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At the heart of English folk
Social folk dance

Welcome to my village

By Jess Arrowsmith, singer, fiddle player and dancer.

Jess Arrowsmith

Welcome to my village. I don’t mean the geographical area where I live, I mean my community, and for me that includes people from all over the place – who are brought together by a common interest or love of traditional music, song or dance. We’re a varied lot – a mix of backgrounds, ages, life-stages, and within the broad folk genre, of interests. Some are gregarious types who interact widely with lots of other communities, some are introverts, narrowly focussed on one element of the folk whole, some veer wildly between these two extremes or reside steadily somewhere in the middle.

We’ve got our fair share of oddballs and tend to be pretty inclusive of people being a bit different to the norm (whatever that is!) But the thing that I love and value most, is that our community is so much more than just a bunch of people with a common hobby. By coming together and sharing our music or dance, we end up sharing each other’s lives – joys and sorrows and food and drink and children and silliness and the peace at the end of the day. That’s why I think of it as a village.

I’m not claiming that other communities don’t also experience these qualities – but I think the folk world is pretty special in that it is (or can be) so broadly accepting and so easily accessible. It often puzzles me how surprised the non-folkies in my life seem by the range of places I go and people I know. Maybe my rosy tinted spectacles mislead me to think that a few generations ago it would have been the norm to join in community activities as a matter of course. Then, actual local geography did play a much larger part and your local community was centred around church, school and wider extended family living close together.

Maybe I am wrong in thinking that for a lot of people nowadays, modern life doesn’t include so much social activity because it is too easy to hide away in front of a screen, and only really interact with close family, friends and work colleagues on a fairly superficial level. But getting out there and sharing a common goal or experience with a bunch of people who I don’t necessarily know very well, and through that getting to know them better and both of us coming away richer at the end of the day – is hugely important to me and I can’t help but evangelise about it. I often joke that I don’t understand how anybody can bring up kids without a morris team to help – and it isn’t as much of a joke as all that.

Now for many people reading this article, I am probably preaching to the choir. You know all this stuff as well as I do and already regularly experience some or all of my following list of “Things that are good about the global folk village” (or could add extra bullet points of your own):

  • Sharing a wide range of enriching experiences

  • Making/maintaining friendships with people you might not otherwise meet

  • Contributing to continuation and/or evolution of traditions

  • Seeing different parts of the country, or the world, or history, or the inside of somebody else’s head in person or through a rich mixed media of words, instrumental music, dance and visual art.

That said, I do also wonder whether there are a few down-sides to being part of such a global village.

  • Living in a bubble – social media plays a big role too but if we only interact with people with whom we already have something in common, we can end up not really interacting with the rest of the world so much. I’m happy chatting with a stranger at a folk festival at the other end of the country but easily feel less comfortable chatting to other parents at the school gate. Might my own place in my local community be richer for me putting a bit more time and effort in there instead of dashing off elsewhere all the time?

  • Privilege blindness – many of the people in my “folk village” would identify as tolerant, inclusive and socially aware, but we’re predominantly a fairly privileged lot for all we sing songs about the struggles of the oppressed. I’m not sure we’re always as aware of that as we should be. Members of less privileged sectors of society (on grounds of social background, income, race, gender, disability or whatever else) don’t always feel as included or supported within our community as the rest of us would like to think they are.

  • Cultural homogenisation – I dance with a Cotswold team in South Yorkshire. Historically, wouldn’t we have been dancing longsword? My own song repertoire contains material from all over the place, but I don’t have many songs from where I live now or from where I grew up.

  • Folk tourism – swamping small local traditions with too many spectators. For example, the Sheffield pub carols are sometimes so busy that locals choose to stay away. You could argue that excess interest risks killing the very thing it is trying to support. However, you could also question whether the tradition would even be there anymore if it wasn’t for outside interest, not to mention the additional revenue for local businesses.

I’m not able to offer any definitive answers to any of this, but am pretty sure that awareness and sensitivity go a long way towards mitigating most of the above issues.

So, if you have stumbled across this article by chance I can only share my own thoughts and suggest that my village is a wonderful place to be and you’d be very welcome to move here! By which I mean, check out what there is geographically near to you – there’s bound to be a festival or a dance team, a folk club or a session – dive in and have a go and see where it leads you!

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EFDSS.


#2 Mr Red 2016-10-14 10:15
There are always downsides, but that depends where you draw the line, even then they can look beneficial from other angles.
Change is the only constant in life, and traditions have to live or be museum pieces. They evolve. Look at the history of Morris, it evolved. People are somewhat skeptical when I mention "fashions" in Folk, but who sings the Wild Rover these days? When did face-painting take over from burnt cork?
My take on Folk is "participation" rather than consumption.
#1 Jo Harmer 2016-10-10 20:15
How interesting to read this Jess,as it's a week after our social enterprise, FolkActive CIC graduated from the Hampshire School for Social Entrepreneurs Programme.

Looking outwards we aim to:

improve health and wellbeing
bring communities together in active. creative and enjoyable ways.
promote cultural understanding.
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National Youth Folk Ensemble


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