Dancing with Respect

I’m really pleased to be able to share an article that I wrote recently for the English Dance and Song Magazine. I’ve been thinking a lot about respect on and off the dance floor at events that I’ve called at recently, and how to be as inclusive as possible whilst making sure that no-one feels pressured or harassed. I’m not perfect, but I’m always learning and looking for ways to improve my calling. I hope dancers, organisers and callers will find my thoughts helpful – and I’m always willing to hear other people’s opinions so get in touch if you’d like to share ideas!

Many thanks to all those who I’ve had conversations with about this over the past year, who proofread the article, and who allowed me to use their photos.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of English Dance and Song magazine.

Dancing with Respect

Confessions of a ceilidh caller: Playing about with Playford

I’ve been folk dancing for as long as I can remember, and have been calling dances for the last five years. So it seems strange that I only ‘discovered’ Playford dances in the last year. My second-hand impressions were that Playford was boring and outdated (ironic, as a folk dancer) – and I didn’t even know what it meant. Some old bloke who wrote down some dances? Wannabe Pride and Prejudice? Not really knowing, I went for my usual method of learning-by-doing and took on a couple of Playford gigs. A year later I’m breathing a sigh of relief after two reasonably successful first gigs! After preparing, panicking, and finally calling for the dancers at Coventry Zesty Playford and Cecil Sharp House I thought I’d share my thoughts on my first foray into the Playford collection.

First off, what IS Playford? Well, in 1651 a music publisher called John Playford published a book called the English Country Dancing Master, which contained music and dance instructions for over a hundred dances. Where he got the dances from and why we think he chose to publish them in the Puritan era is another story for another time, but suffice to say that the dances were clearly pretty popular. The book ran to 18 editions, continuing long after Playford himself had died. However, I’ll admit that when choosing dances to call I put most of my historical interest aside. My focus is to find and choose dances that are simply *good dances*.

So what makes a dance ‘good’? Here’s a few things that I’ve been thinking about over the past year….

The moves
There’s some really great dance moves in the Playford collection, from flowing elegant figures to energetic galloping and jumping around. However, there are also some fiendishly difficult dances, and instructions so odd that it seems likely there was a typo at the printing press. I think the key is that at a social dance you shouldn’t spend more time learning a dance than actually dancing it. So I have no qualms about cherry picking the best moves out of a dance with 6 different non-repeating parts and turning them into something easier. In fact many callers of Playford dances adapt them or re-interpret them to suit their audience. That way you can spend less time thinking and more time dancing!

The music
The way the Playford books are written seems to imply that certain dances had ‘set’ tunes. Whether or not this is historically accurate, there are definitely things to be said for dances with specific tunes…and for those without. One of the things I like about ceilidh dances is that you can use any tune, which gives each dance a different flavour every time. However, I also really enjoy doing La Russe to the tune of the same name, because it has the bounce all in the right places. A lot of the tune/dance combinations in Playford are really well matched and it can make the dance fly in a way that any old tune wouldn’t. Of course, that’s very much dependant on the way the tunes are played as well, which is where a good band comes into play – if you’ll excuse the pun! Bobbing Joe at Coventry Zesty Playford and Paul Hutchinson (accordion), Fiona Barrow (fiddle) and Karen Wimhurst (clarinets) at Cecil Sharp House were both brilliant outfits for the job, providing skillful harmonies and driving rhythms to complement the dances perfectly.

The attitude of the dancers
Although this might seem something of a cop-out, being something the caller has less control over, I really do think that this can make or break a dance. At Coventry I was expecting (and duly received) a relatively young and enthusiastic crowd – I know full well that they draw a lot of custom from the local Warwick University. However at Cecil Sharp House I was anticipating a more sedate crowd, perhaps more set in their ways and sticklers for ‘tradition’. I was pleasantly surprised then, to discover that the dancers at Cecil Sharp were a mix of ages, and that young and old were just as capable of filling the room with energy, style and fun as their midlands counterparts. Another thing that struck me was how welcoming and adaptable the dancers were when a French-speaking couple who’d never danced Playford before arrived in the interval, and how helpful and forgiving they were in the few ropey moments I had calling. Certainly not the stereotype I’d feared.

