Folk in Motion

Colour photograph of the Folk in Motion team at Cecil Sharp House
The first Folk in Motion team in 2011 at Cecil Sharp House: (L to R) Mandy Colleran, Julie Newman, Nickie Wildin, Sophie Partridge, Ju Gosling, Taharah Azam, Sonali Shah, Alex Cowan, Janet Bell and fiddler Laurel Swift.

More about Folk in Motion

Colour photograph of Mandy Colleran callingFolk in Motion was founded in November 2011 at Cecil Sharp House, the HQ of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), following a development week organised as part of the EFDSS centenary celebrations with the support of Arts Council England. Eight power wheelchair-using dancers developed and learned an adapted version of the choreography for three traditional English dances, before performing them in front of an invited audience which included representatives from the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association (UK). We became a Community Interest Company in 2013 (No 8609883); our directors are Alex Cowan, Artistic Director Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90 and Julie Newman.

Folk in Motion now runs the East London Wheelchair Dance Club, which meets on alternate Fridays from 5-15-6/15pm at Durning Hall in Forest Gate. We are working to promote wolk throughout the country, with the ongoing support of Arts Council England. Our current project, 'Looking backwards, dancing forwards' builds on Ju Gosling's 2010 exhibition Canning Town Folk. This explored the part played by local young people and youth workers in the founding of the English Folk Dance Society, particularly the lives of Maud Karpeles and DC Daking as documented by the writer Elsie J. Oxenham. The current project looks more closely at their lives in Newham, including an event on 30 May 2020 as part of Newham Heritage Month, in addition to creating new wolk resources and delivering free workshops and performances in new settings.

Canning Town Folk was later installed at Cecil Sharp House from 27 September to 4 December 2011, as part of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) centenary celebrations. In August 2011, Ju created an animation of three 'Playford' dances to add to the exhibition, and realised that with just a little more adaptation, they could be choreographed for wheelchair users. All three dances - Gathering Peascods, Hey Boys (Hey Girls! in our version) and Newcastle - were published in the 'Playford bible' The English Dancing Master, and later by Cecil Sharp in 1911.

Playford dances were originally developed for the English court in the 17th century, and are based on elaborate figures and patterns. This makes them particularly suited for wheelchair users, who are able to make the patterns more explicit than ordinary dancers can. Most importantly, they can be danced by all wheelchair users, including people who need to be pushed. After completing her animation, Ju applied successfully to Arts Council England to organise a development week at Cecil Sharp House. During that week, a dance form and company were born when dancer Alex Cowan declared: "We are dancing wolk, not folk, and we can make up our own rules."

Blurred colour photograph of dancers spinning roundIn January 2014 the company returned to Cecil Sharp House for a further development week, with more support from Arts Council England. On 15 February 2014 Folk in Motion then presented a free concert at EFDSS, Access All Areas!, to celebrate the new lift access to all floors. The East London Wheelchair Dance Club has also demonstrated wolk at the 2014 and 2015 Dance Around the World Festivals at Cecil Sharp House, and at a special performance in 2016 to commemorate the loss of four EFDSS dancers at the Battle of the Somme. In 2017 we organised the UK's first wheelchair dance flashmob, at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in front of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, with the charity WhizzKidz.

Ju Gosling explains: “Folk dancing for wheelchair users is not new, but groups have previously had to adapt the dances for themselves as best they can, rather than having standardised choreography, calls and music available. Our sound tracks are also programmed to provide as many aural cues for dancers as possible, and because wolk is a 'calling' dance form, you don't need to have a good memory. Our team members can continue to participate if their conditions deteriorate or their chairs give out, because pushers can be integrated. Everyone can dance."

The WhizzKidz youth team enjoy a wolk taster session in Birmingham in September 2012.

Arts Council England Lottery Funded; Newham London; efdss english folk dance and song society

Photos: Hugh Hill, Julie Newman and Joy Wotton