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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Revitalization Committee Report
By Preston Ashbourne, 1994

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Preston Ashbourne

In 1994, Preston Ashbourne (Chair) and his "Revitalization Committee" (including Steve Davis, Richard Duree, Ted Martin, Richard Unciano, and Marvin Smith) produced a report on reviving of folk dancing for the Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as the Federation). It can have import for any folk dance organization or even folk dance groups. This is that report.


Southern California Folk Dance Federation logo Several general topics are presented here, at varying levels of detail. There are philosophical statements, areas of complaint, suggestions for improvements, proposals of actions to take, etc.

This report is subdivided into several topics, somewhat arbitrarily, as they overlap considerably:

In each of the meetings and conversations, there was a consensus that revitalization of the Federation is needed to preserve and perpetuate folk dance. Because this concept seems to be universally accepted and supported, we are giving an outline rather than an extensive report on the discussions involved.


All projects will, of course, require money, so funding was a major topic. The Federation's philosophy should be as liberal as possible in this regard. We must be willing to SPEND MONEY! The flip side of this is that we have to make an effort to "make money" to support the spending.

First: Anyone who has discretionary funds should contribute to promoting dance. This may mean channeling funds for some events through the Federation to take advantage of nonprofit status for tax write-offs.

Second: Many companies have programs of matching grants for their employees. Encourage people to look into this.

Third: The Federation should actively seek groups to support many activities, including marketing and administrative costs, and sponsor seminars on how to obtain grants for member groups. We may need to consider establishing an officer solely to apply for grants.

Here is some concrete information that came up at the meetings:


If we don't have the "correct" music, people won't come dancing! This refers to sound quality, live vs. tape or computer-style programming and musical genres.

Younger people today are growing up accustomed to high-tech equipment and accurate sound. The Federation and its member clubs should think about conversion to computer, if they have not already done so. Gradually, more and more of our kind of music is appearing in folk dance format.

Use more live music more often. Get people who are not used to it more accustomed to live music by exposure. The musicians in our community are professionals. They need exposure. They need to be treated properly and paid well.

We need to experiment with varying format events (festivals, workshops, seminars, etc.) to determine the correct proportions of live to canned music, and preprogrammed to request selections. As the Federation and the dance community evolve, these variables will change, so this is an ongoing process. We all understand that different groups have differing approaches to suit their memberships. Some groups may change with the tide, others may not. It's all okay. In some cases, utterly new groups should form to accommodate new ideas.


The Revitalization Committee spent most of its time on the subject of marketing and recruitment. This is the most important area on which to concentrate. We need to present folk dance to a wider and younger audience and develop ways to get them involved.

A marketing campaign should probably emphasize or "target" different age groups in sequence, that is, first aim for the 40+ crowd, then the "thirty somethings," then young adults/teens, then children. This is not a unanimous concept, because targeting children is the way to preserve the future. The thinking is that people feel most comfortable with people of only a slightly different age range (rather than trying to mix teens with senior citizens). The structures are already somewhat in place for welcoming other adults, whereas there needs to be a whole new "world" set up to accommodate teens and children.


"Folk dance" is a much-maligned and understood concept. DO NOT promote "folk dance" but rather "international dance," as the term "folk dance" brings with it negative connotations. Some people confuse folk dance with square dance. For some, it implies "white and old." "Ethnic" implies "brown," and "World" implies "younger." The education field uses the term "multicultural" as a buzz-word, but they use it in error. What a mess. We need to clarify these terms for our own use and then make it known to the public.

We must project an image of relevance to modern society, one that will be attractive to younger people. We need to research this to determine exactly how to accomplish such a miracle.

Perhaps there needs to be development in two parallel universes: existing groups who are willing to seek younger members who can recruit among younger adults, and structures can be created for the recruitment and teaching of teens and children. Later, or at special events, the groups can co-mingle with all ages represented, as would be the case in real village environments.


