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Welsh Folk Dancing - Almost lost without trace

The tradition of Welsh folk dancing was almost wiped out a hundred years ago following years of disapproval by the Nonconformist faith. Today it enjoys a popular following once again, with over 20 groups nationwide and many youngsters enthusiastically taking up what nearly became a forgotten art.

Folk Dancing in Wales

[image: Singing to the Harp]

'Singing to the Harp and Dancing': Peter Roberts, The Cambrian Popular Antiquities of Wales (London, 1815)

Once, folk dancing was common throughout Wales. 'Common folk' gathered for open-air events and festivals, whilst the upper classes danced at balls and parties. Country dancing, performed outdoors during the warm summer months, was one of the highlights of seasonal festivities, providing a rare opportunity to escape daily routines and join in communal celebration.

Increasing influence by Nonconformists in the 19th century caused attitudes towards traditional folk customs, including dance, to alter. Although not entirely responsible for the decline of Welsh folk dancing it certainly played a major role. Othere factors were the decline of rural life during the Industrial Revolution and the advent of railway travel offering exciting new leisure activities further afield.

The Nonconformists

Emerging in Wales during the 1730s, Nonconformity gradually persuaded its followers to lead a more religious way of life, committed to the Christian message. Activities such as dancing, particularly mixed dancing involving close contact, were considered frivolous and corrupt and were condemned by nonconformist ministers. Small wonder, therefore, that dancing topped a list of twelve sins compiled by Rhys Prydderch in Gemmeu Doethineb [Gems of Wisdom] (1714), ahead of other 'depravities' including marrying children.

As a result of almost 200 years of constant Nonconformist disapproval, by the 20th century folk dancing had almost vanished in Wales. Gone were the traditional fairs and festivals, and in a changing society focused on industrial expansion the rural traditions of Wales and England were slowly being lost.

Folk Dancing almost gone for good

[image: Parti'r Gest, competitors in the 1955 National Eisteddfod]

Parti'r Gest, competitors in the 1955 National Eisteddfod

Realising that folk dances were about to disappear without trace, Cecil Sharp (founder of the English Folk Dance Society in 1911), urgently began writing down the movements of dances still remembered and passed from one generation to another.

In Wales, Lois Blake, an Englishwoman who moved to Denbighshire in the 1930s did the same, and almost single-handedly rescued the remaining fragments of a once common Welsh tradition. Many instructive pamphlets were produced containing dance steps and music, allowing long-forgotten dances, such as Lord of Caernarvon's Jig of 1652, the Llangadfan set of 1790 and the Llanover Reel, popular at Llanover Court until the late 19th century, to be at last unearthed and reprinted.

Folk Dancing Revival

Soon a new enthusiasm, strengthened by the introduction of folk dance onto the National Eisteddfod stage, and the local Twmpaths (barn dances) of the 1960s and 70s, secured a firm foundation for the future of Welsh folk dancing.

Since the Welsh Folk Dancing Society was established in 1949, folk dancing has enjoyed tremendous success both at home and abroad. Regular workshops, lectures and courses arranged by the society are always well attended, while dance events at the Eisteddfod continue to attract large audiences. Considering its unsettled past, Welsh folk dancing now seems to have a strong and promising future.

Article Date: 10 April 2007

15 comments

Amgueddfa Cymru on 11 December 2013, 09:32

Dear Roanna, thank you for your comment, the Welsh Folk Dancing Society website can be found at:

http://dawnsio.com/en/

Roanna on 10 December 2013, 10:18

Hello,

I am organising a Wales - Basque Intercultural exchange.

I have looked for the welsh folk dance society's page but cannot find it. Please can you tell me if this organisation is still active? It would be great if there was still a page with dances and songs on!
Many thanks,
Roanna

Amgueddfa Cymru on 19 May 2011, 13:48

Annwyl Eiry, diolch am eich sylwadau, rydyn ni bellach wedi ychwanegu dolen i wefan Cymdeithas Genedlaethol Dawns Werin Cymru ar ochr dde'r dudalen.

