The Inter-Varsity Folk Dance Festival is, I read in the foyer of it's home Exeter University's Great Hall, the longest-running folk dance festival, now in its 59th year. The festival finds a home in a different city's University each year, and this year for the three days, well one and two halves really, it was the hall itself and the various rabbit warren like rooms in the building's sprawling three stories.
The bar has real ales, and bottled ciders, there's a makeshift supermarket opposite, showers, restaurants, and a few shops in the foyer which change each day. One day it had a handy leather shop, selling clogs and more useful items, there's also a jewellers, and even a harmonica playing teddy bear puppet selling musical instruments.
Each day the festival offers a concert or two, ceilidhs, barn dances, and workshops from a selection of the UK's well known folk artists. Whilst there's coach loads of university folk society folk from all over the country, the festival happily opens it's doors to people who've come from all over this country, and a few others, and of all ages.
IVFDF has its traditional roots in the student scene and there's loads of them wearing their club T-shirts, and kipping in the indoor camping areas, the car park also has caravans and campervans dotted about it. This year's event is open to all and there's families here too, kids with bags of energy, girls in their favourite dancing dresses, old guys with long beards, spritely couples, and a few looking to get a bit of exercise.
Exercise is the word, I might have been tempted by the concerts from Kate Rusby, and The Demon Barber Roadshow, (see separate reviews). But sure enough the little booklet programme has too many interesting sounding workshops on the schedule. On the first night as we during the break in the two hour set of the lovely voiced Rusby, we read about Orange Jousting, Dartmoor Step, The Meaning Of Lift, Cornish, Breton, Wheelchair Dancing and more, and foolishly decide to get involved, the noise of the ceilidh from Stomp upstairs, after the show was all too tempting.
I say foolish because by the second full day, Pigs Might Fly lead the dancing in the hall, and we're soon whirling about a pace, despite already feeling slightly achy by then. The Demon Barbers Roadshow (think Riverdance with knives!) provide a breather with most people watching the incredible show seated.
Following that is another ceilidh with the Committee Band, and Morris teams keep turning up having converged on Exeter during the day for a Morris tour. The evening has a more traditional concert with local folkstars Jackie Oates and Jim Causley, which I elect to miss in favour of a soaking of sore muscles I never knew I had, these trad dancers are a fit bunch.
As well as the ceilidhs and concerts there were Scottish and contra dances, and those guys in the kilts sure could dance, when they joined the main throngs, and at one point we cheered the fact the attendance is the highest ever. The workshops included salsa and other dance styles, and at times couples who were experts in these other styles would dance happily in the crowds.
Although we never tried them, there wasn't enough time, there was also storytelling, singing, round robin, and instrument workshops including fiddle playing, hobby horse drumming, and African drumming.
Sunday is a programme of workshops, and even with all the free bottled water, I don't make the Survivors Ceilidh, the late night dancing had proved to me just how unfit I am. Overall this was a great little indoor festival, with a lot more on than I first credited it with. I'm glad that this event was available to all.
So, to the bad points, well I couldn't find any the staff were friendly and helpful, the usual festival gripes of toilets and food weren't ever going to be a problem with the festival being held in a building suited to the purpose with plenty of catering, bars, and toilets. The event ran to schedule, and there were handy maps in easy to find locations. The programme was useful with write-ups of the workshops and acts rather helpful. I guess with it having been going so long, any downside has been ironed out a long time ago. Even though it was a primarily an inter-university event, we didnt feel out of place.
I hope the festival returns to Exeter, next year's one is in Durham, which is a long way away. Well done to all those who kept on dancing, and along with learning a few steps, I discovered that indoor camping doesn't involve tents.
review by: Scott Williams
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