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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Chronology of International Folk Dancing
By Ron Houston, 1996

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Ron Houston


We published a chronology in 1991, and several friends offered major additions and corrections. Morry Gelman, Rickey Holden, Martin Bacharach, Charlie Rusnačko, and Dr. Hiroyuki Ikema deserve special mention and thanks. As before, the tactless words, sweeping generalizations, and hasty conclusions are mine.


Tsarist Russian ballroom dances utilized foreign motifs, providing participants with a form of international folk dancing. Espan and Pas D'Espan imitate Spanish dances, Hiawata mimics Native Americans, Karapyet utilizes Armenian or Georgian themes, Kokietka resembles French Polkas, Korobushka follows the Hungarian, and Lezginka borrows from Daghestan or Georgia. These dances achieved international folk dance popularity in America in the 1940s and 1950s, but any evolutionary link between theRussian ballroom and American recreational folk dancing remains hidden.


Mary Wood Hinman, of Chicago, established the first recreational folk dance classes of which I am aware, in about 1894. She went on to publish several editions of several books describing the dances and music we now take for granted, establishing an early but primitive folk dance literature. (See Can We Ever Know IFD Origins?)

Luther Gulick, New York City Physical Training Director, championed international folk dancing around 1900 to combat youth crime and ethnic bigotry. His disciple, Elizabeth Burchenal, with Nils Bergquist, and C. Ward Crampton enlarged the early folk dance literature with dances learned from European dance masters and from each other's books, including rhythmic gymnastic exercises, children's games, and balletic character dances based on Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and North America indigenous peoples. These pioneers created a body of movements to music which later became our early dances such as Oxdansen and Norwegian Mountain March.

Please note the intercultural understanding and respect inherent in Gulick's folk dance movement. While millions of recently-established émigrés from the British Isles and north Europe sought to deny the human rights of more-recently-arrived émigrés from south and east Europe, international folk dancing arose to mitigate that denial. Elizabeth Burchenal, for one, strove to maintain ethnic veracity in her rush to publish newly described dances and new editions of her books. Ironic, isn't it, that her legacy rests largely on folk dancing as nothing more than girls' physical education.


A flood of war refugees brought to America the songs, dances, and music of their homelands to be reviled and denigrated as were émigrés before and since. Folk dancing again mitigated ethnic bigotry as Settlement Houses, caring for the terribly destitute newcomers, soon found that appreciation of ethnic heritage enhanced immigrant self-image and facilitated social acceptance. YWCA International Institutes aided ethnic appreciation, as did xenophobic ethnic cultural societies. With a notable exception, however, immigrants of this era had small influence on early international folk dancing. That notable exception? Professional ethnic dance masters.


After World War I, professional ethnic dance masters augmented the international folk dance repertoire with their creations.

  1. Vyts Beliajus presented realistic Lithuanian, Jewish, Hindu, and Mexican folk demonstrations derived from his own life and from ethnic groups with which he worked. Interestingly, Gulick's and Burchenal's concern for the human condition and respect for other cultures pervaded Beliajus' seven-decade career, perhaps accounting for some of his enduring popularity among mature folk dancers.
  2. Vasilľ Avramenko studied folk and theatrical dance with Nikolay Karpovich Sadovskiy in Kiev, Ukraine, before immigrating and teaching North American folk dancers the Arkan, Hopak, Zaporozhets, and other magnificent Ukrainian dances.
  3. Louis H. Chalif choreographed balletic character dances quickly changed, for example, Pletyonka, or largely forgotten Norwegian Mountain March.


Folk festivals figured prominently in efforts to integrate immigrants into American society. Burchenal, for example, had presented thousands of her girls in annual pageants such as the 1921 "America's Making" exposition. Folk festivals retained their popularity into the Great Depression, providing entertainment for which the public would pay and inadvertently causing the next development in international folk dancing: in those money-hungry times, ethnic integrity occasionally suffered at the expense of exhibition. Perhaps because of her knowledge of the sociological origins and cultural value of folk dancing, Burchenal pleaded for a return to significance over show, but her voice failed to overcome the rising tide of Moiseyev-like folk ballets springing from stages around the world. But more on folk ballet later. Notable examples of Depression-era folk festivals include the following:

