The Allen Valleys Circle Dance Group

Marjorie Anderson writes in with a piece about the Circle Dance Group she founded some time ago [I’d have thought it at least a decade ago, actually Marjorie?]:

“Should you chance to pass by the Sinderhope High Forest Community Centre some Friday afternoon you may be surprised to hear strains of music floating through the open windows.  It could be haunting gypsy music from Rumania, a Nana Miskourou song recalling that holiday on a Greek island, lively Klezmer music, Northumbrian folk tunes, classical music, African rhythms and more. If curiosity impels you to look through the window you will see a circle of dancers moving as one to the music around a centrepiece of flowers and candles. This is the Allen Valleys Circle Dance Group which has been coming together fortnightly on Friday afternoons for several years now to dance traditional and contemporary dances from around the world. 

The Circle Dance Movement was initiated by a German dance master, Bernard Wosein, who, realising that many of the traditional dances of Eastern Europe were dying out, set about collecting them and, adding his own individual interpretation, introduced them to the UK in the mid-1970s at the Findhorn Retreat Centre in NE Scotland. From there circle dancing spread throughout Britain and is now found world-wide. There are several groups meeting regularly here in the North East as well as day and weekend events. 

I discovered the delights of circle dance in 1985 when a group was formed at the old Quaker Meeting House in Jesmond. At first I intended to just enjoy my sessions there and had no intention of forming my own group. However I found myself enthusing about it so much that I decided to share it with others and formed a group at the local Methodist Chapel in Wylam which continued for several years before I moved up to Allendale. Here I took over  a group firstly in Alston and then began another in Allendale, first of all in the Village hall and later moved to the newly opened hall at Sinderhope with its wood burning stove and views of the dale where we can watch sheep grazing in the fields as we dance. 

What are these ‘delights’? For one thing there is the sheer variety of the types of dance. They range from the very simple to complex, from fast to slow, staccato to flowing. The rhythms can be simple or highly complex as in, say, some Balkan folk music. There are lively, energetic dances, such as some Israeli wedding dances, while others are quiet, gentle and meditative.  All the step sequences are taught before we do each dance and you don’t need a partner. Nor do you need to be anxious about making a mistake. Our philosophy is that there are no wrong steps, only variations.

It is thought that dance, as well as music making, has been part of human culture from time immemorial. To dance in a circle or a line holding hands gives a sense of community and togetherness, so important today when so many are said to feel isolated. It is for young and old, male and female, although while in many countries, such Turkey, Greece and Eastern Europe, the menfolk dance at the drop of a hat the British male is usually in the minority in circle dance gatherings. 

As well as the benefits of exercise and coordination it is now thought that dancing, which involves both mind and body as we learn new step sequences accompanied by music and movement, is an effective way to keep our minds active and alert and stave off the dreaded dementia. There are now groups which cater for sufferers from dementia which include circle dancing in their programme.

If you want to find out more and experience circle dancing for yourself why not give it a try.  We meet fortnightly on a Friday afternoon (the next session is Friday the 14th of June, owing to holidays) at the Community Centre in Sinderhope, from 2-4pm. New members will be most welcome to this friendly informal group.  The cost is £5/session and a taster session will be free.  To find out more and the dates for this term you may contact me at marj.allendale@yahoo.com  [All photos used with permission]”

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