Easter Course Address (English)

Inaugral Address of the Easter Course by Dr Ceinwen Thomas

This is the second time that I have been honoured with an invitation to talk to the Easter School of Gymdeithas Ddawns Werin Cynru and, although I derive much pleasure from the invitation, I must confess to feeling also something of a charlatan. For I am one who has danced very little in my life and I have never taken part in a Welsh folk dance. You therefore understand why I am a little hesitant to talk tonight about the Nantgarw dances.

However, in spite of my personal inadequacy, there are a variety of reasons why I ought to talk to you about these dances. I shall mention here only one of these reasons. A short while ago, an article in honour of Mrs. Blake appeared ina Welsh language newspaper, in which a brief reference was made to the Nantgarw dances. This reference was factually inaccurate and I have felt ever since that I ought to set the record straight regarding the manner in which the dances came to be written down in the first place, and how they came into the possession of Cymdeithas Ddawns Werin Cymru.

I grew up in a family that loved to reminisce about what they all called “slawar dydd” (long ago). My mother and her brothers were particularly fond of this occupation, while my father usually was the appreciative audience, although he would, on occasion, reminisce with the best of them. “Slawar dydd” was a fairly elastic term, for under this heading, the family would talk, not only about incidents and events they had heard about from their own parents and grandparents, and other people of the older generation, but also about events they remembered from their own childhood and youth. These last cannot have really been all that long ago when I first heard about them in my small childhood, for the narrators were then only in their early middle life. But whether the event stalked about had occurred in the middle or early part of the last century or within their own fairly recent memory, the narrators were prone to begin with the words “Slawar dydd … “.

I heard so much about “slawar dydd’ while I grew up, that the people and the life of our own little bit of East Glamorgan for about a century before my own birth, seemed while real and while familiar to me while the people and the life around me in the Nantgarw in which I myself was growing up.

In my student days, I began to be interested in an untutored sort of way in the dialect of the district and to jot down words and phrases I heard, and some of the stories about “slawar dydd” in which these words and phrases were embedded. It was this interest in the dialect that led me ultimately to the work I do today,and it undoubtedly schooled me to listen with increased attention to the now familiar stories that were a background to my growing up and to ask questions about the events talked about.

On one occasion, my mother began to tell me about the annual Sunday School tea party when she was a child. The Sunday School tea party was very much an event of my childhood also, to be looked forward to with excitement by all the children, and, I suspect, by all the grown ups as well. It was an extremely simple affair really, for the food consisted only of white bread and butter, brown breadand butter, “tishanffivrn” from the shop, that is, shop fruit cake or what they call “farmhouse cake” now, and seed cake. I have never in my life eaten seed cake except at a chapel tea party. The brown bread and butter was very popular, because we only saw it at the “te parti” and I can smell its lovely, distinctive aroma even now.

After tea, if it were fine, we went up to “Cae’r Hendre”, where the grown ups organised games and races for the children, with small prizes for the winners and played such games as “kiss in the ring” themselves or sat about and talked. And of course there was always a race for the married women. This was always a tremendous draw. Everybody else gathered round to watch and to cheer on the competitors. When I was small, my mother was one of the competitors and my father used to watch with a broad grin while my mother was made to stand anything up to 50 paces, measured toe to heel, behind the others, protesting loudly, of course, which was part of the fun. When the whistle blew, all the other women ran, but my mother leapt! As well as being a very fast runner, she had the extraordinary capacity of being able to leap yards from a standing position, and a few leaps brought her level with the others. After that, she would run and she always won, to the accompaniment of hilarious demands from the others for her disqualification on the grounds that she hadn’t run all the way, she had jumped! The protests were invariably overruled by the judges on the grounds that she had run quite as far as the others, having only jumped the handicap distance. She herself liked to boast at home: “Miwn tair naid own in eu dala nhw “! (In three leaps I would overtake them!) I don’t remember whether that was strictly accurate, but certainly it seemed to take very few leaps for her to cover the handicap distance.