Eiry Palfrey on 19 May 2011, 13:43

Newydd ddod ar draws y dudalen hon. Gwych! A fyddai'n bosib creu dolen gyswllt oddi wrthi wefan Cymdeithas Ddawns Werin? Llawer o ddiolch.

Gareth Jones on 12 April 2011, 09:38

I was a member of Parti'r Gest in the early 1950's based in Porthmadog. Our tutor/instructor was Mrs Parker, a local primary school headmistress (Prenteg - from memory). We had many successes including the National Eisteddfod and Llangollen International Eisteddfod. I also recall that we performed at a St David's Day concert at the Royal Albert Hall and at an equivalent (?) event in Edinburgh.
Although I have no authority to claim this, I believe that Mrs Parker was an authority on Welsh folk dance and a big influence on its revival.
Parti'r Gest was actually split into two contasting but complementary groups, one being genteel (courtly) dance (of which I was a member) and the other being more "gwerinol" rural/farmyard clog dance style. If anyone is interested I can tell you much more about Parti'r Gest (email garethjones125@btinternet.com). Furthermore, I have recently uncovered my dance costume (complete except for shoes) and I also have a photo of myself and my dance partner ca 1954.
Gyda llaw rwy'n medru cysylltu yng Nghymraeg er fy mod yn byw yn Lloegr ers dros 45 blynedd.

Gareth

Amgueddfa Cymru on 2 February 2011, 11:49 (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff)

Dear Mr. Hinson,
There are publications available through the Welsh Folk Dance Society [www.welshfolkdance.org.uk] which provide the steps to the various dances.
Thank you for your interest in Amgueddfa Cymru


don hinson on 2 February 2011, 11:29

it would be interesting to give the steps to llanofer reel in your interesting article, please

DANIELLA JENKINS on 1 November 2010, 09:34

i think on the website their should be a list os the songs xxxdani

daniella on 1 November 2010, 09:30

thank you this page helped with my homework

Cameron Schraner, Sydney, Australia on 8 June 2009, 11:18

Hello to all at the National Museum, I hope you are all well.
I'm interested in Welsh Morris Dancing, and I read elsewhere that it's the Welsh Folk Dancing groups which preserve Welsh Morris. Do you have any information on these dances? Or email contacts with folk dancing troups which have Welsh Morris in the collection? Thanks very much


Amgueddfa Cymru on 8 June 2009, 11:17

Dear Cameron Schraner, thanks for your comment. The website www.welshfolkdance.org.uk has information on Morris Dancing that you may find useful. It also contains links to other dance resources on the internet.
Kind regards and thank you for your interest in Amgueddfa Cymru.

tony on 1 May 2009, 11:25

i am keen to introduce welsh music into my flute repertiore and would like to purchase,or download in pdf format any such suitable music.any assistance would be most helpful

Frankie on 23 January 2009, 13:34

thank you for putting this on it really helped me with my homework

Pat Kent on 3 November 2008, 12:14

I am very interested in introducing the Welsh Folk Dancing and music in my community in Nova Scotia. We do have a Welsh Society here and members have shown an interest in learning some forms of the dance. I have taught Scottish Country dance for 40 years so am hoping I will be able pick up some instructions etc.
I would appreciate any help in this indeavour.
Thank you
Pat Kent (nee Padfield -Tradegar)

Amgueddfa Cymru on 3 November 2008, 12:14

Dear Pat,
Thanks for your comment, I have forwarded your enquiry onto our Social and Cultural history department to ask them what extra information they can provide on this subject. For the time being, the Welsh Folk Dancing Society has some information on their website you may find of use: www.welshfolkdance.org.uk

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Glossary

Nonconformist
A Protestant who is not a member of the Church of England.

Eisteddfod
A Welsh festival of literature, music, and song.

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