  1. To improve inter-ethnic relations, the Foreign Language Information Service formed the New York Folk Festival Council, providing a platform for personalities such as Elba Farabegoli Gurzau who presented the folk dance standards Il Codiglione/La Quadriglia, La Danza, and a Tarantella Napolitana at Folk Festival functions in 1931.
  2. Stella Marek Cushing directed the Cosmopolitan Club of Montclair, New Jersey, the First International Folk Dance Club in the world. The "Cos Club" continues dancing and exhibiting to this day. The University of Chicago's International House (1932) might also contend for the title of first.
  3. Alice Sickles began the Saint Paul Festival of Nations in 1932, inspiring many future international folk dance leaders.
  4. Vyts Beliajus presented his Lithuanian troupe at the 1933-4 Chicago Exposition, focusing on demonstration of the Lithuanian dances he later popularized among international folk dancers.
  5. Sarah Gertrude Knott organized the National Folk Festival Association of Saint Louis in 1934, presenting primarily her beloved Appalachian folk culture. After WWII, she asked Beliajus to include other ethnic groups, resulting in an annual festival at which many international folk dance leaders acquired dances.
  6. Here we must note the influence of Morry Gelman and Dr. Ralph Piper, who together formed the Folk Dance Federation of Minnesota. Ralph, as a respected professor at the University of Minnesota, knew dance and recreation people all over the state, especially among the then-traditional square dancers. Morry, from California, started four groups with Ralph's encouragement, and these groups became the core of the Federation. Based on his involvement with ethnic groups at Saint Paul festivals, Morry began his teaching career in 1947 with Cotton Eyed Joe, learned from Ray Shaw who learned it from his kid brother, the famous Lloyd Shaw. Morry taught hundreds of popular dances over the decades, introduced Croatian Waltz that he learned at Knott's 1949 Saint Louis festival, and conducted extensive primary research on South German and Austrian folklore and dance.
  7. Song Chang, entranced with the humanistic values of folk dancing, formed California's first international folk dance club in San Francisco in 1937. That club, the only international club amid national clubs, exhibited dances at the 1938 San Francisco World's Fair. Virgil Morton taught Chang and the club most of their dances until the United States Navy shipped him off for World War II, at which time Morton trained Madelynne Greene as his replacement.
  8. As the most enduring contribution of these years, Vasilľ Avramenko's student (and tenant), Michael Herman, taught folk dances at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, emphasizing audience participation and leading directly to the 1940 founding in New York of Folk Dance House, successful for almost half a century.


Around 1940, noted recreation leader Jane Farwell interned in New York, met and studied with Michael Herman, and lost Michael to Mary Ann Bodnar. Jane, for other reasons, followed the Gulick-Burchenal-Beliajus humanitarian approach, merged recreation with folk dance, and, in 1941, began the folk dance camp movement with hers at Oglebay, West Virginia. Farwell resumed the founding of camps after World War II, and others followed.

  1. Walter Grothe, familiar with Pinewoods, inspired Lawton Harris to found Folk Dance Camp at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California in 1948. Stockton continues virtually unchanged but for a name change (Stockton Folk Dance Camp) and recent emphasis on live music.
  2. West Texas Square Dancer Roy McCutchan studied at the University of Texas in Austin and there met Elizabeth (Zibby) Wolfolk. During the war, Roy joined the Navy and Zibby danced with Song Chang's group in San Francisco. After the war, Roy and Zibby started and influenced for decades much of the folk dancing in the American Southwest: Austin, San Antonio, and Marshall in Texas, Los Alamos in New Mexico, derivative groups in Galveston, Dallas, and Oklahoma, and in January 1949, Texas Camp with Jane Farwell. Texas Camp continued until 1973, at which time the McCutchans resigned in dismay over the camp's loss of humanistic values, specifically, the replacing of local musicians with hired, out-of-state musicians, and increased replacement of ethnic themes with novelty themes. The camp continued under new direction.
  3. Farwell continued to produce recreation workshops with the Hermans, leading in 1951 to Maine Folk Dance Camp. Maine Camp lasted until 1994, at which time Michael Herman (Mary Ann died in 1992) closed the site, discouraged over perceived mismanagement, disrespect of primary-source dance teachers, record piracy, and the replacement of folk dances with novelty dances. Mainewoods Dance Camp supplanted it at a new site the old Maine Camp in 1995 and continues under the direction of people from whom Michael distanced himself: not a new, but altogether a sad, sad story.
  4. Farwell returned to Wisconsin to found Folklore Village Farm at her family farm near Dodgeville, providing a constant folklore experience, weekly gatherings, and several major festivals each year such as Midsommarfest, all of which continued under new leadership after Farwell died in 1992. Christmas Festival, founded in 1948, presented Farwell's alternative to commercial observance, celebrating the twelve days of Christmas in five.
  5. Alura Flores, discovered and introduced in the 1940s to international folk dancing by her student Nelda Drury, founded Festival Folklórico Internacional in central Mexico in 1971 with help from Farwell, Drury, Ron and David Houston, Manuel and Odilia Gomez, and other dear friends from Texas and around the United States. Alura's health declined significantly in 1992, and Mexico Camp, always a struggle, foundered without Alura's personal and political influence.