Well, this was the sort of thing that went on at the “te parti “when I was a child, and it was pretty much the same when my mother was young. But at that time there was one important event that had disappeared by the time my mother was in her teens – dancing. I first heard her talk about the dancing when I was a student – dancing that she had seen at the te parti at Nantgarw and at Y GroesWen. Y Groes Wen is a village on the mountain a mile or so from Nantgarw and our chapel was a daughter church of Y Groes Wen and shared the same minister.In my mother’s childhood, there were only two places of worship in Nantgarw: the local church, a chapel of ease in the parish of Eglwysilan, and our chapel.They always held their tea party on the same day and shared the same field,though they always stayed apart. The dancers also would go apart from the rest. They would congregate in a corner at the lower end of the field, where a small group of the less narrowly devout would also gather to watch. At that time, teaparties were a great attraction in a quiet rural area such as ours was then, and people would come from Pentyrch or Rhydfelen and Upper Boat as well as Y Groes Wen and Taffs Well and Glanllyn to the Nantgarw tea party, and some of hese could well have joined the dancers.

My mother was one of the few children who liked to watch the dancing, much to her own mother’s annoyance. My grandmother seems to have been more than a little of a Puritan and she looked with disfavour on the dancing. My grandfather, however, was more easy going and could always be persuaded to act as a buffer against my grandmother’s displeasure by coming down to watch also.

The dancers do not seem to have functioned as one big group. Instead, they performed in alternate groups while the rest looked on. The reason for this is not clear; possibly it was done in order to allow the dancers to rest in turn – it should be remembered that some of them were quite old. But the reason may have been that different dances were known to different groups; for these people did, after all, represent a dying tradition. My mother, for example, always associated Dawns Gwyl Ifan with Y Groes Wen, because she never saw it danced except by people ftom that village. Similarly, she associated Dawns Glamai and Y Gaseg Eira with Nantgarw. When she first mentioned dancing at the parties, Dawns Gwyl Ifan and Dawns Glamai were the ones she talked about, referring to them respectively as Dawns Y Groes Wen and Dawns Nantgarw. When she saw that I was interested and was trying to write down her description of the bits she remembered she remarked that she had not called the dances by their real names; she had simply referred to them by the names of the villages to which they seemed to belong. Actually, slawar dydd, the Groes Wen dance had always been called Dawns Gwyl Ifan and the Nantgarw dance variously referred to while Dawns y Blodau and Dawns Glamai. On the field, the dancers always carried white handkerchiefs in Dawns Glamai, but my mother was told that really they should have long trailing garlands that could drop limply against her partner while the dancer turned her wrist.

My mother was rather reluctant to let me write down what she told me about these two dances on that first occasion, because, as she impressed upon me, she remembered only snippets and was probably remembering them imperfectly and in the wrong order. However, I wrote them down just the same, in my own way. Not being a dancer, I know none of the technical terminology of folk dancing, its jargon if you like, and the only folk dancing I had ever seen at that time was English country dancing, which we occasionally performed at my school. I had not even seen the Llanover dances. I remembered one or two of the movements of the few English dances of my schooldays and the name of one of them: Gathering Pease Cods. My mother, I knew, had never seen any dancing except the dances of our area she was now telling me about for the first time; she had also once or twice had a few glimpses of ballroom dancing. However, from the little I knew about folk dancing, these fragments seemed to me to belong to a genuine tradition and worth writing down. I had two reasons for doing so. One was that I believed that our own dancing tradition had disappeared completely except for the Llanover dances, hence, even incomplete fragments of two other dances would be of interest. The other reason was that I had a confused idea that an expert in folk dancing who saw these fragments might be able to reconstruct the rest of the dances.