The highlight of the two gigs for me was the penultimate dance we did at Cecil Sharp, ‘Emperor of the Moon’. I chose it because I loved the flow of the figures and how they fitted with the music – ok and maybe a little bit because of the name! Although on the night I fumbled a bit with the explanation, it was definitely worth it to see the dancers enjoying themselves so much. I was so mesmerized by the flowing movements and joyous smiles of the dancers I nearly didn’t tell the band to stop playing.

Unfortunately there’s no video from Saturday, but here’s the video of our friends across the pond that inspired me. At the risk of sounding like an internet meme, the bit from 2:28 on totally made it for me.

Dancing down under then up to the frozen north!

The more observant of you may have noticed that I haven’t been gigging much recently. Don’t worry – I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth… I’ve just been on the other side of it for a few months! For those of you shivering under a blanket in chilly England, perhaps reading this blog as an excuse to use your laptop as a hot water bottle, then make sure you warm up by coming to dance with me and the fabulous Time Bandits at Poynton Ceilidhs on Saturday. Or, for the less energetic/geographically challenged, read on and try to imagine yourself in the 40 degree heat of Australian summer…*

I started my trip with a 2 week stint at Ethno Folk Camp in Currumbin, QLD. The camp was mainly musical, with young people from all over the world coming to share tunes and songs. We did manage to get some dancing in too on one of the first evenings, with dances from several countries including my contribution of the Cumberland Square 8… After Christmas we headed to Woodford Folk Festival – an amazing Festival with plenty of dancing to be had, although dancing in the Queensland heat was a bit of a challenge. I managed to go to African, Bollywood and Balkan workshops – and despite having trekked halfway across the world I still ended up going to a Scottish Ceilidh on New Years Eve! Great fun, although with the age old problem of a *slightly* sloping dance floor herding everyone to one end of the room. Some things are the same world over!

Heading way down south the next stop was Cygnet Folk Festival in Tasmania. Again, plenty of dancing and a fantastic dance venue with a sprung floor. One of the highlights was the contra on the first night, which I managed to video a snippet of…

Great to see that there’s a vibrant contra scene in Australia, with lots of dance writing going on too. I also found myself at a contra dance at my next stop at Illawarra folk festival near Sydney, in fact I ended up calling a few dances. One of my newest dances “The Bibbity Bobbity Boo One” went down a storm, and was apparently called again the next weekend by one of my new-found Australian calling comrades!

Finally, this wouldn’t be a complete account without mentioning the many morris sides I also crossed paths with: Red Raven from Melbourne, Black Joak from Sydney, Belswagger/South-East North-West/Ragged Band from Queensland and the Jolly Hatters from Hobart, Tasmania. Dances were swapped, drinks were had, and I accidentally became a member of Black Joak by dancing Vandalls of Hammerwich. No dramas! (as the Aussie’s say…)



*for those of you reading this from Australia… Yes alright there’s no need to gloat!

Calling in Cardiff plus a new dance!

Last night I was calling at RUFF Ceilidhs in Cardiff with the fantabulous Steamchicken! A great night was had by all, so I thought I’d share this photo 🙂 Thanks to everyone who came along, and to the organisers for inviting us – hopefully we’ll be back before too long!

Another great thing about last night was the successful outing of a new dance – ‘The bibbity bobbity boo one’ (as dubbed by one of the dancers!). It’s based on the contra dance ‘Old Time Elixir #2’ by Linda Leslie, with the intention of being a contra style ceilidh dance that includes the move ‘balance the ring and petronella’ – one of my favourite contra dance moves! I also like the ‘slide left’ progression because it flows really nicely but doesn’t usually come up in ceilidh dances. Anyway, here it is. As always feel free to use it and adapt it as you like!

The Bibbity Bobbity Boo One
Set: Beckett longways
Tune: 32 bar jigs

A1: (slide left to progress) circle left and right with couple opposite.
A2: Do-si-do your opposite, half a right and left through (starting right hand to your opposite)
B1: Balance the ring and petronella x2
B2: Balance and swing your partner
After the swing walk sideways to the left as a couple to meet a new couple for the circle left.

Exciting news to end the festival season…

Can you bear the suspense? Well, ok, I’ll put you out of your misery…

From 14-19th March next year, the Costa del Folk festival will see a hotel on the Costa del Sol filled with the sounds of Steeleye Span, Ciaran Algar and Greg Russel, and Coope, Boyes and Simpson. However, now in its second year, the 2015 festival will be even better than the first because…*drum roll*…they’ve decided to add ceilidh dancing to the menu!

