The San Francisco Free Folk Festival began in 1976, in a stroke of inspiration from the San Francisco Folk Music Club and sponsorship by the San Francisco Folk Music Center, and has been an annual June event ever since.

Rather than relying on the common "hippies with guitars" stereotype of folk music, the Festival draws on music from all around the world, from the Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers to the World Harmony Chorus ("performing choral music from African, South American, European, and American Gospel traditions").

As well as performers, the Free Folk Festival offers dance and music workshops. The music workshops cover such topics as Songwriting for Kids, Concertina, Sea Shanties, Klezmer, and 60's Folk Rock Jam.

The dance workshops may be the best illustration of the Festival's diversity, as well as providing a concise education in the sheer reach and variety of folk music and the common elements found therein. The 2003 schedule offers:

  • Cajun/Zydeco, blues music that really knows how to party;
  • Contra Dance, something like a fast-moving square dance in a circle;
  • English Ceilidh, wild reels and other group dances;
  • Lindy Hop, a peppy swing dance with room for improvisation;
  • Scottish, energetic dances including jigs, ceilidh, country reels and Highland dancing as well as the strathspey;
  • Rapper Sword, figure dancing with at least five dancers each using two flexible swords;
  • Tap, like drumming and dancing at the same time, both with your feet;
  • Clogging, which unlike tap dancing stays in one place;
  • Old California Dance, from the intermingling of European, Mexican, South & Central American, Hawaiian and Russian dances in California's early immigrant days;
  • African, including both social and performance dancing from the traditions of many African nations and cultures, often interpreted by the diaspora;
  • Hip Hop, a freeform dance style which includes breakdancing;
  • Klezmer, joyous group dancing from different Jewish cultures;
  • Finnish Circle Dance, old court dances preserved in whole and in part over the centuries;
  • Bulgarian, using elaborate dance floor patterns and colorful costumes in a kaleidoscopic style;
  • Armenian Line Dances, which are performed in a sinuous line rather than a closed circle;
  • Clapping and Stick Dances of South India, where special sticks called dhandi are clapped together to generate a rhythm for the dancers;
  • Country Line Dance, highly choreographed line dancing done to country-western music;
  • French Country, a "rough and ready" style incorporating accordions, bagpipes, hurdy gurdys and fiddling;
  • Hungarian Line Dance, often very revolutionary and politicized music;
  • Irish Ceili, the original source of Ceilidh dancing;
  • Irish Step, hard-soled shoes and well-designed floorwork and arm movements;
  • Cotswold Morris, a form of ritual dance with handkerchief-waving, the clashing of sticks, and bells round the ankles;
  • Square, in which dancers pair up, form a square, and follow orders given by the caller;
  • Israeli, which comes from the cultural traditions of the many different groups which settled in Palestine and then Israel, including particularly the hora and the Yemenite step dance;
  • "(and) many more to come!"

    The most important element of folk music and folk dancing, as far as the San Francisco Free Folk Festival is concerned, seems to be a focus on community - on dances performed by groups and music which rises out of cultural traditions. It is art which spreads outward from its source, across a group of people who are exchanging ideas, rather than downward from the corporation or organization producing it. More information can be found at the Festival's website,

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