Although it was a surprise to me to hear about dancing at the ‘te parti, it was no real surprise to hear about dancing at Nantgarw because, ever since I could remember, I had heard my mother and the rest of her family talk about the nosweithiau llawen held in their home and the homes of friends of the family,when they were children. Their name for ‘noson lawen’was ‘Noson ddifyr’. A ‘noson ddifyr’was a not uncommon occurrence in our village when my parents were children. People would congregate in the homes of their friends in bringing their own food and receiving their drink from their hostess, and everybody was expected to contribute something to the jollity – a song, a recitation, a story – or they could dance. Oddly enough, even my grandmother seems to have been quite happy to permit people to contribute a dance to the entertaimnent at a noson ddifyr held in her home; the disapproval with which sheand others seem to have regarded dancing on the field at a chapel tea party does not seem to have been extended to performances at their own homes during a ‘noson ddifyr’.

It is obvious that folk dancing died hard in our area, in spite of religious disapproval. The tavern had been the great centre of the dancing before the revival of 1859, and it remained the centre of the “stepping”, all that survived ofthe old tradition, even in my own childhood. Even my grandmother admitted having peeped into the Long Room at “Yr Hen Dafarn” (as we called the local inn which, in my time, was called officially The Cross Keys) and watching a dance in progress. And I was often told about my father’s grandfather, Ifan Tomos, after whom my father had been named. Ifan Tomos had been a noted dancer until converted in 1859, after which he used to run past the tavern when he heard the harp inside and the sound of a dance in progress, because the urge to join in was well nigh intolerable.

If the dancing died hard, it also died very inconsistently, for, although it would have been unthinkable for a chapel member to attend a dance in a tavern yet, curiously enough, to dance at a ‘noson ddifyr’ or a harvest supper in a barn was not ungodly. No stigma seems to have been attached either to a dancer who danced to entertain the company at Ffest y Clwb, that is, the annual turn out and dinner of the local benefit society – the Oddfellows in Caerffili and the Ivorites in Nantgarw. A few of the older people went on dancing a little. In my grandparents’circle, there were two elderly people who firmly went on dancing, a man called Daniel Edmunds, who was the one who performed Dawns y Marchog, and a woman known while Arm Lansan, because she was married to Dafydd Lansan. Dafydd’s real name was Dafydd Rosser but he was called Dafydd Lansan because he came from Llansanffred in the Vale. No one in our village was quite sure where Llansanffred was but it might have been St. Bride’s Super Ely, i.e., Llansanffraid.

Wherever there was a Noson Ddifyr, even in my grandparents’home with my very strait-laced grandmother while hostess, these two would be called upon to dance ‘Dawns Ceiliog y Rhedyn’ together and Ann would perform ‘Dawns Morfa Rhuddlan’ and Daniel Edmunds ‘Dawns y Marchog’. Even my grandmother wept when she saw ‘Morfa Rhuddlan’ because it was believed to be Wales’ lament for the last Llywelyn and, while the dance was in progress, my grandfather would whisper to my mother the explanation of the dancer’s actions which form the description of this dance while I have noted it.

These two used to join the dancers on the field after the te parti, as did my paternal grandfather, one of the few young people who danced and, as they were chapel members, they were reprimanded several times and even threatened with excomunication. Ann seems to have been an old lady of spirit and her response to the threat was to say: “Torrwch chip mas ach gwala! Wi wedi dawnso ar hyd ym os, a wi’n mynd i ddawnso’r ran sy’n ol o ngetyn! A phwy ddrwg sydd yn ypeth? Mar ‘en lifyr yn gwed bod Dafydd wedi dawnso gerbron yr Arch, ac os odd yr ‘Ollalluog yn folon derbyn y ddawns yn abarth moliant, pwy ych chi i’n beio ninna? Alla i ddim gweld dim drwg yn y peth ” ( You can excommunicate me if you like. I’ve danced all my life and I’m going to dance what’s left of my time. And what harm is in it? The Old Book says that David danced before the Ark, and if the Almighty was willing to accept the dance as a sacrifice of praise who are you to blame us. I can’t see any harm in it.) Whether her speech undermined the critics, I don’t know, but the threat of excommunication was never carried out.