Folk dance magazines emerged in the late 1930s, perhaps as a natural expansion of the movement or perhaps due to the inspiration of Arthur Leon Moore.


After WWII, returning soldiers, sometimes with their new ethnic in-laws, flocked to recreational folk dance leaders such as Vyts Beliajus, Paul and Gretel Dunsing, Jane Farwell, the Michael and Mary Ann Herman, and Dave Rosenberg. Perhaps folk dance popularity sprang from the urbanization of America and a resultant yearning for rural activities; perhaps a war-weary country sought to re-create itself; perhaps Americans enjoyed the huge increase in leisure time. Or perhaps it sprang from a new awareness of other countries coupled with a decrease in xenophobia brought on by the certain knowledge among millions of returning soldiers that America was the greatest nation on earth. Americans reached out to other cultures through folk dancing.


World War II brought together in London students, European refugees, and a folk dancing American G.I. named Nat Brown. England's Society for International Folk Dancing grew from this association, and folk dancing flourishes in Britain still.


Although foreign dance entered Japan in 1883 with the Rokumeikan Dance Institute, international folk dancing came only after World War II with visiting religious and relief missions. By some estimates, Japan now has three million international folk dancers.

  1. Larry and Joanne Keithley taught in Tokyo and later in Sapporo from 1953 until 1956 or 1957.
  2. In 1956, Michael and Mary Ann Herman led a State Department sponsored tour to Japan consisting of Nelda Drury, Ralph Page, and Jane Farwell. As you might expect from such talent, the international folk dance world population effectively doubled.
  3. Ricky Holden taught folk and square dance in Japan during his world tour in 1957. Ricky tells me that even Emperor Hirohito's son, Prince Hitachi, danced, holding hands with and using the same forms of address as people some dozen or more social levels below him.


The proliferation of phonograph records freed the folk dance movement from a lack of musicians and folk instruments. Records also freed (belatedly) the movement from the inevitable debasement that arose in physical education classes with their pianists untrained in ethnic music and teachers untrained in ethnic dance. With a few notable but ineffective exceptions, the halcyon days of Burchenal, Bergquist, Crampton, and Hinman devolved to a community of "muscle mechanics" maintaining a self-perpetuating repertoire only parasitically connected to the international folk dance movement. Generations of potential folk dancers rejected for the rest of their lives the "dinkleberry" dances forced on them during public school physical education classes.