Myself and the lovely Liam Robinson will be calling ceilidhs with the likes of Blackbeard’s Teaparty, Steamchicken, the Liam Robinson Dance Band and the Costa del Folk Allstars. Pretty exciting to say the least! We’ll also be running some dance workshops in the daytime, including some beginner sessions at the start of the week (so not having done it before is no excuse not to join the fun!).

In other news, I’ve had a fantastic summer of festivals in the UK – which ended with calling a ceilidh with the fantabulous Simon Care Trio at Towersey Folk Festival. My next public gig to look out for is a contra dance in Birmingham with The Night Before on the 5th September. Hope to see you there!


So long Sidmouth – bring on Broadstairs!

It’s been a busy few weeks with more to come! I’d never manage to fit the whole of this summer’s news into one blog, so I’ve found a quick moment for a mid festival-tour update!

The summer started off with flying colours at the wonderful Warwick Folk Festival. I spent Saturday and Sunday dancing with Boggarts Breakfast Border Morris – which was swelteringly hot but went down a storm. The mischevious blue boggarts even got stuck into some Cotswold dancing with the spectacular Outside Capering Crew…

After all that hard work morris dancing in the day I gladly got the opportunity to watch everyone dance instead by calling for the final ceilidh on Sunday. It wasn’t just the final ceilidh of the festival but the final ceilidh ever in the Guy Nelson Hall, which is scheduled to be demolished this year. It was a lovely dance to call, especially with such fantastic music (as always) from DanceCupola.

Next, on to Sidmouth – another jam packed festival! The first four days were particularly full running workshops for the Children’s Festival doing folk themed science, and morris workshops for Shooting Roots. Myself and a fellow dancer from Black Hart Morris also entered the John Gasson Jig Competition on Sunday and won a prize for the Best Newcomers. A good start for the team considering that it was our first dance out!

The workshops over the week also went well, culminating with the Shooting Roots Morris workshop participants performing in a morris tour on the seafront where they wowed the crowds with two cotswold dances (Banbury Bill in the Bampton tradition with self penned choruses and Mrs Casey in the Ascot-under-Wychwood tradition) as well rapper dances of their own devising (as taught by Silver Flame Rapper).

And that’s not all! My own week culminated with running a “Crash Contradance Course” workshop and a calling for the evening contra dance on Friday with the English Contra Dance Band. We had a great turn out and some fantastic dancing – and the band weren’t half bad either! (they were awesome!)


I’m at Broadstairs this week for more Shooting Roots workshops, then Whitby (dancing with Boggarts Breakfast) and Towersey (with Shooting Roots and calling with the Simon Care Trio on Sunday) so check back for more post-festival updates!

The adventures of… comics, IVFDF and contras!

Q: What do you get when you leave a morris dancer alone with a pen, paper and photoshop?

A: A comic about the adventures of non traditional ceilidh woman and unconventional morris girl!

I kid you not, my awesome friend Anna created this gem for my birthday…

As super powers go, I think getting to the top of the pizza queue at Sidmouth is pretty handy really! In fact just getting people to spontaneously ceilidh dance on a whim sounds like fun – maybe I should try it more often… 😛

Talking of Sidmouth – I’m on the bill again this year! The first gig of mine to be confirmed is a contra-ceilidh dance at the Blackmore Gardens with the fantastic English Contra Dance Band, so I’ve been brushing up on my contra at the newly formed Sheffield Contras. They kicked off last month with the aforementioned band and Rhodri Davies calling for a really fantastic night of dancing, with more than a few dancers that were new to contra as well. There’s another one coming up on the 29th March with Andrew Swaine and The Night Before, so if you’re in the Sheffield area then make sure you get down there!

Another place that you’re guaranteed to find high energy contra dancing, akin to what you find in the States, is the Inter Varsity Folk Dance Festival (or IVFDF for short). Convenient then that a week ago today, I was at IVFDF in Edinburgh recovering from a Saturday crammed full of dancing – well worth the 6 hour coach journey. The contra on the Saturday night was definitely a highlight of the weekend with Vertical Expression, Rhodri calling and a room full of university students with more energy than you can shake a stick at!