Most people have no idea what folk dancing is. We must change that with intensive ad campaigns in various media. Publicity for individual events is one thing but name recognition is what we need now. Here are some other other ideas:


We came up with many ideas for bringing the young into folk dance. They fall into three areas: Getting dance BACK in schools, involving the young in special events, and special organizations for them.


In addition to and in conjunction with the work done by performing companies in schools, there should be follow-up. For example, distribute coupons for free admission to dance classes or dance events.

Target schools and send(?) volunteer teachers. This may require grants to pay teachers.

Send free subscriptions of Folk Dance Scene to all schools.

People love to win prizes, so offer "scholarships" to dance classes to students in local schools and colleges.


Some events should be designed for young people, and other events should incorporate them somehow.

Mixed events: Get kids as volunteers to help out at the events (watching doors, serving food, etc.). If done through the auspices of a school, maybe they cen arrange some kind of credit for their participation. How about "ADULTS FREE" when accompanied by a teenager." A great idea, yes?

Young people's events: Call them something young people can identify with, such as "Young People's Galas." These are flashy dance events for teens and twenties.

Youth Organizations: Create an organization such as baseball's Little League for dancing. It would use adult volunteers. Set up performing/competition groups. The Dance Education Association (DEA) has an ethnic category. We could get involved in their competitions, even across category lines (that is, folk vs. modern dance).


Who are we? Where do we fit in the scheme of things.


We are no longer Euro-centered and WASPy. Afro-Americans, Asians, Latinos, and others are part of the population and should be represented in the dance world. The Federation should maintain up-to-date statistics on population demographics for our marketing purposes. They have dance cultures to offer us, and we can share with them.

General Principles

Get younger people! Couple dancing is popular! Have events for people of all ages. Successful groups seem to have a focus. Fulfill expectations. We need young dynamic teachers. The Federation should find facilities for dance, lobby for school facilities, network with other groups, and act as a resource center.



Find teachers of dance from other ethnic communities, that is, non-European (we already know those), such as the Asian, South American, African, etc.

Get teachers into private schools and day-care programs.

Have teacher institutes for Latin Americans, Africans, Asians, etc.

Offer high schools curricula such as "History Through Dance."

Teaching Tips

How to dress up for dancing: Safe, comfortable footwear, avoid shoulder pads, look good, dress up for ethnic events (they're usually in churches).


Encourage attendance at ethnic events such as Greek festivals, Macedonian festivals, Croatian festivals, Scandia events, Armenian events, Romanian events, but there are also many others. It's fun to dance with real ethnics! Learn firsthand about others' cultures. Also encourage attendance at ethnic music and dance concerts.


Another big topic in the revitalization concept.

Teaching dancing, not dances. Teach how to dance and make it fun instead of teaching how to perform choreographies. Dance is not the memorization of thousands of patterns, but the free use of a few elements to create an experience. Teach dance well and have high standards.

Give awards, such as trophies and scholarships to meritorious students and present them at the Gala.

Create source lists to be the "yellow pages" of the Federation.


Performing companies need to be incorporated more into the action of the Federation, and the Federation needs to be very responsive to the needs of the professional ensembles. We can have a knowledge base for this among the officers of the Federation, so performers can feel welcome.

The Federation should publish a glossy brochure advertising ALL ethnic dance companies.

A job for someone or a committee would be to solicit outside performing groups from other ethnic communities. If they join the Federation, they would get into the brochure as an extra perk.



This committee should be a standing committee for two years or more. Then, perhaps under a different name, it should continue to be a "watchdog" for the Federation to ensure ongoing participation in programs of outreach and keeping abreast of changes in society.

This report is, in itself, not "final," except for the first phase of revitalization. This is an ongoing process. We now need to analyze what we've learned and create projects and goals and recruit people to work on them.


Used with permission of the author.
Printed in Folk Dance Scene, April and May, 1994.

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