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City Folk

City Folk: English Country Dance and the Politics of the Folk in Modern America

Daniel J. Walkowitz
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    City Folk
    Book Description:

    This is the story of English Country Dance, from its 18th century roots in the English cities and countryside, to its transatlantic leap to the U.S. in the 20th century, told by not only a renowned historian but also a folk dancer, who has both immersed himself in the rich history of the folk tradition and rehearsed its steps.In City Folk, Daniel J. Walkowitz argues that the history of country and folk dancing in America is deeply intermeshed with that of political liberalism and the 'old left.' He situates folk dancing within surprisingly diverse contexts, from progressive era reform, and playground and school movements, to the changes in consumer culture, and the project of a modernizing, cosmopolitan middle class society.Tracing the spread of folk dancing, with particular emphases on English Country Dance, International Folk Dance, and Contra, Walkowitz connects the history of folk dance to social and international political influences in America. Through archival research, oral histories, and ethnography of dance communities, City Folk allows dancers and dancing bodies to speak. From the norms of the first half of the century, marked strongly by Anglo-Saxon traditions, to the Cold War nationalism of the post-war era, and finally on to the counterculture movements of the 1970s, City Folk injects the riveting history of folk dance in the middle of the story of modern America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8452-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Virtually every schoolgirl educated in the United States in the twentieth century grew up doing folk dancing, though few probably thought of it as a substantive part of their educational experience. My wife, Judith, for instance, who grew up in suburban Long Island in the 1950s, remembers folk dance as one of the preferred gym options for girls; you did not have to change or take a shower in the middle of the day. In the class, she learned a variety of dances from many lands. Children’s favorites such as the “Mexican Hat Dance” and, probably because of the Jewish...


    • 1 Revival Stories
      (pp. 15-41)

      Boxing Day 1899. Cecil Sharp, the music master at Ludgrove, a boys’ preparatory school mainly for Eton, was spending the Christmas holiday with his wife’s family at Sandfield Cottage, Headington, just east of Oxford. Sharp’s career up to then had been one of modest achievement; the son of a London slate merchant, he could, in fact, have been described as downwardly mobile. Ill health and a nervous disposition, from which he seemed to suffer throughout his life, forced him to drop out of public school in 1874. He subsequently completed a degree in mathematics at Clare College, Cambridge, but with...

    • 2 Orderly Bodies: Dancing New York, 1900–1914
      (pp. 42-67)

      Anglo-American exchanges in the decade before World War I, both of Americans traveling to the United Kingdom and of the British visitors to the United States, shaped awakenings of a folk revival in both New York and London. But, of course, English Country Dance was not new to America then; transatlantic crossings had brought country dance to the British colonies in the eighteenth century. At issue is how that past was remembered and the role of that past in the present.

      Colonial Americans danced, and as a British colony, they inherited English dance traditions; historians are only beginning to unravel...

    • 3 Orderly Bodies: Dancing London, 1900–1914
      (pp. 68-89)

      Elizabeth Burchenal seems to have been the first twentieth-century American to voyage to London in search of folk dance roots, going perhaps as early as 1903. Around 1903 or 1904, she traveled from village to village in Denmark, Norway, Germany, Sweden, France, Ireland, and Spain collecting folk dances that she subsequently published in New York. She then visited England to see morris dancing at Bampton and Bidford, which Cecil Sharp had only recently collected and published.²

      Burchenal was, though, but the first of a cadre of American pilgrims of English origin in search of a usable folk past—both of...

    • 4 Planting a Colony in America
      (pp. 90-116)

      On December 23, 1914, the SSLusitaniadocked in New York Harbor bearing renowned folklorist Cecil Sharp, chair of the English Folk Dance Society. The man cut an impressive figure. Sharp’s square-jawed visage, firm posture, and formal dress belied his fifty-four years and the chronic asthma that left him often weakened and sick. Mrs. May Eliot Hobbes’s description of him in 1911 when he entered a drawing room captured the imposing sense of the man: “the piercing blue eyes — falcon-like — the strong nose, the firm set of the head on the shoulders, the superb carriage, which he retained even when...

    • 5 The American Branch
      (pp. 117-158)

      In the years between 1915 and 1918, Cecil Sharp put his stamp on the American Branch of the EFDSS as an authoritative outpost of Englishness as he imagined it. During three extended collecting trips in the southern Appalachian Mountains, he also advanced the belief that native American song and dance was an extension of Englishness—a pure representation of an English tradition that had been lost in the mother country but preserved in the backwoods by generations of English settlers. Sharp did not pioneer this view, however. Only a few years earlier in 1911, a Transylvania University professor had published...


    • 6 The Second Folk Revival
      (pp. 161-205)

      “Freaks” are destroying conditions in Washington Square Park, wrote Newbold Morris, the New York City commissioner of parks, in March 1961, denying a renewal of the permit to folk sing in the park. “I want to emphasize I am not opposed to the wonderful symphony concerts, bands, quartets or chamber music”; rather, he opposed the “fellows that come from miles away to display the most terrible costumes, haircuts, etc. and who play bongo drums and other weird instruments attracting a weird public.”³ But from the rise of a bohemia in the teens to the beatniks of the fifties, cultural and...

    • 7 Re-Generation
      (pp. 206-237)

      Jacqueline Schwab, a self-described “nerd” who loved the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary and “the usual sixties,” attended Pinewoods in 1971 for the first time. She found a world still rooted in a mainstream culture: “Women weren’t allowed to ask men to dance. Men could ask women to dance. And women had to wear skirts to the dances. And there was even a bush patrol for scouring the bushes late at night so that there weren’t any extracurricular activities going on. . . and etc.” Schwab, who had been introduced to ECD through International Folk Dance, went on to...

    • 8 Modern English Country Dance and the Culture of Liberalism
      (pp. 238-260)

      Modern English Country Dance (MECD) blossomed after 1990 and transported its participants. In interviews, dancers repeatedly testified—and the religious meaning of the word resonated in their remarks—to how ECD took them to another social and emotional space. Thom Yarnal, a New York dancer who had moved to Wisconsin to manage a regional theater, well articulated this view. He loved ECD for its “otherworldly” quality. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the 20th century, as far as I’m concerned. It takes you to a different place and it takes you mentally and physically.”¹ Similarly, Glenn Fulbright, a retired...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 261-274)

      It is Thursday evening, “Beginners’ Night” for English Country Dancing at Cecil Sharp House in Camden Town, a North London district with a lively and youthful punk nightlife. The House—an impressive, heritagelisted, three-story, Georgian, purpose-built edifice—sits a few blocks away from the tube station in a prosperous, leafy residential area midway between Regents Park and Primrose Hill. Positioned on a triangle formed by the diagonal intersection of Regents Park Road with Gloucester Avenue, the House prominently faces outward from the triangle.

      As the national organization committed to folk song and dance from around the world, Cecil Sharp House...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 275-308)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 309-322)
  11. Index
    (pp. 323-334)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 335-335)