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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Society of Folk Dance Historians
By Ron Houston

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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH), a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational corporation founded in 1987, collected, preserved, and disseminated information about the history and practice of recreational international folk dancing (RIFD), an American social movement that originated in approximately 1894 and continues to this day. This movement not only preserves and reflects American cultural history, it occasionally contains the only surviving documentation of ethnic cultures that have vanished from their countries of origin, that is, the European Jewish, the Rom (Gypsy), the Western Armenian, the several Bosnian, the Assyrian, and the Kurdish cultures.

The SFDH library and archives comprised one of the largest such collections in the world and the only such collection maintained on a daily basis by and for folk dance historians.


Ron Houston 2007 Tatiana Nikolova-Houston The two staff members of the Society of Folk Dance Historians were Dr. Ron Houston and Dr. Tatiana Nikolova-Houston. Ron researched, taught, and wrote about the history and practice of international folk dance when not working on his house and car. Tatiana helped Ron, especially with Bulgarian materials, when not designing illuminations of Slavic scribes by using gold and metallic inks and acrylic paints, embellished by Swarovski crystals.

The two permanent SDFH staff members held Ph.D.s and certificates of specialization in archives and preservation from the School of Information of the University of Texas at Austin. They maintained an archive of sound recordings, publications, artifacts, and the papers of organizations and individuals involved with RIFD. The constantly increasing SFDH archives consisted of tens of thousands of books and periodicals, hundreds of archival document cases containing approximately a thousand unbound documents each, and included dance descriptions, sound recordings, photographs, photographic negatives and slides, hundreds of video tapes and reels of cellulose acetate or polyester-based moving image files, and many artifacts such as musical instruments and costumes.

The employees of the SFDH used information from this collection to assist scholars and dancers around the world. The SFDH itself sponsored and published, from 1987 to 2022, annual collections of research reports drawn in large part from the information stored in the SFDH Archive. The SFDH distributed its publications to hundreds of member individuals and institutions each year. SFDH employees conducted educational and recreational seminars locally in Austin, nationwide, and abroad, drawing on information and recordings in the SDFH Archive.


In 1987, the SFDH was born to collect, preserve, and disseminate information about the history and practice of international folk dancing. Dancers and former dancers contributed hundreds of cubic feet of documents, publications, sound recordings, films, costumes, and musical instruments. Additional hundreds of individuals supported the Society through membership fees, the most outrageously low in the known universe. Scores of them contributed extra cash or services.

Tatiana suggested the Bulgarian Seminars, and five were held, varying from really successful to wildly successful in introducing dancers to the secrets of Bulgarian folk culture.


The SFDH produced three publications, all of which were excellent as well as useful.

The quarterly Report to Members grew from a one-page annual summation of activities to a magazine format. Comments indicated that, even with the numerous obituaries, people really appreciated having news of one another.

The annual Folk Dance Phone Book and Group Directory filled a need as did the Report. It included contact information about dancers, groups, teachers, dance callers, musicians, vendors, ensembles, camps, lecturers, institutes, other publications, and song teachers.

Each annual publication The Folk Dance Problem Solver contained notes to forty or more poplular dances, plus an index of which issue you can find a specific dance.


You could support this worthwhile organization, and get the publications listed above by becoming a member. As of 2022, membership was no longer available in the society.


To protect everyone's privacy, SFDH accepted written directory listings and memberships from addresses to which they sent an application by postal mail. They did not sell or otherwise distribute any information sent to them.


The Folk Dance Encyclopedia contains key information regarding many aspects of folk dance, including various dance and music tempos, specific dances, geographical regions, ethnic groups, and various historical figures. Many of the articles were written by Dr. Houston and touched upon topics encompassed by the Archives of the SFDH. There are over 14,000 articles in the Encyclopedia.


This page © 2018 by Ron Houston.
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