  1. In the early days of phonographs, international folk dancers used any music available, sometimes with confusing and amusing consequences. ("Look! You can Hambo to this Italian waltz!") Note that folk dancing in the America of that day reflected popular dancing, frequently using a "Big Band" sound instead of a more ethnic sound.
  2. Michael Herman, trained in folk dance by ethnic groups and classical violin by Juilliard faculty members, founded with the help of Dave Rosenberg the Folk Dancer label and produced several hundred excellent folk and contra dance recordings, frequently with himself on violin, Mary Ann on piano, and the extraordinary Walter Eriksson on accordion. The Folk Dancer label sold primarily to recreational folk dancers.
  3. Paul Erfer, pianist and outgoing dance teacher, learned much of his dancing in New York and founded the seminal Hollywood Folk Dancers when he moved to California. Erfer produced with Imperial Records a series of Nationality Albums specifically for folk dancers. In many instances, these were the first recordings made in the United States of these folk dance melodies, allowing many groups that relied on recordings to expand their repertoires. Paul arranged the music, and the musicians would wear at least one piece of the national costume to put themselves in the proper ethnic mood.
  4. Frank Kaltman and Rickey Holden produced the Folkraft line of recordings, with more square dance music than Herman's line and targeted to educational as well as recreational markets. Olga Kulbitsky wrote many of the dance directions for Folkraft.
  5. Ivan "John" Filcich and Ed Kremers Sr. opened Festival Folk Shop in San Francisco and sold records under the Festival label or occasionally under no label. Their efforts to provide rare recordings to the folk dance community occasionally earned them censure from the copyright owners of those recordings.
  6. Walter Kögler of Germany toured North America in 1967, introducing his line of Tanz recordings. Through an incompletely known sequence of events, this tour resulted in the dance Atlantic Mixer.

The availability of recordable tape cassettes in the late 1960s virtually destroyed the folk dance record industry and, some say, recreational folk dancing itself, as low cost and lower-quality copies of folk dance music replaced phonograph records. To his dying day in 1996, Michael Herman awaited eagerly the development of a cassette which would self-destruct and also destroy its copy when duplicated. Copyright piracy so bothered Herman that he virtually refused to sell from his stock of an alleged 50,000 records for the last 20 years of his life. This refusal, however, only exacerbated the theft of his now-scarce recordings.


"Kolos" and other extremely vivacious and attractive non-partner dances appealed to the predominantly female folk dance population during the early 1950s. Note that folk dancing anticipated by a decade the essentially non-partner nature of popular dance, which may account for some of folk dance's popularity in the 1960s as it satisfied a societal need.

  1. In 1950, Vyts Beliajus started "kolomania" in California by presenting eight Kolos at Stockton Folk Dance Camp. In 1951, Michael and Mary Ann Herman added others.
  2. In 1951, "Kolo John" Filcich, who had moved to California in the late 1940s with Kolos learned during his youth in Gary, Indiana, organized the first Thanksgiving Kolo Festival in San Francisco. He and his family continued for years to run Kolo Festival.
  3. Palestine became Israel and produced dozens of dances, many of them non-partner and most of them based on the 1920s German modern dance movement as practiced by the German Zionist movement, the Blau-Weiss Bund (Blue-White Group). Viennese modern dancer Friedrich Berger changed his name to Fred Berk during his immigration to New York and founded contemporary Israeli recreational dance there in about 1951. From modern dance we derive the practice of performing Israeli dances barefooted.
  4. Frances Ajoian presented dances of the California Armenian community. These dances achieved popularity primarily in California but later inspired national teachers such as Tom Bozigian.
  5. Dick Crum, drawing inspiration from the pre-war works of the English Philip Thornton and from the American ethnic communities of his youth, became the first to explore the Balkans and import their dances. As the finest folk dance teacher in the world, he inspired countless Kolo dancers with his omniscient wit and skill.
  6. Anatol Joukowsky, a classically trained European ballet dancer with a deep interest in folk dance, set ethnic dance steps to stirring music to present in California both line and partner dances that still lead some international folk dance popularity polls: Gerakina, 'Ajde Jano, Vrtielka, Horehronsky Čardáš, Senjačko Kolo, Nashe Katya (Katia), and Jablochko, to name but a few.
  7. Kolomania persists to this day as the "Balkan" splinter movement, although serious Balkan devotees profess a preference for the pervasive live music of other Balkan seminars over the occasional recorded music of Kolo Festival. Ironically, however, they still pander to the purveyors of performance dance pastiche rather than experience true Balkan folk dance.


Igor Moiseyev's Soviet-state-supported folkloric-ballet troupe inspired similar troupes around the world: Filip Kutev in Bulgaria, Kolo in Serbia, Lado in Croatia, Tanec in Macedonia, Mazowszie in Poland, Amalia Hernández in Mexico, and thousands more.

These troupes (and immigrants who had danced in these troupes) toured Canada and the United States beginning in the late 1950s.

