Entering the Empire Hall in Victoria Road, Horley, feels rather like stepping back in time – it is so like the halls I remember from my 1960’s childhood days of Brownies, Guides and youth clubs.
One activity that currently takes place here dates back even further – Folk Dancing! These dances are traditional, and many were passed down from parent to child from generation to generation. More refined versions were danced in Jane Austin’s Georgian England – both types are remembered and danced in Folk Dance Clubs to the present day.
The Horley Meadvale Folk Dance Group has been in existence since the 1940s and although early records no longer exist, the current leader, Rita, has at her disposal a card index full to the brim with traditional dances that go back centuries, and although their attire is definitely present day it isn’t hard to imagine Rita’s members dressed in elegant ball gowns as they dance the same steps as so many of Jane Austin’s characters.
Personally, I have two left feet and am no use to man or beast on the dance floor so it was purely as a spectator that I visited the group in September. Their first dance was a foot-tapping ‘Fandango’ which even with my lack of co-ordination almost tempted me out of my seat.
There is something mesmerising about watching dancers follow well-worn patterns, weaving in and out of each other, touching hands, spinning around, and all with such evident enjoyment.
In the 18th century dances like these would have been the only occasion when men and women were free to interact in this way. In any other situation, a chaperone would quickly have put a stop to any such intimacy!
The Horley Meadvale Folk Dancers meet every Tuesday between 8.00pm – 10.00pm from September to June. Numbers vary but on average 18 people come each week to enjoy this fun past-time which provides exercise for both body and mind.
No experience is necessary and both experts and beginners are very welcome into this friendly group. Some members have been dancing for 30 years or more – some have only a few months or weeks under their belts!
There is no need to come with a partner either, as any imbalance with lady/gentleman dancers is easily rectified with the addition of a blue sash to any extra ladies. Instructions for all the dances are called so whatever your memory is like the steps are easy to follow.
Using terms like ‘Big cast… Working couple… Right diagonal’ the caller patiently guides the dancers through their movements. As I chatted with the members their enthusiasm was infectious and it is easy to see why they enjoy this group so much.
So if you too, care to dance, contact Rita on Tel: 01342 843629
By Sarah Ballingal