Being European I had my first folk dances quite young in a country strongly attached to its traditions, famous for its Bastille Day ball organised by local firemen all over the country, and legally-bound to support regional customs, music and languages.
I didn’t feel any attraction to dancing to traditional music holding pinkies in barns or community halls back then. I was into rhythm, beats, energy, movement and far more attracted to rock n’ roll, blues, punk music, modern jazz and African dance.
How is it that my first go at Folk Dancing in Gizzy thirty years on appealed so much? I haven’t got an answer, there will of course be several, as is pretty much always the case with anything.
A folk dancing opportunity was offered at a week-long Contact Improvisation Dance retreat in Gisborne not long ago. Contact Improvisation is about connection, trust and fun based on the foundations of movement and dance. Folk relies on learnt steps, whereas Contact Improvisation is totally free range. The relationship between the two practices might be the constant feel of the partner, and of course the connection, whether negative or positive (which is Contact Improvisation terminology), with or without touch.
Jane Luiten is a big advocate for Folk Dance in Gisborne, an incredibly passionate, knowledgeable and talented teacher. She makes everyone comfortable, with no judgment on ability on her dance floor. Young people as much as elderly appear to have a fun time in her classes.
Folk Dance encompasses traditional dances of the Old World, including North American dances developed by European settlers, and are as varied as there are countries! They were and are performed at weddings, funerals, festivities, fulfilling many social roles as well as the human need for celebration, connection and fun, which explains their continued legitimacy today. They are most often rooted in gender roles, performed with costumes and accessories, which can be challenging in modern times. I don’t see myself wearing an 18th-century dress or a Croatian costume any time soon, however pretty they are! However some folk dancers still meet in costumes at parties and gatherings.
One last quite essential point I’d like to share is how easily I’ve been able to learn steps, despite in the past having been unable to learn and retain choreography whether it was modern jazz or African! I still haven’t figured out why. Is it because the number of steps per dance is reduced and recurrent? Is it because I’m older, more organised in my brain than I used to be and recognise and remember patterns more easily? My epiphany on a folk dance floor a few months ago was seeing the steps and beats as they would show on a music sheet..go figure! Folk dance in a safe and professional environment is highly recommended to people with dementia and Alzheimers.
Jane has created a small community of dedicated folk musicians and folk dancers in Tūranga, Gisborne and I hope it will continue to thrive and expand for the benefit and happiness of all!
By Pascale Delos