  1. International folk dancers eagerly accepted stage creations such as Kolo's Serbian Medley #1 and Tanec's Šopska Petorka, increasing the aerobic content as well as the tempo and color of international folk dancing.
  2. Usually, the theatrical nature of stage material decreased or obscured the ethnographic content of folk dancing, e.g., the ubiquitous Ribbon Dance. To quote one ensemble choreographer in an apocryphal anecdote: "I am an artist; not a peasant!"
  3. Dick Crum, after two seminal visits to the former Yugoslavia in 1953 and 1954, became artistic director for the Duquesne University Tamburitzans under Walter Kolar from 1955 to the late 1960s and made folk dance a much larger portion of their folk music repertoire. The Tammies' Serbian< Medleys and Croatian Medleys, as well as their recordings of Bulgarian dances such as Bučimiš and Sedi Donka, still appear in popularity polls 30 years and more after their introduction. Dorothy Wesson, having produced costumes for the Pillsbury Settlement House Sunday Dance Group in Minnesota, made costumes for the early Dick Crum Tammies, as well as for the Twin Cities Danish Folk Dance Group, which she led for many years, and for other performance groups.


The natural union of domestic and international folk dancing dissolved amidst snobbery and acrimony.

  1. In the 1950s, blue-collar-oriented square (and round) dancing became it's own movement, Modern Western Square Dancing, with hundreds of newly-devised figures and series of required classes. International folk dancing kept more of the professional and academic crowd, as well as the more traditional dances.
  2. In the 1970s, clogging separated from Appalachian mountain/square dancing into its own splinter movement, drawing heavily on contemporary tap dancing. The weekly television comedy revue "Hee-Haw" sponsored contests which accelerated this development.
  3. In the late 1980s, Cajun dancing of Louisiana and east Texas slipped into and out of international folk dancing, largely through the efforts of Roy Hilburn. Roy taught Cajun around the country and introduced Austrian Zillertaler Ländler motifs to Louisiana Cajuns, inspiring an entire dance movement.
  4. Contra dance, a living New England tradition preserved by Ralph Page and documented by Rickey Holden, developed outgrowths in the 1970s and metastasized in the 1990s as hundreds of choreographers, unconcerned with tradition, re-invented, borrowed from other cultures, devised on the dance floor, or designed on computers thousands of "traditional" dances to a variety of new tunes, for example, Hills of Habersham.
  5. In 1990, country-western line dancing consisted of the line dance version of the Texas folk dance Cotton-Eyed Joe followed by a line-dance Schottische. By 1993, the movement had mushroomed to dozens of dances, and by 1995, hundreds, mostly ignored by international folk dancers.

International folk dancing always contained some contras and a few traditional squares and rounds, for example, Grand Square and Salty Dog Rag. Dwindling folk dance populations in the 1990s, however, compelled even the most traditional folk dance groups to adopt newly-devised contra dances in hopes of imitating contra dance's popularity. Instead, they may have hastened their own demise due to "Shields' correlation:" Dance movements cease to grow when they become so complex that newcomers must take more than about six lessons.


After World War II, North Americans began to search overseas for the sources of international folk dance.

  1. In about 1948, Gordon Tracie began to research folk dance in Scandinavia and later taught or re-introduced such well-known favorites as Fyramannadans, Hambo, and Fjäskern. Natives of Scandinavia then moved to the United States to continue the "Scandi" movement.
  2. In the late 1950s, the Canadian Michel Cartier "opened" the Balkans to international folk dancers with such dances as Ekizlijsko, Partalos, Dajčovo Horo, and Jambolsko Paiduško Horo.


The Austrian Student Goodwill Tour to North America of 1949-50 and the Second Goodwill Tour of Austrian Students and Teachers to North America in 1950-51 introduced international folk dancers to many delightful Austrian dances, including the Zillertaler Ländler (to incorrect but readily available music), which later formed the basis of virtually all Cajun dance figures when Roy Hilburn introduced it to Cajuns in Louisiana in the 1980s, as mentioned above.