I seem always to have known about the dancing at the Noson Ddifyr in the incurious way children have of accepting some items of information and I don’t remember ever asking about them, assuming probably that my mother would know nothing about how they were performed. There was good reason for such an assumption. My mother was one of those much influenced by the 1904-5 revival and was for many years narrowly Puritanical in her religious outlook. Among the sins she sought to shield my brother and myself from were the cinema and dancing! I learnt some modem ballroom dancing at school and a few English country dances while I mentioned earlier. But I didn’t talk about it at home. By the time I was a student however, she was relaxed enough to look on with equinamity when I went to College dances, and to make my dance frocks. It was only when other people became interested in my fragments of description of Dawns Glamai and Dawns Gwyl Ifan that I realised how intensely interested my mother had been in dancing as a child.

It happened in the following way: long after I had acquired my fragmentary descriptions, I met Mr. Walter Dowding of Brynmawr, who was associated with Cymdeithas Ddawns Werin Cymru at that time. I heard first about the existence of the Society from Mr. Dowding and I mentioned my fragments to him. He asked to be allowed to show them to Miss Doris Freeman who was physical training organiser in Momnouthshire at the time, and also, I believe, a prominent member of the Society, and some time later, when Miss Freeman had had time to see the fragments, he wrote suggesting that they should have a talk with my mother about them.

My mother was a little dismayed when approached about this, saying reasonably enough that she was being asked to remember something she had not seen since she was quite a small child.

However, I suggested that she and I should go over the notes together there and then. This we did. It was seven o’clock on a Friday evening, I remember, when we started going over my notes of Dawns Glamai and I was a bit worried by the wooden expression that had settled on my mother’s face. And then I had an inspiration. I said: “I’ll try to dance what I’ve got down here, so that you can actually see it.” I did this and almost at once my mother said “No no, that’s not how it begins! ” and she went on in some excitement to describe how it did begin. I wrote this down and started performing it. And so we progressed, my mother telling me what came next and myself writing it down, then capering about our little kitchen, trying to put into action what I had just written. At last my mother said “Go through it now from the beginning. I believe I’ve remembered it all and in the right order”. I did so, and when I had finished my mother announced triumphantly “That’s it, I’ve remembered it all. There isn’t anymore”. I sank down on our sofa exhausted and glanced at the clock – it was exactly midnight! I had capered and written for about five hours. I too felt triumphant, for it was obvious that the decision to try to reproduce the movements had somehow touched the spring of memory and caused the dance to flow. We went to bed determined to work at Dawns Gwyl Ifan in the same way next day. And we did, with exactly the same result. Over breakfast, my mother had said that she had been trying to remember the dance during the night but was quite unable to do so. However, once I had begun to go through the movements to the best of my ability, she came to life and excitedly began explaining how the dance started and how it went on, right through to the end. After that, she saw no reason why the visitors should come at all since she had nothing more to say on the matter. However they did come after studying the notes on the dances, bringing with them a musician, Mrs. Lilian Jones of Beaufort.

Miss Freeman wanted to know all sorts of small details about the dances, such as how the dancers held their hands and, finally, whether my mother remembered the tunes. “They were well-known tunes,” my mother said, “Wait a minute, let me think.” After a pause she said, “Dawns y Blota was danced to Nos Galan.” She turned to me and said, “Sing Nos Galan”, and when I had done so, she said,”That’s the tune”. Miss Freeman looked at Mrs. Jones who asked, “What measure do you need for this dance?” and when she was told, said, “This tune will take it”. Then they asked about Gwyl Ifan. “I’m not sure” my mother said, “but that was well-known too. It’s the name, Hela’r Sgyfarnog that comes to me. What’s the tune like?” she asked me. I sang it and she said “Yes, that’s it, that’s the tune.” Once more Mrs. Jones asked Miss Freeman for the beat and when told said that Hela’r Sgyfarnog would take the dance.

