Monday, 13 January 2020

What Bush Dances? by Rob Willis

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Reprinted from Verandah Music with Graham Seal's permission


Following on our recent dance posts, here’s one to stir the possum a little. We begin with a relevant reminiscence from Rob Willis, with links to a video of John Meredith and Ollie Willis lightfooting some Eureka Youth League dances.
There is also a link to Rob’s edited version of the late Peter Ellis’s detailed discussion of this issue.  (NB Some issues with these historical file formats).

Rob writes:
I was born and raised in Forbes, Central West NSW, and in my youth during the 1960s went to dances in the many country halls that were scattered around the surrounding countryside. We learnt, mainly from the older women, how to waltz and also have fun with such dances as the Barn Dance, Pride of Erin, Jolly Miller and a raft of others.
I was therefore mystified in the late 1970s when becoming involved in the 'folk scene', going to so-called ‘bush dances’ (a term that was never used in the Central West) and being taught dances that I had never heard of in the bush. As time progressed and I started to travel on field recording trips with John Meredith (a good dancer in his own right) I met and formed a very strong friendship with dance historian, the late Peter Ellis. It became clear that ‘bush dance’ was a dance genre that had evolved over recent decades.
In conversations on the track with John and also with the people we were recording then for the National Library, some born in the 1890s, it became clear that the dances of the bush were in reality the Quadrilles, Polkas, Varsoviennas, Mazurkas as well as the later ones I had learnt in the Forbes district.
Over the many hours that Meredith and I had on the track talking about the past he explained how the genre was formed and Peter's article puts it all together as well as John's explanation in a video I shot of him and my wife, Ollie, demonstrating a couple of these dances.
I can remember being with Meredith and Alan Scott at a Bush Dance at a festival in Newcastle when Merro leaned over to Alan and said "Geez mate, just to think that we were responsible for this".

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