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Reprints from E.F.D.S. News, Number 2
By MRS. KENNEDY
More than half the members of the English Folk Dance Society joined it after the War [World War I], so that they probably know little about the earlier days of the movement. I am one of the more fortunate people, who first met folk-dancing in 1909, and I think it will interest others, to hear of my impressions of those early days. In this issue of the News, I will describe the progress of the movement before the Society was formed and in the next number follow it up with a description of the formation of the E. F. D. S. and its two-and-a-half years of work before the war.
Curiously enough, it was at Stratford-on-Avon, that my sister, Miss Karpeles, and I first saw folk-dancing...We were attending the Shakespeare Festival in 1909, and a Folk Song and Dance Competition, with Mr. Sharp as judge, was held during the Festival. We went to this, rather out of a sense of duty, feeling that we ought to know something about folk-songs and dances. Little did we realize what a fateful move this was going to be for us. We were literally held spell-bound by the tunes, and stayed at the Competition all day. We have both thought of little else but folk-dancing ever since. As soon as we returned to London, we saw folk-dance classes advertised at Chelsea Polytechnic, and these we attended. They were under Mr. Sharp's personal supervision.
I ought at this point to explain, that a considerable amount of folk-dancing had already been taught all over England by Miss Mary Neal and some of the members of her Esperance Working Girls' Club. This club was already well-known for its interest in national dancing and Mr. Sharp suggested to Miss Neal that she might like to include the Morris dance in the club's repertoire. Mr. Kimber of the Headington Morris side came up to London to teach the girls. Miss Neal, who was a wonderful organiser, in a short time had her girls teaching all over the Country. Mr. Sharp, however, realizing that it was a teaching movement and that it would have to be put on a much broader basis, if it was to endure, approached Miss Wilkie, the Principal of Chelsea Physical Training College. Here he knew the dances would be in the hands of trained teachers.
The College held many classes, and it was at some of these that my sister and I learned to dance. In addition to the classes held at the College, the students took outside classes whenever their other work would permit. They demonstrated for Mr. Sharp's lectures in different parts of the Country. I do not know what we should think of these demonstrations now, as the programme was drawn only from Morris Books I and II and Country I. The dances in these books were all that had been collected up to that time. Among the people who are still connected with the movement and took part in these demonstrations were Miss Kennedy (now Mrs. Kennedy-North), Miss Lett, and later, Miss Sinclair.
After a short time the College started an Examination in folk dancing (see EFDS Examinations and Syllabi). Mr. Sharp, Miss Wilkie and the folk-dance teacher, Miss Ruffel, comprised the Board. An examination was held on each Morris Book. It might appear quite an easy task merely to learn the contents of one book, but there was also the terrible ordeal of teaching the rest of the candidates. This perhaps was not so frightening for the students of the College, but it certainly was for some of us, who had never taught before in our lives. I was asked to teach the "Headington hey." I had spent the whole morning experimenting with that particular figure on our housemaid, so it came out pat and I came through with flying colors, being told I was a born teacher.
The Polytechnic also arranged for an open Country dancing evening to be held every Thursday. These evenings have been kept up ever since, for they were carried on by the E. F. D. S. and eventually developed into our Country dance parties. At first it was purely a class, but of a very friendly nature, and visitors were generally induced to join in before the end of the evening. I remember that my husband's first attempt was on one of these occasions. We were one dancer short in one of the sets of "Newcastle," and Miss Kennedy, who was teaching, remembered that her young brother was sitting watching, timidly tucked away in the corner of the gallery. She beckoned to him and he came down rather bashfully and very conscious of his heavy shoes; perhaps the rest of the set were even more conscious of those heavy shoes during the progress of the dance. At all events, he was captured.
Gymnastic costumes were worn by most women dancers on these occasions, no doubt because of the connection with the physical training College.
I remember at a later date, when the Society took over this class, what opposition there was against the prohibition of this dress. Some dancers even stayed away for a short lime, as they decided that it was not possible to dance in a skirt. Will there be the same opposition, if an attempt is made to banish the gymnastic costume finally from the classes and to replace it with a dress of softer lines, more suited to our dancing?
