Dancing and dancers are at the heart of this proposed practice-based network that seeks greater understanding of traditional/folk/national dance forms currently practiced in England. Engaging key current research trajectories of diaspora, community, regionality, and urban cultures and identities, this project recognises and values the breadth of dance practices taking place under the headings of 'traditional', 'folk', 'regional' and 'national', and will foreground their complex, often contested, associations and histories.

Our network will develop research with traditional dance groups active within three selected areas of England (South East, Midlands and South West). As national borders close, and with increased global interdependence, we ask:

  • What role do distinct traditional and national dances play for diasporic communities in negotiating embodied identity in England today?
  • How are notions of regional location, site, and geography central to extending our understanding of dance as contextual to the idea of ‘Englishness’?
  • How have groups adapted, created, and survived during and post the pandemic?

These questions resonate with concerns expressed by our partner, the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS); an organisation that similarly seeks to question and revise ideas of ‘Englishness’ in relation to ‘folk’ in a contemporary context, with reference to the impacts of immigration and diaspora. In partnership with Creative Lives, a UK organisation encouraging arts engagement in people’s everyday lives, we ask:

  • How do traditional dance groups actively contribute to creativity and community?
  • How have the significance of these dance activities been intensified as they came under threat during the recent COVID-19 pandemic?

Our focus on three contrasting regions in England opens discussion of 'regional' versus 'national' identity. These diverse regions will provide effective points of comparison on dancers’ participation, motivations and their needs, together with the stories they have to tell.

Aims and objectives

  1. To survey and map online the location and activities of traditional dance groups that are largely amateur, self-organising and currently active within three regions in England. The resulting interactive map will be created in collaboration with IN2 (IT and software providers).
  2. To facilitate greater knowledge and appreciation of the role played by traditional and national dances of diasporic communities in negotiating embodied identity in England. And, to question and revise notions of ‘Englishness’ and regional versus national identity.
  3. To generate greater understanding of traditional dance forms through interactive engagement with and research into groups’ training methods as well as performances.
  4. This network is ideally placed to discover how dance groups have had to extend their usual practical and aesthetic responsiveness to changing circumstances under the specific threat from the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be achieved through the questionnaires and qualitative face-to-face research during visits to dance group in the three regions.
  5. To reconsider dance descriptor terminology such as ‘folk’, ‘national’, ‘traditional’ in the context of each participating dance group, to understand their complexity, affordances and limitations.
  6. To challenge perceived boundaries between amateur and professional dance activities and to better acknowledge and understand the fluid interchange between them.
  7. To explore with dance groups how their music and costume/prop design contributes to the dance and how these elements alter in response to dances’ temporal and geographical mobility.