A brief history of the Willand Folk Dance Club
Our Club was formed in the 1960s when a gentleman by the name of Bill Rutter, the Area Organiser from the English Folk Dance and Song Society, contacted Gladys Godfrey, a prominent character in the village, and her husband George, to organise a Dance in the Village Hall. Bill promoted this Dance widely throughout the County to youth groups and other dance clubs. We had the wonderful Dennis Darke and the Greensleeves Country Dance Band with Irene Harcourt calling.
As a result of this, Gladys and George formed the Willand Square Dance Club with support from the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Soon, the Club was brimming with young people with a thirst for dancing knowledge and technique. The Club moved on to form a dance team which became very popular with many local organisations for displays, i.e., W.I’s, village fetes, old folks homes, Friday evenings in the Sidmouth Connaught Gardens, Whit Monday tours of coastal towns, to name but a few. The Club also danced as a team at one of the early Sidmouth Folk Festivals. Sadly, we no longer have a dance display team. Sadly, a large number of prominent people, George & Gladys Irene Harcourt, Dennis Darke and Dick Witt and Ron Beeson to name but a few, along with some of early members are no longer with us, but no doubt they are keeping an eye on us from their resting places.
Following on from this, the BBC recorded many of their ‘Friday Night is Dance Night’ programmes which was aired nationwide. These were with the Greensleeves Country Dance Band and Dick Witt calling.
Later came the link with the Westerveseda Dance Group from Northern Germany. The Club hosted this Club who brought a strong contingent of dancers, and their German coach driver. Day trips were organised all over the County to include displays from both teams at various venues. There was social dancing and other activities held in the evenings. The German coach driver was intrigued by our Devon country roads – no M5 in those days! There were Civic receptions with the Mayor of Tiverton where official exchanges of gifts were made. Club Members, their parents and other folks from the village accommodated all of these visitors from Germany and a great time was had by all. On the Clubs return visit to Westerveseda, Gladys led the Willand team dancing through the streets, as part of a procession before 5000 people.
The Club also held annual Fancy Dress dances, an annual Dinner Dance and took part in village Variety Shows.
In 2001 the Club changed its name to Willand Folk Dance Club as the term ‘Square Dance’ was being associated more and more with American Square Dancing.
Without the enthusiasm of the above mentioned people our Club may not be here to-day. We have been so fortunate to have people to follow in their footsteps and put the Club where it is today.
There are so many memories that can be recalled by more than just a few. Today we are a Club made up of dancers, organising Club Evenings and monthly Saturday Dances for dancers who come from many parts of the South West from Bristol to West Cornwall. We always welcome new faces and hope that they can develop our enthusiasm for dancing.
Our Callers and Bands now come from many parts of the UK and many feel privileged to be asked to come to Willand. As you will see from our Club Programme we still have an annual Dinner & Dance in the Village Hall, and we also now have an annual Residential Weekend which for many years, and hopefully for the foreseeable future, takes place on the North Devon coast at Woolacombe.
If you are reading this, and were once a dancer with us, we would love to hear from you. Why not come and see us – there are still some of the earlier members around. We would love to hear your memories of the Club.
The Club is now in its 56th year, still lively and we all very much enjoying our dancing.
Marilyn Broom – April 2017