Ladies Gymnastic Costume
[Contrast this with the costume worn by the women in the photograph of
demonstration team in 1927]
My sister and I finding the class at Chelsea insufficient to gratify our craving for folk-dancing, got together a few people we had met at these classes, including Mrs. Kettlewell (nee Walsh) and Miss Muller and with a few other friends formed a small Folk-Dance Club. The club amounted in all to about ten members, and we held weekly practices in our drawing room. It was also at this time (1910) that we got to know Mr. Sharp personally. He had praised our dancing of " Rigs O'Marlow " in a class and had asked us, along with Miss Muller, to tea. As soon as we arrived we each had an old umbrella or stick thrust into our hands. We then were taken out into the garden and asked if we would mind going through some evolutions of a wonderful sword dance, which Mr. Sharp had just collected. He said that with the charwoman we would just be six in number, and he would be free to conduct operations and note down the results. We went through some exciting and wonderful contortions, and were constantly arrested in the middle of an evolution and kept standing, generally in a rather uncomfortable position, while Mr. Sharp noted down our different positions. When one sees the smooth evolutions of the "Kirkby" Sword dance, as it is now performed, it is difficult to believe it was the dance that we were attempting that day. I remember that Joan and Susannah Sharp, dressed in attractive blue overalls, witnessed, along with the cat, this curious exhibition from the roof of the summer house. Mr. Sharp was greatly interested in our Folk-Dance Club and gave us every encouragement and help.
We began to feel so pleased with our Morris side, that we thought we would give a Drawing-room performance for our friends. However, on counting up the number of people we all wished to invite, we thought it more practicable to hire the Small Portman Rooms and give a public performance. As soon as the performance was announced, the tickets quickly sold out and we had hastily to cancel the Small Portman Rooms and book the large Hall. The applications for tickets continued to come in at an alarming rate, and we eventually had an audience of about five hundred. I am quite sure only a fifth of that number could see anything of the dancing. The performance did not run without a hitch. Mr. Sharp had kindly promised to lecture and play for us, but before he was able to play, he had to extricate various hooks and keys from the inside of the piano. We started with "Trunkles" and all went well until the capers, when one of our dancers made a large hole in the middle of the temporary platform. This naturally added a little to our anxiety during the remainder of the performance. We were not, however, unduly depressed by these minor misfortunes, because we had secured real men to take part in the Country dances, and such a thing had never been done before. I use the word "secured" advisedly, as the men were friends who had been dragged in, for, although they knew very little about the dances, they were men. The performance was a tremendous success and we made a profit of £60, but alas! this had rashly been promised to a charity.
The Folk-Dance Club then felt encouraged to further activities and gave many smaller performances of a private nature. .The Club also started public folk-dance classes and some of the original members of these arc still members of the E. F. D. S. These classes were held in a hall in Newman Street, but unfortunately the roof of the hall was not rain-proof. We moved to Trinity Church House, but later when the classes were taken over by the E. F. D. S., this hall was given up, as the acoustics were considered too bad. Now-a-days, it is our best hall. It was in the summer of 1911, that Mr. Sharp was invited down to Stratford-an-Avon to hold a Vacation School. There had already been one or two schools held there by Miss Mary Neal.
The School consisted of about sixty students. There were three classes and the members of the staff were Miss Kennedy, Miss Wilkinson, Mrs. Kettlewell, Miss Karpeles and myself. Miss Collis, who was the star pupil, made the sixth for the demonstration side, and Miss Mattie Kay, who in the past did so much to popularize the folk-songs, assisted with the teaching of the singing. There was a weekly demonstration given in the Theatre Gardens, and each week there was some extra attraction to vary the programme. On one occasion, Mr. Hands brought his team of traditional Country dancers from Armscote, Warwickshire. They danced most of the longways dances, that are published in Book I. I shall always have a lively recollection of Mr. Hands leading his partner down the middle of the set. They gained very little ground but at the same time gave a tremendous sense of movement and dance; and the swing of the woman's skirt was a joy to witness.
