Barn Dances, Ceilidhs, and Country Dancing in England 1945-2019
: An Examination of Non-Specialist English Social Folk Dance

  • Chloe Elizabeth Middleton-Metcalfe

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is a genre-centred investigation of one dance form which is known by a variety of names including: barn dance, ceilidh, country dance, and (English) folk dance. A hitherto academically neglected dance genre, this thesis takes a mixed diachronic and synchronic approach to explain and contextualise the developments of English social folk dance from the mid-twentieth century. In so doing it contributes to an under-studied area of research: the experiences of occasional, or novice adult dancers.
In order to answer the central question of ‘why do people hold English social folk dances?’ this thesis examines the genre’s recent history. The approach of Douglas Kennedy, head of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) from 1924-1961 is examined. Consideration is given to the influence of other dance genres (in particular square dance and old time) on the formation of an English folk repertoire. The neo-traditionalist approach of the ceilidh movement in the 1970s and the quest for an English sound and dancing style is examined. Folk dance in English schools is charted, providing a counter story to modern educational dance centred histories.
The second half of this thesis utilises ethnographic fieldwork from thirty dance events (2017-2018), supplemented with interviews and questionnaire data. I locate dance events in time and space, analyse how and why they are financed, document who attends such events, investigate what choreographies are utilised, and discuss how they are taught and realised.
Finally, in order to assess the role national identity plays in encouraging participation I consider whether this dance form is associated with notions of Englishness. I conclude that amongst non-specialist dancers, there is a largely ambiguous relationship. This uncertainty has at least three identifiable causes, the use of Celtic and/or North American terminology, music, and themes; a disassociation between traditional dance and Englishness; and a broader societal discomfort amongst the white middle classes with identifying as English rather than British. Instead of identity the importance of ‘fun’ is emphasised by participants and organisers. How fun is experienced and construed by attendees is analysed building upon approaches advocated by sociologist Walter Podilchak (1985, 1991).
Date of Award21 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorTheresa Buckland (Supervisor) & Sara Houston (Co-Supervisor)

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