The history of Welsh folk dancing is quite a sad one. With the advent of the Non-conformist sects in the 18th and 19th centuries, the chapels saw the Welsh folk arts and customs as ones that were very sinful and not in keeping with chapel teaching. The chapels, chapel-folk, deacons and preachers, some of them the greats of their day like Thomas Charles, Bala, did their utmost to stamp out all sorts of “sinful” folk entertainment such as dancing, folk singing, Mabsant festivals and folk music generally, except, of course, hymn singing and music in the chapels. People had to conform (!) to peer pressure in the Welsh and Welsh-speaking society, although some did resist the pressure and continued to dance (but only after closing the curtains of the house first!).
People such as William Jones (Llangadfan) and Edward Jones (Bardd y Brenin) saw the great damage that was being done to the culture, and they and other collectors such as Bennett, Walsh and Thompson, managed to record the dances on paper. Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover, also played a key part as a patron to Welsh folk traditions. Playford had been collecting and publishing Welsh dances such as Meillionen and Abergenni since the mid 17th century. Like most music of that period, there was a lot of exchange and borrowing between Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland and Europe and a number of Welsh dances went into the British/English collections. They tended to keep their original Welsh names in translation to English, for example the dance “Hoffedd ap Hywel” became “Powell’s Fancy”. Over a period of time, the rich, lively, Welsh folk culture withered, with only the odd clogger continuing to step and pass the tradition on to the next generation, and with the triple harpers still playing in the mansions, keeping the traditional tunes, many of which were dance tunes. By the start of this century, folk dancing contributed very little to Welsh culture.
In the Twenties, Hugh Mellor, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and others started to take interest in the old dances. In the 1940s, Lois Blake and Gwyn Williams came to the fore in reviving the Welsh dancing tradition and in 1949 the Welsh Folk Dance Society was formed, with the aim of promoting and resurrecting the old dances. Many dances with Welsh names or “feel” to them were collected from the collections, with the odd import that, perhaps, had nothing to do with Wales! By reviving and creating dances and with much research and practice, Welsh folk dancing developed into a lively, visible, colourful and living part of the Welsh culture.
Today, Welsh folk dancing has a strong tradition. The Society has a whole library of published dances and melodies and the tradition is kept vibrant with new dances and melodies being composed on a regular basis. Wales has over twenty adult teams and hundreds of teams in schools and Urdd youth clubs across Wales. The Urdd National Eisteddfod promotes Welsh dancing and attracts thousands of young people in dancing competitions every year. There are also successful children’s festivals such as the numerous Gwent Children’s Festivals held across South Wales. A variety of other festivals are held across Wales, often clustered around folk traditions such as the May celebrations, the St John’s Eve Festival (Gwyl Ifan) and the Hen Galan (Old New Year’s Eve). For a list of such up-coming events please visit our ‘Events‘ page and come and join the dance!