On another occasion we had twenty boys and girls from Mansfield House Settlement. Miss Karpeles had a Folk-Dance Club for children at Canning Town in connection with this Settlement. There were about one hundred children in the Club and about the same number on the waiting list. I shall always remember how those twenty children enjoyed that trip to Stratford-an-Avon. They had never hitherto been further afield than Epping Forest. On another occasion Mr. Phillips Barker brought over from Nottingham a team of Sword dancers which he had trained.
In November, 1911, the Folk-Dance Club decided to give another performance, this time in Kensington Town Hall. On this occasion, there were some good men dancers from Mr. Sharp's class at Chelsea and Miss Kennedy and Miss Daking assisted us. There was no men's Morris side, but Mr. Wilkinson danced "Princess Royal" with me. We danced it in turns, facing each other and I remember that in a subsequent newspaper report, admiration was expressed at the coquettish question and answer that this dance so prettily illustrated. I do not think the sexes were ever mixed in a Morris jig after that. Mr. Kennedy made his first appearance at this performance. Some members of our club had noticed him at the Chelsea class, when he made his debut, which I have already described, and directly the dance had finished, he had been invited to dance at Kensington Town Hall. I ought to mention that in those days, folk-dance performances were always given in Old English costume. I remember that I wore a fetching crushed strawberry linen dress with apron, fichu, sunbonnet and plaits complete.
…Most of the members of the men's Morris side were struggling in the beginners' class. Amongst them was a very interesting Japanese scholar, who did everything with the greatest facility and was very much envied by the other men. I had a very hard time with the Advanced class, teaching Morris from Book IV, which had been published only a few days before the school. Galleys, hop-backs, shuffles, uprights, etc., were a foreign vocabulary, but I met my class quite happily thinking that this would be new to all of them. To my horror I found that Mr. Denman had brought a large party of enthusiasts from Retford [in Lincolnshire], and also several copies of Book IV, and these students had evidently been sitting up at night digesting the new intricacies.
The classes seemed quite insufficient to appease everyone's appetite for dancing, and this was not because in those days we danced less vigorously than we do now. This was proved by the local chemist, who complained that he was sold out of Elliman's Embrocation on the second day of the school. We always met again in the evenings at a social gathering in the beautiful picture gallery of the theatre. I remember that Mrs. Hobbs and Miss Katherine Eggar were among those who used to entertain us.
Although the floor was very slippery we very rarely ended the evening without dancing "Jamaica" and "London is a Fine Town," these being particular favorites at that time. We were not then spoilt by an extensive repertoire, and every dance had its innings [a cricket reference that, for baseball, might be "everyone had a chance to bat."]
It was soon after this Vacation School that the Society gave its inaugural "At Home" and invited a large number of influential people. A demonstration was given on February 22nd, and it was here that the Men's Morris side made its first appearance. I feel I must say more of this Morris side, which consisted of six remarkable men-all of them real enthusiasts. They all gave their utmost energy to the movement right up to the war, when they were separated and all but three were killed. It is still difficult to estimate fully the loss that the Society sustained, and I think that those who knew these men somehow feel it even more keenly now that we have lost our founder. I print the photograph of this Morris side, and give a short account of each man and his assistance to the Society. Starting from the right hand of the photograph:
The English Folk Dance Society's First Men's Morris Side ca. 1911
(1) Mr. G. J. Wilkinson was killed in the Battle of the Somme, 1916. He was a musician. His arrangements of some of Mr. Sharp's folk-songs with pianoforte and string accompaniments are probably known to a good many readers. He was able to devote . a good deal of his time to teaching folk-dancing, and he inspired people in many places who still keep up the dancing to this day. His dancing was a lesson in perfect finish and accuracy.
(2) Mr. A. Claud Wright was very successful during the war in the Air Service. He is now, Squadron-Leader in Egypt and so is lost to us as an active helper. He was a wonderfully inspiring dancer and teacher. His "I'll Go and Enlist" could never be forgotten.