So ended our first session. Not the least interesting part of it to me was the exchange about the music, for I knew that my mother was quite uninformed about music and certainly not the type of person who could match a tune to the measure of a dance. She liked songs, but disliked instrumental music all her life and never learnt to read music, even sol-fa. She had a good ear for a tune and an excellent voice, and could pick up a tune quickly if someone sang it to her line by line. But when she sang in the local choirs, as she did regularly when she was young, someone had to teach her the pieces by singing the tune to her, – first her brothers and then my father.

In the course of the conversation with Miss Freeman, my mother had admitted that she had seen a number of other dances, some in the fairs at Caerffili and Tongwynlais, and others at the noson ddifyr and the harvest supper at Dyffryn Isaf Farm, which has now disappeared under the colliery. She was pressed to try to remember the others and she did so relatively quickly and with relative case,as though the effort to recall the first two dances had stimulated that part of her memory. She was living alone at the time and when she was by herself, she deliberately tried to recall her visits to Caerffili and Ton fairs with her grandmother. It was this grandmother, Mamgu’r Mynydd as she was known in the family, who made sure that she saw the dancing at the fairs: Rali Twm Sion,the dance now called Ffair Caerffili (because my mother first saw it at Caerffili Fair and never managed to remember its name), and Dawns y Pelau.

These were danced by local groups for money, possibly local farm servants. There was an open space below Twyn Chapel at Caerffili and, at fair time, this space would be roped in and a wooden floor laid down. At one end of the space, there would be two tents for the dancers to change their clothes and to rest; they seem to have done a certain amount of dressing up for these occasions. And there was always a master of ceremonies, dressed very resplendently,, to take the money. Here and there inside the ropes, white cloths were laid down for onlookers to throw their offerings. They could request a dance by name and then the master of ceremonies, Y Galwr as he was called, would state the fee. My mother’s grandmother asked for Rali Twm Sion at Caerffili and Tongwynlais and the fee she was asked for was “swllt”. A shilling was quite a sum in those days, but she threw it on the nearest cloth without any demur.

People have often wondered how my mother came to remember these dances in such detail after so many years. There were several reasons for this. Pleasures were few and far between in those days, so that people savoured them to the full and thought about them long afterwards and remembered them all their lives. Indeed, it was not uncommon for the older people in our village to remember even hour-long sermons and to be able to recite them verbatim thirty or forty years after the only occasion on which they had heard them. My mother had this capacity. She always had a very lively and retentive memory, – when she was over 90 years-of-age, she had no difficulty in learning poems in Welsh or English and often did so. And she had a photographic memory, – she could study a dress or a piece of embroidery in a shop window and come away and reproduce it exactly in the minutest detail. What is more, after seeing a dance, she liked to persuade the other children to dance it with her. This they did when they were in the woods collecting firewood, out of sight of the grown-ups. And finally, there was the atmosphere of guilt and disapproval that tended to hang over anything connected with the dance in those days, that could not but intensify the awareness of a sensitive child.

Once her memory had been stimulated, it was not surprising that it gave up so much that had lain dormant for years. We get the same experience at our Unit in our dialect work. Our early sessions with our informants can often be singularly unproductive and the informants themselves can hardly remember anything; and then, suddenly, their memory seems to begin functioning at top speed and they throw up such a wealth of information that my students sometimes ask me uneasily whether I think their informants can be inventing it all just to please them! Impromptu invention of this kind of material is far from easy or probable. What is happening is that the memory is being stimulated to tremendous activity in a certain direction and ultimately yields an immense store of information.

At first, I sent all my notes on the dances to Mr. Walter Dowding, who was for the next year or two, my link with Cymdeithas Ddawns Werin Cymm. It was Mr. Dowding who received the first copies I ever made of my notes of all the dances, translated into English for his convenience, and he and Mr. Bernard Hayes worked on them. If I remember rightly, my notes of the Nantgarw dances first reached the Society in the form they had taken after Mr. Dowding had tried to put them into the format usually taken by dancing instructions. It was not until a year or two later that Mrs. Blake herself got into touch with me and requested a copy of my original Welsh notes for Mr. Gwynn Williams and herself. From that time onwards all my dealings with the Society were directly with Mrs. Blake,who came to see my mother and me on several occasions.

