Saanich International Folkdancers Association

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The beginnings

by David Winn

SIFD began as a migration from the University of Victoria. In 1969, Louise and David Taylor started a folkdance club at the University of Victoria. Various dances they taught back then continue in our repertoire.

Soon after we emigrated from England, Christine heard about the recently formed group, and we took the opportunity and joined. (Christine had started dancing with the Vancouver folkdancers in 1959, and I had folkdanced in London from the late-1950s.) The club attracted people with folkdancing experience, as well as beginners.

David and Louise encouraged us to perform in public, and also to enter the Victoria Music Festival, for which we learned the Austrian Dreisteirer, for a man and two women, with single and double knots and windows; we had enough dancers for several sets of three, and we did well in the adjudication.

During 1970-71, David Taylor left to work in Africa, followed later by Louise. We wanted to continue, and I put forward ideas for a constitution, but was then told that students must be in charge, which was awkward as most of our dancers were community members. After a discouraging phone discussion I had with an officer of the UVic Student Society, Christine said, why don't we just start our own group? And the idea appealed to enough people for it to happen. Some people stayed behind; some attended both groups.

Christine arranged for space at Fairburn Elementary School (where Stephen and Vanessa were students), and for the use of the school's robustly constructed Newcomb record player, and she took care of the door initially (dressed in her dirndl, to make it special). I started buying folkdance records. We encouraged members who knew dances to share in the teaching.

1970, at Centennial Square, when we were the UVic folk dancers. More or less recognisable are David, Helen, Gillian, Christine, Joan D, Joy, Judy, Sheila. If anyone can correct or supplement these names, please say.

We adopted the name Saanich International Folk Dancers, because two folkdance groups already used the name “Victoria”: the UVic group which we had left, and Gerry and Katie Dunn's Victoria International Folk Dance Club.

Various things we did back then strike me as significant:

  • We encouraged a diversity of teachers (making use of our members' varied folkdance backgrounds and repertoires), answerable to the Executive – we preferred not to have a dance director. In our diversity of teachers, were some very able, others less so; but generally we appreciated what all these people had to contribute, and practised courtesy towards them during their teaching.

  • We expanded our repertoire through sponsoring workshops, and through attending out-of-town workshops.

  • We attended and helped with the Atanas Kolarovski 1971 workshop (including Ivanica, Belasicko), and we arranged visits by teachers from the Vancouver folkdance group. Among the earliest SIFD workshops were Karen Uretsky-Hering's Or Chadash Dancers from Vancouver (1973, including Bat Tsurim, Debka Druz, Nad Ilan, Niguno Shel Yossi); and Athan Karras (including Soultana, Old Zagorissios).

  • We put on public performances, and the sole condition for participation was attendance at the practices.

In the school gym, but all dressed up - I think it was for a publicity shot: Don, Pauline, David, Inger, Valin, Wauneta.)

The public performances soon got going, which helped to increase our numbers; and through not creating a performance ‘team’, but encouraging beginners to take part, we built a performance repertoire with a mix of easy-to-advanced dances, which I believe helped to encourage recruiting of beginners from our audiences. We developed a working relationship with the Inter-Cultural Association, and came to know people in other groups.

1971, Atanas with Joan Biddle. Joan was enthusiastic, friendly, considerate, an accomplished and graceful dancer, a delight to watch on the dance floor, and to dance with. When she died of cancer in 1988, SIFD gave the Victoria Music Festival a plaque in her memory, to be awarded to the group best demonstrating the joy of dance.

For me a highlight of the early years was our 1974 evening of folkdance staged at the Newcombe Auditorium, containing separate scenes or suites: Balkan; North-West European (couple); Israeli; English Morris; and our grand finale, the Greek tavern scene (with real wine). We had so many participants that everyone got fair rests, and the costume changes didn't delay things

  • We entered the Victoria Music Festival each year, to give us something special to aim at, and to seek appraisals by outsiders.

1973, Broad Street, Victorian Days, the forerunner of FolkFest: Christine, Wauneta, Helen, Berit, Gillian.

In 1972, we entered eight dancers (Windmill, Germany); in 1973, we entered fourteen dancers (Gammal Reinlender); we received an 'A' each time. In those days, line and circle (non-partner) folkdances had already become more popular than couple-dances. But we maintained a representation of couple-dances, because they helped to teach dance-skills, including partner-work.

  • We gave special consideration to beginners.

For example, party programmes would generally be planned with alternations of slow and fast, easy and advanced dances. During request periods, MCs would usually watch for stretches when excessive numbers were sitting out, in which event they would intervene, and put on a dance most people could do.

1973, Victorian Days: David, Valin, Hank, Fred

  • We encouraged family participation.

The family-oriented part eventually diminished, for various reasons, such as us getting older, but for some years we did put an effort into it, with some gratifying results, like the time a scratch band of sons and daughters of various families played several dances for us at one of the parties.

Mixed couples from left: Christine & Glenn; Anne & Mike; Joan D & Valin; Wauneta & Hank; Inger & David.

Other members will have photos, memories, points of view, which could be contributed to the SIFD web site.

Stephen, guitar; Vanessa, flute; David, percussion; Thea (?); Roger, accordion; Anne, piano.

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