(3) Mr. Perceval Lucas was killed in the Battle of the Somme, 1916. He was an untiring enthusiast. He was a brother of Mr. E. V. Lucas [1868 - 1938, a versatile and then popular English writer] and possessed great literary capacity. He helped the Society with that side of the work, and edited the only two numbers of the E. F. D. S. Journal that have been issued.
(4) Mr. James Paterson did a great deal of folk-dance teaching. Since the war his time has been fully occupied in welfare work, but even so he has managed to give a great deal of assistance to the Birmingham Branch [of E. F. D. S]
(5) Mr. George Butterworth was killed in the Battle of the Somme, 1916. His compositions and his collection of folk-songs are no doubt known and loved by many folk-dancers. He was a real loss to the world, as he was one of the coming English composers. His music shows the great influence the folk-tunes had upon him, and that he was saturated in the folk-melodies of his country. He was of very great assistance to Mr. Sharp, and helped him with the collection of some of the Morris dances. Morris Book V and Country Dance Books III and IV were published in collaboration with him.
(6) Mr. Douglas Kennedy. He is the only one of the six who· has had the opportunity of devoting a great deal of time to folk dancing. He was looked on then as the baby of the party.
I must mention a seventh dancer, who is not in this photograph but was very often a member of the side :-
Lieutenant R.J.E.Tiddy, 1916
Mr. R. J. Tiddy was killed in the Battle of the Somme, 1916. He was a Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and Lecturer in English and Classical literature at Oxford. He had made a particular study of the words of folk-songs. He was engaged in the collection and study of Mummers' Plays. This work, together with some personal letters, was published after his death in a volume entitled The Mummers' Play. This was edited by a friend of his, Mr. David Pye, himself one of the early folk-dancers.
It is quite impossible to give an adequate idea of these men in a. few bald statements, but I feel their names should be known. One of the many ways in which these seven men helped us was to give demonstrations all over the country. This was the Society's most important work at first, and was the quickest way of making the dances known, in a town or district, prior to the formation of a Branch. A typical team would consist of these men and the following women who are still connected with the Society: the Misses Collis, Kennedy (Kennedy-North), Karpeles, Lett, Muller, Roberts (Mrs. Conant, of Boston, U.S.A. Branch), Sinclair and myself, and Miss Avril as violinist. Nearly every weekend was devoted to this work, and by leaving London on Friday evening two, or even three, performances could be given in different towns. Mr. Sharp was always with us, and it was on these trips that we especially reveled in his company. His conversation was always so interesting and inspiring, and he made such a delightful companion. We were generally given hospitality, and we used to have quite amusing times. Our hostesses often expected us to be professional dancers of the music-hall type, and we appreciated seeing their gradual awakening and very noticeable thaw. One weekend tour that made a great impression on me was our first visit to Manchester and Liverpool in March, 1912. We had very large audiences at both places. It must be remembered that Mr. Sharp's name was already well known through the folk-songs. He had spent many years lecturing on folk-song with Miss Mattie Kay to illustrate his lectures, and so he was always sure of getting interest in this comparatively new work of the dances. These demonstrations were often followed by a conference, all those interested in the subject being invited to attend. This was done on the occasion of Manchester, after which a very successful Branch was formed.
There was one slight incident that I remember in connection with the Manchester
demonstration. It was given in the very large and beautiful Whitworth Hall. Miss
Karpeles, who generally danced in the middle place in the Morris side was
transferred to an end place on this occasion. She was feeling particularly
jubilant and free. "Blue-Eyed Stranger" was being danced, and in the second half
of the "up-and-back twice" Miss Karpeles, with tremendous energy and violent
waving of handkerchiefs, went full tilt down the room all by herself,
disappearing away from the rest of the set into the vast hall. [An incident that
many readers will identify as one performed by many a Fool or "personality" in
appearances by one's own team.]
The article concludes with a "to be continued" and more of Mrs. Kennedy's
stories and reflections appear in later issues.