I also got a chance to debut my new dance “the Zombie Gallop” (see my last post) at the appropriately named ‘Survivors Ceilidh’. It went down well but maybe still needs a little tweaking, although I did enjoy the mild chaos that its current form created – it seemed to be in the spirit of the dances’ theme! Oh and not to forget the Shooting Roots workshop I led on the Saturday, which resulted in a rendition of ‘the IVFDF song’ at the survivors ceilidh! I’m hoping somebody filmed it so I can post it on here at some point, but for now here’s some other Shooting Roots sounds to entertain you 🙂

My Superhero Alter Ego

So, after a long week in the lab, I’ve just had a fantastic weekend! Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the Poynton Ceilidhs calling workshop, but I’m happy to hear that it went very well – and was followed by a sell out ceilidh! The tutors, Rhodri Davies and Martyn Harvey are both fantastic callers, and having been introduced to calling at a similar event in Oxford I know it’s a great opportunity to get into ceilidh calling. So go Poynton! Speaking of which, Cat’s Calling Academy in Oxford (where I first learnt to call), is running another event in February. If you’re in the South and interested in either learning to call or honing your skills I’d definitely give it a go!

Anyway, shameless plugs aside, I should get down to the real subject of this blog. This weekend my superhero alter ego was revealed to me…”Non-traditional Ceilidh Woman”. It may not be the *catchiest* of names, but I rather like it :). The name was inspired by a figurine I was given for a board game. It was intended to be a magician’s assistant but was chosen for me because the cards could be calling cards and the other hand might be ‘casting’ ceilidh dances. I spent Sunday morning painting it and tried to get it as close to my normal calling gear as possible. I’m not sure my painting skills are sufficient to really have done my beloved calling jacket justice – but I don’t think I did too badly!

Anyway, as for being ‘Non-traditional Ceilidh Woman’, I don’t have a problem with tradition – when done well in a ceilidh it can be absolutely stomping. I enjoy playing with tradition though, writing new dances and searching out the more unusual ones. So here’s a new one to honour the occasion 🙂

The Zombie Gallop
Set: Square (Head couples are heros, sides are zombies) Tune:Jig
A1: “Run them down!” Zombies do a right and left through the middle (Right hand to opposite first), while heroes heel toe x 2 and gallop through the middle. Repeat
A2: “Lets split up” Zombies basket in middle while Heroes right and left through around outside (right to partner first)
B1: “Overconfidence” Heroes RH star 3/4 in middle whilst zombies bounce and kick (x3) then 1/2 LH turn with zombies on side to swap. Zombies RH star 3/4 in middle whilst heroes bounce and kick (x4) and end up in Hero positions.
B2: “Maybe we’re safe…” do-si-do then swing partner

p.s. This dance was inspired by the zombie boardgame “Last Night on Earth”, and the figurine was to go with a character sheet with my role being “Cotswold Dancer” and the special ability “can run through a space with only one zombie on it”. Who’d have thought that being a morris dancer would come in so handy in the Zombie Apocalypse?

p.p.s I was listening to Glorystrokes earlier “Possibly the world’s only traditional english metalcore dance band”, and their tunes ‘Mopping up the ceiling’ and that-one-with-the-Van-Halen-bit were in my head as I wrote this dance, so I feel they should get some credit too 🙂

New dances!

November is for New Dances! It seems that after things had settled down after festivals (well, slightly!) and normal life resumed I got a spurt of inspiration to write/collect dances!

The month got off to a fantastic start with the joint ‘110th’ birthday party of three lovely Boggarts. As part of the celebrations I called for the Saturday night ceilidh, and wrote them a dance called the 110 year jig. The dance went pretty well and the birthday ladies appreciated it, despite a few last minute revisions! Hopefully I’ll get the chance to call it at some festivals/ceilidh series soon, but here it is anyway.

