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April 21, 2013

The trans-Atlantic legacy of Playford


“When (English country dancing) went to France in the 18th century, they put their own spin on it,” Bruce said. “It came to the United States, and we put our own spin on that. It became contra dancing, eventually what we call square dancing. In Scottish country dancing, they (figures) are all very similar. They call the figures by different names.”

During the second English-folk revival from 1945 to 1969, interest in English country dancing surged in North America and Britain, where the dance was known as “Playford.” John Playford, a London music publisher, unveiled the “The English Dance Master” in 1651.


“We teach every other Friday night here in Plattsburgh and alternate Friday nights in Vermont and one Sunday a month in Montreal,” Bruce said.

Twenty years ago, he and Wendy landed in the right community: Berea, Ky.

“We went to a Quaker meeting and within 24 hours had been exposed to English country dance, contra dancing and shape-note singing,” Bruce said. “This community was really well-known for it.”

English country dance was not on his radar in his native Old Forge. The dances allow one to experience community and make musical friendships in a healthy and engaging way, he said.

Bruce and Wendy tried to make a go of the dance form in Washington state but were not successful. Running into Angela and Kellum were fortuitous, but their calling skills were of the thrown-in-the-deep-end-of-the-pool variety.

“We knew how to dance,” Bruce said. “Calling and dancing are different things. We learned basically by doing.”

Between Bruce, Wendy, John and Sharon, they have danced as far afield as Europe and Hawaii.

“We’ve had some wonderful dance camps in Hawaii,” Bruce said.


“Since we started doing it, it has grown tremendously. A lot of that is because there’s so much good recorded music. When we started, it was almost all live music. Now for places like Plattsburgh that can’t have live music, we have recordings of country music.”

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