When I was first told about the opportunity to take part in a performance by Folk Dance Remixed, I have to say I was more than a little worried. Having never done any form of modern dance (aside from the harrowing sessions that were compulsory in GCSE PE) the prospect of, not only having to learn how to do all these things (kickball change? Is that a sweet?) but then having to perform it in front of an audience of Proper Dancers™ was more than a little nerve-wracking. This was before I realised that other members of OakenYouth (our name for the younger members of Oakenhoof) were also invited to come, which, I have to say, was reassuring, as we have collectively made a fool of ourselves many a time, and I knew they were all as similarly underqualified as I was.
I also had a crafty look at some of Folk Dance Remixed other works on the interwebs, and found that I was actually quite enthusiastic about the whole affair (who wouldn’t want to mix North West morris with street dance? Sign me right up!) I also realised it was a valid excuse for me to stop revising for a whole Sunday, so I couldn’t really say no, could I?
The beginning of the first rehearsal came as a bit of a shock, as there was a proper warm up to begin with (something I’d not done since dropping PE like a hot stone two years previously), and there were lots of bendy people stretching in one corner. It was at that point that I began to have minor doubts, as I couldn’t actually get my foot to reach my belt, much less get it over my head. However, these were soon quashed, as we started doing ceilidh dances. This was a pleasant way to start, I felt, because all the proper dancers picked it up quite quickly, and I knew it anyway (from attending a number of ceilidhs at various points in my youth) so I didn’t feel like a huge mug. Other bits were added to the dance, but it was all fairly straightforward, and I got the hang of it reasonably quickly, so neither I nor my self-esteem suffered too much.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was meeting some of the dancers from the other groups. Generally speaking, they were people I wouldn’t usually talk to (on account of them all being extremely talented, and me not wanting to look like a chump). However, ceilidh dances are a truly wonderful thing to help get acquainted with people you’ve never met (hand holding with strangers is always fun, though not always recommended). I found that they were just as fascinated by the folk dancing as we were in all the other forms of dance they could do. Many of them were very interested in having a go at wearing clogs, so much so that we ran out of pairs (many were quickly returned, however, as it was discovered that the floor was highly slippery, and nobody really wanted to go arse over head in front of their peers).
I also really liked what the Musical Director did with the music; a lot of the tunes were ones I was already familiar with, so listening to them get revamped like that was really exciting. The way the choreography fit in with the music was really clever as well, because, similarly to the music, it took traditional North West dances (like the morris and the clog dancing) and altered it, integrating the old with the new. This, for me, was really important, as, particularly with folk, sometimes the need to preserve tradition, and do dances EXACTLY as they were danced however many years ago means that folk can get a bit stuck in the past. Don’t get me wrong, it’s vital to keep old traditions alive, and the preservation of dances and traditions is extremely important, but sitting around discussing whether Sam Sherry put his heel down in that particular step or not may deter some younger people from having a go at folk dances. And, if the tradition is to carry on as it is doing now, it’s crucial to engage with people from all walks of life, not just the children of the folkies who have been press ganged into it from a young age anyway.
I feel that the whole venture was handled very well, as the choreographers (Kerry and Nat) only had a short period of time to sort out the whole 10+ minute piece, and, as anyone who has done high school will be aware, trying to get more than thirty kids to shut up and PAY ATTENTION is very difficult, and not a job I envy. At all. However, Nat and Kerry managed to get us all to follow instructions and shut up without yelling at us every 3.2 nanoseconds, which was not only a novel experience, but made the experience of creating the dance a lot more enjoyable, as we (or at least I) felt less like pupils or students and more like equals.
The fact that us lot from Oakenhoof were allowed free rein to come up with our own steps for one of the sections of the dance was great as well. Granted, we used steps we already knew to save time, but being allowed time to have a fiddle with the steps was nice, and it made me feel like I’d made a contribution to the performance.
Suffice to say, I found the whole experience to be absolutely fantastic. I’m a gold standard street dancer (ask anyone, I got a sticker), and it was an opportunity to share my tradition of dancing with people who may not necessarily had a go at it, for whatever reason. Also, where else am I going to get an opportunity to fall on my backside in front of an audience of Real-Life, Full-On Proper dancers outside the Lowry theatre? That’s something to write home about, I’m telling you!
This project was commisioned bt EFDSS for the U.Dance 2016 National Youth Dance Festival at The Lowry