People sometimes ask who accompanied the dancers at the chapel tea parties. Well, like so many other places in Wales, Nantgarw had its village harpists, the brothers Richard and Eli Tomos, usually known as Richard and Eli Danial, and one or other of these, would usually accompany the dance. I have a child’s memory of them both. Richard had the reputation in the village of being the more accomplished harpist of the two. He was a sighted man and Eli, the last of them to die, like so many Welsh harpists was a blind man. Sometimes, however, if the harpists were unavailable, someone would accompany the dancers on a tinwhistle. My mother remembered her brother, Emwnt, being roped-in for the job on one occasion.

Stepping must have been quite a popular accomplishment in the village at this time. I have just mentioned the harpists, Richard and Eli Daniel. Their sister,Annie Jinkins, was a well preserved elderly woman when I was a child and quite portly. She was a member in our chapel – unlike her harpist brothers who, true to type, never darkened the door of the chapel. In her younger days, Annie Jinkins must have been quite a dancer, because, on numerous occasions I heard the grown-ups around me talk about her prowess in stepping and the fact that she and her brother Richard had once gone on a tour of America where they had made enough money, it was said, for Richard and Eli to live in moderate comfort for the rest of their days. Armie’s great turn was to “step” on a saucer. She would turn the saucer upside-down on the floor and seemed to perform the whole dance actually standing on it, turning backwards and forwards while steppers did. But my family were convinced it was a very clever trick and that she did not really put her weight on the saucer, because it went clink, clink, clink throughoutthe performance!

Nantgarw stepping, as far as I am aware, was like any other kind of stepping except that the performers seemed to turn and twist their feet more and that it was punctuated by vigorous sideways kicks. I personally have not seen anyone else do this. On the few occasions when I have seen Dawns Gwyl Ifan, the “stepping” at the beginning has been unrecognisable to me. It has not been intricate enough, that is, it is too monotonous, because the dancers do not turn and twist the feet while they step, and it lacks the sideways kicks. In this part of the dance, the Groes Wen performers gave each other plenty of space so that they could kick without kicking the shins off each other. On the occasions when my mother saw this dance performed in modern times, she was nonplussed by the stepping and she asked me each time “Stepo yw hwnna ta? ” (Is that stepping?).

My mother saw modern performances of Dawns Gwyl Ifan and Dawns Glamai several times and they gave her much pleasure, because they were recognisably the same dances as she had seen in her childhood. Her big criticism of the performances, however, was the effeminacy of the men. She used to exclaim: “Beth sy ar y dynon i bod nhw’n dawnso fel mynwod? Odd y dynon slawar dydd yn dawnso fel dynon!” (What is wrong with the men that they dance like women? The men long ago used to dance like men!).

I’ve always thought I understood what she meant after seeing a group of young Breton country people give a display of their national dances. I don’t suppose itwas a very professional or even a polished performance, but throughout, I was conscious of the delicate, dainty movements of the young women while aperpetual foil to the vigorous, virile, almost boisterous movements of the young men. The men leapt much higher, they kicked much higher, and there was, throughout, that touch of male exhibitionism that seems to me as essential feature of folk dancing as the more reticent movements of the women. I was conscious of the same thing in Rumania a few years ago. The girls were often demure, but the men just had to call attention to themselves – with shouts if there was no other way. Even when the teams were standing in a row, waiting for the opening bars of the tune to be played, and the girls were standing in a modest,almost self-effacing way, the whole stance of the men, the way they held their bodies, the lift of their heads and their roving, challenging eyes, simply compelled attention. A girl may need to be coy as well as daintily feminine as, for example, when she coquettishly tilts her flowers in the direction of one young man after another in Dawns Glamai, but what is lacking more than anything in these dances, it seems to me, is a vigorous projection of their essential masculinity by the male dancers.