110 Year Jig

Set: lines of 3 facing lines of 3 in a longways set*

Tune: 32 bar jigs

A1: Bounce kick x2 and walk 4 steps past opposites, then circle left halfway with the next line along. (NOTE: at the ends circle left in 3s to face back in)

A2: Repeat back to place

B1: Middle of each line does right hand star with the two ‘ends’ on their right, then swaps to left hand star with ‘ends’ on left

B2: Hold hands in lines of 3 and heel-toe x2 with right foot, then gallop right 4 steps, repeat left but pass the line you were facing (slot into the next space down) to progress

The name 110 Year Jig was inspired by the tune ’30 Year Jig’, which is a tune with a special ceilidh story for me. The story being that a scratch band I was calling for once absent mindedly played it for a standard 32 bar dance without realising that it’s a 40 bar jig. With this in mind I got home from the party and was determined to write a dance that *did* actually fit to this lovely tune! I think I’ve got a version ready to try out, but I’m not going to post it here without a test run!

Moving on through the month I ended up writing another dance the next week too, although in rather different circumstances. On Saturday 9th I went down to Derby to attend the Folk Educators Conference, which incidentally was fantastic and truly inspiring. In my eagerness/organisation I turned up in plenty of time for a 9am start – pity that the conference didn’t start til 11am! So off to a coffee shop to try and find something productive to do – which ended up being dance writing again. The dance that resulted was a hornpipe wryly entitled ‘Two hours early’ which later got its dancing debut at my evening gig! It still needs a little work, but I’ll post it in the ‘dances’ section when it’s done!

Lastly I called for another Homegrown Ceilidh last Sunday, where I got chatting to Dave Ball – a caller and band leader of the Well Dressed Band. He passed on a lovely variation on the dance Twelve Meet, which I’ll tell you more about when I’ve tried it. I also handed over the mic to Patrick Rose for two dances, which would have been a nice break if he hadn’t gone and called a dance called ‘Polkadots’ that I felt the need to write down! He also called a dance of his own devising called ‘Walking to the ATM’ which I have already pinched – I’ve yet to find an ATM though that works with the pin number “clap knees, together, right, left”!




*p.s. the lines of 3 was to allow all the birthday girls to dance together!

p.p.s. it was a fantastic party!




Boston to Bournemouth- a busy busy summer of touring!

Well, ok, maybe calling it a tour is taking it a bit far, but I’ve definitely been a fair few places this summer. The complete tales of my travels would take quite a while, so here’s the highlights!
First stop, America! As part of a two week American adventure with Morris Offspring and Maple Morris I got the chance to go to Pinewoods folk dance camp near Boston, Massachusetts for the first time. Although we were really there for the morris dancing we did manage to get some ceilidh dancing in, when some of us were invited to call a few dances as part of the evening social dance, as well as running our own mini ceilidh as late night entertainment!


An outdoor dance pavilion at Pinewoods

The whole week we spent at pinewoods was fantastic fun, as was the amazing contra dance we went to in Boston. So much energy! I’ve definitely been inspired to do more dancing and calling in America, and maybe even branch out into contra calling… Although perhaps only when someone invents a mosquito repellant that actually works!
Next stop, Sidmouth, Devon, UK. A very busy but rewarding week – starting with calling one of the first ceilidhs of the festival at the Anchor gardens with the Jam and Crumpet band, an offshoot of the fabulous jazz ceilidh band Steamchicken. Cue the perfect opportunity to wear the tea-time themed earrings I acquired a year or so ago 🙂


The band were great, and the gig went very well – despite my initial nervousness at doing my first ever gig at the daddy of all folk festivals! All was well though, and the first day was nicely completed by MCing for my fellow Yorkshire acts, Gilmore & Roberts and the Albion Band at the Bulverton stage – both of whom were on top form. By Sunday I was a little more relaxed and had the pleasure of calling for the fantastic Cupola trio at the Anchor Gardens – a band I know well in their 5-piece form, DanceCupola. The rest of my week was spent in the lovely company of Shooting Roots, where I was teaching morris, and Morris Offspring for our farewell gig on the Wednesday. Unfortunately the aforementioned farewell gig resulted in me twisting my ankle rather spectacularly – a turn of fate that made me glad to be a caller, as at least I can enjoy a ceilidh from the stage!
Despite injury I was son on my way to Broadstairs to call the final ceilidhs of the festival with the QP, another Yorkshire band. We had two fantastic gigs down at the pavilion – with the band cracking out some epic ceilidh mash-ups. Who’d have thought that Dizzee Rascal’s ‘come dance with me’ would work so well as a ceilidh tune 😀
So a fantastic summer, especially thanks to all the brilliant bands I’ve worked with! Don’t forget to check out my gigs page to find out what I’m up to next 🙂