AS Bridport Folk Dance Club celebrates its 100th anniversary, Gwenda Selley and Monty Crook take a look at its long history.

It was on Monday, September 19, 1920 that a group of women first met in the congregation’s classroom in Bridport, and the Bridport Folk Dance Club (BFDC) officially began. With the support of the Women’s Institute, which had previously promoted the teaching of country dance in the city, the club took its first steps towards becoming what it is today.

The minutes of a century of meetings have recorded the history and development of the club, through changing times and world events. The first committee ruled that “the choice of the dances is left to the MC but that a dance be taken according to the style”. Even now, the dance program is chosen by the MC, with a rotation of several club guests taking the reins.

Among the founding members of BFDC was Miss Margaret Cox, music teacher at Bridge House Boarding School. When Cecil Sharp – the man responsible for the revival of folk song in England in the 20th century – visited in January 1921, he created morris, sword and country dance lessons, with Miss Cox named as one of the accompanying musicians. Membership was 7s 6d per year, which equates to £ 10.05 in today’s terms; a huge markup over the current charge of just £ 2 (although admission of £ 3 is charged for each night).

In December 1924, a Dorset branch of the English Folk Dance Society was formed, with strong representation from the BFDC. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, club members participated in local events and the All England Festival held at the Royal Albert Hall. In 1930, two members of the BFDC represented the county at the opening of Cecil Sharp House, the only center dedicated to folk arts in England which to this day hosts a program of folklore events, classes and classes throughout of the year.

Club records show a poignant break-up after the September 22, 1939 meeting, when Colonel Deacon described “action necessary in view of the state of war that existed.” Dance classes were “suspended until spring, when the situation should be reviewed”. However, the club minutes do not resume until October 20, 1947.

After World War II, square dancing became popular and the use of a caller became the norm, making dancing more accessible to everyone. In 1950 the band revived what was known as Dorset Four Hand, a reel first played in 1935 in Symondsbury and nearby Puncknowle. The dance was adapted by club members for performance at a national gathering in London and appeared in the 1957 EFDS Community Dance Manual, volume five.

Miss Marjorie Mayne was an avid folk dance enthusiast who had been taught by Cecil Sharp and who in the 1920s helped found the Chideock Morris Men, having taught morris to troops during World War I. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Miss Mayne held an annual folk dance to celebrate her birthday. At these parties, young dancers were invited to perform and locals, including club members, were invited. Beginning in 1968, Bourne River Morris Men entertained attendees and the BFDC adopted the event as the club’s annual dance, despite Miss Mayne’s death in 1976. Her parties have continued to the present day and are held in April of each year. .

In 1919, the club had 44 members, but over the years their numbers have grown and decreased. In 1931, there was a drop in attendance due to other events and activities taking place on the same night, a familiar issue in Bridport today. Yet 2018/19 registered 33 members, with a regular attendance of over 20. Before leaving for college, the club’s youngest member, Joe, 18, was developing as a caller, while the oldest participants Jane and Eric have been coming for 27 years.

To celebrate its centenary, the club commissioned a dance from international singer, choreographer and composer Colin Hume, intended to pay homage to the city’s string-making history. The dance, Money for Old Rope, premiered in Church House Hall in October, with 21 club members from a total of 70 dancers. The interval saw a performance by the new Aurora Dance Troupe, while two 100th anniversary cakes were enjoyed by all.

Nowadays, BFDC has dance classes every Monday in the WI Hall, where the meetings started all those years ago. Although the group moved in 1960 due to double bookings and rental fees, BFDC returned 37 years later and has stayed there ever since.

Fun, sociable and bursting with enthusiasm, the small group of founding members would be sure, if not a little surprised, if the club continued, 100 years after its creation.

Money for the old rope

Dance and Music: Colin Hume, 2019

Format: Double longways, two unsuitable

A: The men pass the left shoulder: three changes of a reel of four until you meet your neighbor. Two-handed turn next 1¼ to the side, finishing with the man on the left.

B: Turn to the left ¾ to end up on the side with the partner, then change hands. The main partner takes a double; change hands and come back.

C: Cross the right shoulder with the wrong side, exit well, then a large loop on the left to enter (eight steps in all). Right star ¾ and back slightly from partner – just one step and together, without taking the neighbor’s hand.

D: Four changes of a circular hey with the hands – no courtesy turn – and the men are ready to pass the left shoulder to the next man.

NB: In the walkthrough, it helps to start with the ladies walking back and out so that the opening reel track is clearer. Don’t let people rush things; the whole dance is designed to flow from one figure to another.