In the 1960s, a veritable flood of researchers, recordings, workshops, and choreographers doubled or even tripled the number of dances available to the international folk dance movement. Advances in communications and transportation technology facilitated this flood as long-distance telephony became common and as airplanes replaced ocean liners. The 1960s counterculture and folk movements propelled the flood with their emphasis on tolerance, understanding, and love of other peoples. Note, please, a similarity to the origins of folk dancing as an alternative to ethnic prejudice and discrimination. Popular new teachers of this era:

  1. Andor Czompo followed but far outshone Alice Reisz in introducing Hungarian dance such as Körcsárdás.
  2. Germain and Louise Hébert introduced almost the first French folk dances to the United States, including Eggbeater Bourrée.
  3. Atanas Kolarovski, in 1964, slightly preceded George Tomov, both significant Macedonian teachers.
  4. Bora Özkök learned to dance while studying at Berkeley and Çavit Kangöz taught Turkish dance.
  5. The Halutsim (pioneer) tradition declined in Israel around 1960, so energetic National dances gave way to subtle Folk Dances based on traditions of the ascending Sephardim (African and Asian) and Hassidim (Orthodox) classes. With the 1970s Disco craze came pointless Commercial dances (and teachers), which international folk dancers largely ignored.
  6. Yves Moreau followed but far overshadowed Michel Cartier in Bulgarian dance in about 1970. Many of his dances, Bulgarian and later French and French-Candadian with wife France Borque, still support the international folk dance movement, three decades later.
  7. Dutch dance schools produced a number of folk dance choreographers who studied stage dance in Soviet-bloc countries and then blessed the West with their, uhh, unique creations [amen].


  1. Mark Levy became one of the first Americans to master and encourage others to master ethnic Bulgarian musical instruments, adding a new dimension to Kolo dancing. Bands with ethnic instrumentation started up across the country, supplanting an abortive move from records to accordions and other less-than-pure folk instruments.
  2. Groups such as Alan Stivell and the Sebö Egyűttes provided recordings of folk music on electronically amplified instruments, for example, Le Laridé and Ugrós. These attractive dances demonstrate folk dance lagging behind popular culture, perhaps accelerating the 1980s decline of folk dance. Ironically, this new music repelled the more tradition-oriented dancers, some of whom now boast that they enjoy only live music from hand-made native instruments played by peasant virtuosos tending their flocks.


In the late 1970s, folk dancing began a decline, splintering into movements such as Clog, Contra, Balkan, Scandi, Hungarian, Vintage, and others. Reasons abound:

  1. International folk dancing developed such a large and sophisticated repertoire that it broke under its own weight to satisfy the need in many dancers for personal excellence in smaller fields.
  2. Folk dancing preserves restrictive cultural values: "Why shouldn't women dance men's dances?" "Why shouldn't men wear dresses?"
  3. Burchenal, Farwell, Beliajus, the Hermans: the great leaders died, leaving good teachers but not great leaders in their place. Folk dancers, for the most part a timid but libidinous lot, seem to need strong moral examples to follow.
  4. Folk dance lacks musical relevance. With few exceptions, international folk dance music resembles music of the 1930s and before. For the increasing proportion of musical illiterates in our society, this era represents the domestication of the phonograph record; the "oldest" music to which they have access.
  5. The split between academia and ordinary folk dancers increases even as we speak. Proponents of Labanotation and other cryptic systems insist that mere words cannot describe dance, but ordinary folk dancers refuse to learn systems or even to read, now insisting on videos. Lost in the argument are crucial issues such as individual variation in dance performance and transcription and technological advances in the recording of moving images.
  6. In spite of Burchenal's warnings, promoters lure dancers from the floor to the stage via performance. "The true richness of folklore always runs the risk of being reduced to glossy banality whenever traditional forms are used in modern choreography."

All the above have validity but distill to a more fundamental cause of international folk dancing's decline: the shift from a humanitarian movement of outwardly-directed tolerance and understanding to a movement of inwardly-directed personal gratification. For example:

Anecdotes abound among leaders about self-centered parsimony and unwillingness to commit among dancers, while self-centered infidelity remains a running joke (in rather poor taste).


Neither the removal of the Iron Curtain and resultant stampede of professional ethnic dance "masters" to America nor the resurgence of ethnic identities around the world have revived folk dancing in the face of self-centered dancers, teachers, and organizations. Friends, even the literal resurrections of Gulick, Burchenal, and Beliajus wouldn't revive folk dancing! It's up to you, and you alone.

End of CHRONOLOGY (at 1996).


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