Dancing down the years

The pleasures of one generation are often incomprehensible to another. I first heard the phrase ‘Old Time and Sequence Dancing’ when a couple wanted to print a poster advertising sessions they ran at the local community centre. I was 25 and they were retired. Their artistic tastes seemed exotically remote to me then, like those of a distant culture. Now it’s the tastes of 25 year olds that seem distant.

What hasn’t changed in those decades is the importance of dancing among people entitled to a pension. I’ve learned more about it over the years and come to appreciate a rich, sophisticated aspect of contemporary artistic life. It involves millions, and is of real cultural and social importance, but doesn’t get much attention. Perhaps that’s why Daniel Baker calls his project about older people’s dancing, Unknown Empires.

Unknown Empires 2

Daniel is an artist and, in his own words, an amateur anthropologist. We met during my work on Winter Fires, when, as Education Director of Cubitt Studios in Islington, he put me in touch with several of the older artists who participate in the workshops and events he organises. His site is a lovely evocation of movement and mutuality (which I suppose is just a long way of saying dance)  tracing his journeys among  groups in London and elsewhere. As he says:

From Scottish Circle, to Sequence and Line, from Disco and Ballroom to Balkan Folk, the dancing is varied and full of life. The music, customs and practices are unique and contemporary: creating new traditions instead of reliving scenes from the past.

In February, he will present the project* in the context of a Science Museum exhibition of photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr documenting, in the curators’ words, ‘the eccentricities of English social customs. It will be an intriguing juxtaposition of cultures, though I wonder just who is calling who eccentric.

* To book follow this link: Unknown Empires


  1. We, here in a little Purbeck village enjoy our creative dancing with Lyn Paine. Every Tuesday morning we turn up for 90 minutes of stretching, warming up and starting dance routines, so varied – rock and roll, ballet movements, tango and we are doing a piece based on the Lowrie paintings at he moment. We call ourselves Movers and Shakers and are all aged between late fifties to middle seventies.

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