The Willand Folk Dance Club is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
The club was formed in the 1960s when Bill Rutter, the regional organizer of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, contacted Gladys Godfrey, a prominent village figure, and her husband George, to organize a dance at the Hall of holidays.
Bill has promoted this dance extensively throughout the county to youth groups and other dance clubs. The dance had Dennis Darke and the Greensleeves Country Dance Band with Irene Harcourt calling.
Following this, Gladys and George formed the Willand Square Dance Club with support from the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Soon, the club is full of young people thirsty for knowledge and dance techniques.
The club then formed a dance team which became popular with entertainment organisations, i.e. WI’s, village fetes, care homes, Friday nights in the gardens at Sidmouth Connaught, Whit Monday tours to coastal towns, to name a few.
The club also danced as a team at one of Sidmouth’s first folk festivals.
Club President Marilyn Broom said: “Unfortunately we no longer have a dance team and also a large number of personalities, George and Gladys, Irene Harcourt, Dennis Darke, Dick Witt and Ron Beeson to name a few. to name a few, as well as some of the early members are no longer with us, but no doubt they are watching over us from their resting places.
“Following this, the BBC recorded several of its ‘Friday Night is Dance Night’ programs which were broadcast nationwide. This was with the Greensleeves Country Dance Band and Dick Witt calling.
Later came the connection with the dance group Westerveseda from northern Germany. The club hosted this club which brought a strong contingent of dancers, and their German coach driver. Day trips were organized throughout the county to include presentations of both teams at various locations. There was social dancing and other activities organized in the evenings.
Marilyn said: ‘The German coach driver was intrigued by our Devon country roads.
“There were civic receptions with the Mayor of Tiverton where formal gift exchanges were conducted.
“The club members, their parents and other people from the village welcomed all these visitors from Germany and everyone had a great time. During the club’s return visit to Westerveseda, Gladys led the Willand team dancing through the streets, as part of a procession in front of 5,000 people.
“The club also held annual costume dances, an annual dinner dance, and participated in village variety shows.”
In 2001 the club changed its name to Willand Folk Dance Club as the term “Square Dance” was increasingly associated with American Square Dancing.
“Without the enthusiasm of the people mentioned above, our club might not be here today,” said Marilyn. “We were so lucky to have people to follow in their footsteps and get the club to where it is today.
“There are so many memories that can be recalled by more than a few. Today we are a club of dancers, hosting club nights 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 they can expand our enthusiasm for dance. Our callers and groups now come from many parts of the UK and many feel privileged to be invited to come to Willand.
“If you’re reading this and have been a dancer with us before, we’d love to hear from you. Why not come see us – there are still some of the original members around. We’d love to hear your memories of the club.
The band celebrates its 60th anniversary on March 5 at Willand Village Hall with Simon Maplesden and Jigs for Gigs, Bring and Share Supper.
Visit willandfolkdanceclub.co.uk for details or call Marilyn Broom on 01404 47200 or 07746038754. She will be delighted to hear from you.
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