IVFDF - The Inter-Varsaty Folk Dancing Festival

The longest consecutively running dance festival in the UK

Not the catchiest title in the world, but IVFDF has become recognised within the UK as one of the best folk dance festivals in the annual calendar. Whether you want to strip the willow, duck and dive, gay gordons or cross and cast it's a weekend of fun and frolics for anyone capable of breathing.

Originating from the fok revival days of the 1950s, IVFDF began at Leeds University in 1951 and from that date has run annually, happening in February. The weekend is always hosted by a university and organised by their in-house folk dancing group, the main buildings or local school halls being taken over for a weekend of riotous music, dancing and mayhem. If so inclined you can dance almost continuously from the moment you arrive to the moment you collapse, exhausted, on Sunday.

Who's Welcome?

Everybody. Folkies, students, dance enthusists, random people off the street attracted by the noise, hapless partners and friends of aforementioned dance enthusiasts, anyone and everyone are welcome whether they can dance or not. The university dance groups travel from all over the UK, buses travelling from those cities often carrying IVFDF die-hards and hangers-on. The cities involved invariably have a good infra-structure and other IVFDF goers are normally friendly types who will be happy to help out with lifts and things. Camping is usually free at the host university, but is extremely noisy and basic as no one who stays over really sleeps as there is dancing to be done!

The Programme

IVFDF now has a pretty set structure. On the Friday afternoon and evening people begin to turn up. The festival kicks off with a ceilidh led by a professional band and caller and there is usually a random and informal bar music session where those more interested in watching and listening can relax or dancers can take a breather from the bedlam. The formal dancing (although there is little formality, just a total, joyful free-for-all) finishes around midnight and then things really get going as those staying on site embark on a night of informal dancing, singing, music and merry-making.

By Saturday there is a real vibe and everyone separates to take part in a multitude of workshops and displays held all over the campus during the day. There are international dancing, singing and music sessions for the professional to the compete novice in everything from Arabian,Scandinavian, Salsa or Scottish to Longsword, Welsh Clog, Appalachian and Broom Dancing. There is also an annual Morris Dancing tour where the Morris dance sides and any local groups all get together and display around whatever city the university is in. Quite a sight, especially as the day wears on, the pubs visited increase and the real ale consumed begins to take effect.

The Saturday evening now boasts three ceilidhs, Contra from Amercia, Scottish from the Highlands and free ceilidh from everywhere. There are often several bands and callers involved and the atmosphere is incredible. The dancing again finishes around midnight but no one actually stops until the very late hours of the early morning in order to try and catch a few minutes sleep before starting all over again.

Sunday is slightly more relaxed. People are fairly knackered by now for a start. There are a few more workshops and the infamous Survivors Ceilidh for those who still have enough energy to stand up and enough brain power to put one foot in front of the other. There are often a lot more sessions as it's much easier to sit in a bar playing a guitar or concertina and singing when exhausted than to leap up and whirl round a room.
By the late afternoon people begin to head off having met up with old friends and made many new ones, looking forward to the whole thing beginning again next year.

So, do I need to be able to dance?

No.
About 85% of people at IVFDF have danced at least once before and so the ceilidhs are full of people who are more than happy to steer you in the right direction if you get in a complete twizzle trying to Strip-the Willow or bamboozled by a basket. By the end of your first three dances you will have already picked up most of what you need to know anyway, and the caller will explain each dance before you begin.

But I have to bring a partner, right?

No
It is considered extremely rude to refuse to dance with someone (unless of course they have a broken leg or some other reasonable excuse) and most people are so hyped up that you will have no problem finding a willing partner. About half the dances involve regularly changing partners anyway, so if the person you've just danced with doesn't strike your fancy you will soon be colliding with someone who does. There are very few evenings I can think of where you are guarenteed to come into contact with nearly every member of the opposite sex in the room.

Dress Code?

The ceilidhs take place in a large hall, but there are usually several hundred people within that hall for about 5 hours. It gets very very warm. Dancing naked is not advised (your feet will get terribly bruised for a start and getting your bits trapped in a wildly spinning crush of dancers might be exciting but may end in hospitalisation) but do wear loose fitting clothing. Most of the dancers wear brightly coloured clothing and ladies go in for wild flowing skirts. Jewelrey is not advised as having a floor covered in slippery beads when there are 500 people trying to strip the willow is probably equivilent to mass suicide.

Sounds Amazing!
When? When? When?

In 2006 IVFDF will be taking place in Cambridge on the 24-26th of February. Camping is free, though you may be able to persuade friends to let you stay with them and use their facilities. There is an excellent website containing everything you could possibly need to know here.

I cannot recommend IVFDF highly enough if you are the slightest bit interested in having fun, possibly with the help of imbibing a bit of real ale. Dancing and music are a major part of the weekend, but it is the atmosphere and people who make it so special. If you've never danced before you may find a new passion, or at least will come away with some fabulous memories, new friends and probably the odd bruise.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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