Dancing in clogs 'uncool'

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Most of the nation's schoolchildren believe Welsh folk dancing is part of "uncool Cymru", according to the society dedicated to the traditional dance.

As thousands gather in Cardiff for the start of Europe's biggest youth festival, the author of a report on the future of the dance, typified by clogs and crinoline skirts, admitted it had an "image problem".

Dr Prydwen Elfed-Owens called for more funding and a development officer to raise the profile of the dance, which is a statutory part of the national curriculum in Wales.

And a champion folk dancer, who will compete in next week's Urdd Eisteddfod, said younger judges and a more contemporary style are needed in competitions to widen its popularity. A-level student Lowri Walton won the individual folk dancing competition for 15 to 25-year-olds at last year's festival and went on to compete for the coveted Bryn Terfel scholarship.

The 17-year-old, from Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr, Cardiff, said: "Welsh folk dancing is just not cool.

"I am really passionate about promoting the dance and giving it a wider appeal, but we need to make it more contemporary."

In a report to the Welsh Assembly, Dr Elfed-Owens, chair of the Welsh Folk Dance Society, said schoolchildren were averse to folk-dancing lessons. She also said some teachers did not have the confidence or expertise to give lessons, and boys were particularly against taking part.

She quoted a report in a Canadian newspaper which described Welsh folk dancing as the "epitome of uncool". It said: "Clogging or tapping has been dogged by an image problem for decades - poufy crinoline skirts, bluegrass music and barnyard dances in hee-haw style."

Dr Elfed-Owens said a national framework for training and professional development, and a development officer were needed to educate children about the importance of the dance to Welsh heritage.

She said: "There is a debate over whether the dance should move away from the traditional. My role is to keep the tradition alive while finding a way forward."

But Eisteddfod organisers hit back at criticism this week, saying the event had moved forward.

Glyn T Jones, chair of the Urdd's folk dance committee, said: "The Urdd welcomes the fact that folk dancing has been developed over the past few years.

"This revolution now sees a new generation of talented dancers, most of whom are still young enough to compete. In fact, over the years, the Urdd has produced younger adjudicators and this practice continues."

The Welsh Folk Dance Society, which received pound;7,080 from the Assembly in 2004-5, was only invited to take part in an Assembly consultation on dance after Dr Elfed-Owens contacted officials.

She said: "I am now hopeful the Assembly will make moves to recognise the society and our work - up to now we were invisible."

Gavin Moulsdale, nine, reckons Welsh folk dancing is "tidy" and is taking part in the Eisteddfod folk-dancing competition with a team of dancers from Ysgol Gymraeg Ynyswen in Treorchy, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

He said: "Not a lot of boys like it but I like to be different."

His teacher, Sonia Marsland, said: "It is difficult to get boys involved but we do have a lot of pupils talking part in an after-school class."

Alan Pugh, Assembly minister for culture, Welsh language and sport, said:

"The WFDS does some excellent work. There is a general problem with boys engaging with dance, including folk dancing."

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