful prompts while the band is playing. I am not sure if this youtube will help or hinder – all I can say is they look like they are having a lot of fun!

According to the Santa Barbara Contra Dance Society: ‘The caller, usually working with a group of live musicians, guides new and experienced dancers alike through a variety of dances. A dancer and his or her partner dance a series of figures, or moves, with each other and with another couple for a short time. They then repeat the same figures with another couple, and so on. The caller teaches each dance before it is actually done to the music. This gives everyone an idea of what to expect so the movements can be easily executed. The caller leads the dances while they are being done to music, so dancers are able to perform each movement to the music. Once the dancers appear (I like the choice of the word APPEAR, here, as I for one, might not even APPEAR) to have mastered a particular dance, the caller may stop calling, leaving the dancers to enjoy the movement with music alone’.

What I have deemed from my research is that people of all ages and lifestyles, including children, are welcome to the dances. There doesn’t seem to be any discrimination and people from all walks of life are encouraged to come together and make friends. There is no alcohol or smoking allowed at most places as it is all about the music, the socialising and the dancing and often children as young as 7 can join in.

There seems to be quite a few names for the Contra Dance and including the following: Contra Dance, an Old-Time Contra Dance, an Old-Time Country Dance, a Barn Dance, or similar. Most contra dance events will include a few dances of other kinds: traditional squares, waltz, polka, swing and other types of couple dances as well. When I think of Contra or a Barn Dance I always think of the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and the barn dance they had in that… it did not end that well, but the choreography was incredible!

And just because I can’t resist, here is the youtube video of that dance from one of my most favourite films…– don’t worry though you will not be expected to be able to perform like this! There is not much Contra Dance going on here!

One of the most amusing things I have learnt is that Contra Dancers make eye contact whenever possible, as it adds to the connecting between people and that of the dance and also helps to reduce dizziness during the swing! Some people may find it a little uncomfortable, but here is a good piece of advice from Santa Barbara on why you should give eye contact a try:You might get used to it and even like it. Remember: they’re gazing into your eyes not because they love you but because they want to make the connection, and they don’t want to throw up on you!’. Wise words indeed. 

I mustn’t of course leave out the musical aspect…

The most common contra dance repertoire is rooted in the Anglo-Celtic tradition as it developed in North America. IrishScottish,French Canadian, and Old-time tunes are common. I have also heard that some sometimes the musicians play Bluegrass. Tunes used for a contra dance are nearly always “square” 64-beat tunes and until the 1970s it was traditional to play a single tune for the duration of a contra dance (about 5 to 10 minutes). Since then, contra dance musicians have typically played tunes in sets of two or three related (and sometimes contrasting) tunes.

And here’s a bit of interesting Wiki fact for you – ‘In recent years, younger contra dancers have begun establishing “crossover contra” or “techno contra” – contra dancing to techno, hip-hop, and other modern forms of music. While challenging for DJs and callers, the fusion of contra patterns with moves from hip-hop, tango, and other forms of dance has made this form of contra dance a rising trend since 2008; it has become especially prevalent in Asheville, NC, but regular techno contra dance series are spreading up the East Coast to locales such as Charlottesville, VA, Washington, DC, Amherst, MA, and Greenfield, MA, with one-time or annual events cropping up in locations further West, including California and Washington state.’

I wonder if that will ever spread to Halsway Manor, Somerset…I’m already liking the idea of a techno-ceilidh or techno-contra fusion… very 21st Century!! In the meantime, we are very much looking forward to a wonderful week of contra dancing with an all-star line-up from the USA of caller Sue Rosen with Bruce Rosen on piano and George Wilson on fiddle, from 20th to 25th May 2013. The week is hosted by Meg Winters who helps everyone to feel at home, the mornings are for dance and music workshops, the afternoons are free to explore West Somerset and the Quantocks, the evenings are for dancing!

Don’t forget that this is a very popular event and not one that happens very often, so make sure you book early to avoid disappointment!

Christina At Halsway