The history of Welsh folk dancing is quite a sad one. With the advent of the Non-conformist sects in the 18th and 19th centuries, the chapels saw the Welsh folk arts and customs as ones that were very sinful and not in keeping with chapel teaching. The chapels, chapel-folk, deacons and preachers, some of them the greats of their day like Thomas Charles, Bala, did their utmost to stamp out all sorts of “sinful” folk entertainment such as dancing, folk singing, Mabsant festivals and folk music generally, except, of course, hymn singing and music in the chapels. People had to conform (!!) to peer pressure in the Welsh and Welsh-speaking society, although some did resist the pressure and continued to dance (but only after closing the curtains of the house first!!).
People such as William Jones (Llangadfan) and Edward Jones (Bardd y Brenin) saw the great damage that was being done to the culture, and they and other collectors such as Bennett, Walsh and Thompson, managed to record the dances on paper. Playford had been collecting and publishing Welsh dances such as Meillionen and Abergenni since the mid 17th century. Like most music of that period, there was a lot of exchange and borrowing between Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland and Europe and a number of Welsh dances went into the British/English collections. They tended to keep their original Welsh names in translation to English, the dance “Hoffedd ap Hywel” became “Powell’s Fancy” for example. Over a period of time, the rich, lively, Welsh folk culture vanished, with only the odd clogger continuing to step and pass the tradition on to the next generation, and with the triple harpers still playing in the mansions, keeping the traditional tunes, many of which were dance tunes. By the start of this century, folk dancing contributed very little to Welsh culture. In the Twenties, Hugh Mellor, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and others started to take interest in the old dances. In the 1940s, Lois Blake and Gwyn Williams came to the fore in reviving the Welsh dancing tradition and in 1949 the Welsh Folk Dance Society was formed, with the aim of promoting and resurrecting the old dances. Many dances with Welsh names or “feel” to them were collected from the collections, with the odd import that, perhaps, had nothing to do with Wales! By reviving and creating dances and with much research and practice, Welsh folk dancing developed into a lively, visible, colourful and living part of the Welsh culture.
Today, there are over twenty adult teams and hundreds and hundreds of teams in the schools and Urdd clubs across Wales. The Urdd National Eisteddfod promotes Welsh dancing and attracts thousands of young people in dancing competitions every year. The Gwent Children’s Festival and the Welsh Children’s Festival are very successful with thousands of children taking part, mainly from South Wales. The St John’s Eve Festival (Gwyl Ifan) in Cardiff every midsummer is one of the great events of the folk-dancing year attracting hundreds of adult dancers from all parts of Wales in traditional costume.