In so far as my opinions in the realm of folk dancing have any value, it seems to me that the group dances have been revived with signal success. I am less sure about the solo dances. I have never seen Dawns y Marchog being performed and I have no idea how far it really is recoverable, although I know that some work has been done on it. I have seen Dawns Morfa Rhuddlan, however, several times and it seems to me that this dance presents special difficulties. In the first place, the original dancer’s feet were hidden by her longdress and all my mother could ever say about her footwork was that the feet sounded as though they were making intricate movements on the stone floor, but that the effect was of someone moving smoothly as though on a wheel. It does not seem to have been possible to attach any of the known folk dance steps to this description. Indeed, in a performance that I saw some years ago, the steps were more like those of the waltz, probably because the wrong Morfa Rhuddlan air was used, and the dancer ended by prostrating herself on the ground, quite ignoring the explicit description given of the way the original dance actually ended. The whole performance struck me as basically wrong, not to mention that the atmosphere created was sentimental rather than emotional. Sentimentality is hardly a national trait of the Welsh, as anyone familiar with the stark realism and the lack of sentimentality of so much of Welsh literature he well aware. Hence, anyone who interprets a folk dance sentimentally must surely be on the wrongtrack. Sentimentality certainly did not characterise folk dancing in our area; indeed, I doubt very much whether it characterises genuine folk dancing anywhere at all.

We have so few solo dances that it must be a great temptation to seek to recover this one. The theme, moreover, makes it especially attractive. It would be foolish to claim that it can never be recovered; but certainly, at the present stage in the revival of folk dancing in Wales this is one dance that seems to be out of reach. By all means, take a look at it now and again at your private sessions. But I beg of you to treat it with circumspection and not to perform it in public until you are confident that Ann Lansan herself could view your performance with equanimity. What you seem to have now is a modern dance inspired by the description available of the original dance, but totally alien to it in the movements evolved for it and in its emotional tone. Indeed Dawns Morfa Rhuddlan seems at present so irrecoverable that I think your modern dance should not even bear its name. I sincerely hope I am not hurting anyone in saying all this; if I have done so then I do apologise. But I am concerned that two things militate against a successful recovery of this dance: the first is inherent in thedescription itself – the fact that it was not possible to describe the steps used by the original dancer; the second is quite simply the break in our folk dance tradition, which has swept away, possibly beyond recovery, so much of the wealth of inherited knowledge that would be at the disposal of a dancer like Ann Lansan. I have always thought that Gymdeithas Ddawns Werin Cymru has donea wonderful job of interpreting my very unprofessional notes and turning them into the living movements of the dances that you all perform with such grace and skill. Mrs. Blake has played a central part in this very difficult task and I still treasure the letters she wrote to me during the time when she was puzzling over the problems they presented. My mother never failed to be amazed and moved when she saw modern presentations of the dances because they had been so successfully resurrected.

At the same time, I am aware that in turning those amateurish notes of mine into the living dances, it had to be borne in mind that the dancers who would perform them were absolute beginners in the art of folk dancing, having to be taught the most elementary skills of the art, belonging as they did to a people whose dancing tradition had been broken and who, therefore, lacked that wealth of built-in knowledge that comes with a living tradition. This knowledge, had it been available, would surely have influenced the way in which my descriptions would and could have been interpreted. Can we hope to see the day when the tradition will be so far re-established that the experts will want to look again at the original descriptions and may even see in them aspects that were hidden to them or too difficult for them in the early days of our dancing tradition? If that day dawns, Mrs. Blake’s work on behalf of Welsh folk dancing will have come to full fruition. The teacher always knows that his work has been successfully accomplished when his students begin to propound reliable and penetrating theories of their own.

Gadael Ateb