Conference Success! Locating Women in ‘the Folk’ 2018

Locating Women in ‘the Folk’: Perspectives on Women’s Contributions to folk song, folk dance and folklore
University of Sussex, Saturday 9th June 2018

Performers, collectors and scholars of folk song, folk dance, and folklore came from all around the world to attend a conference celebrating the role of women in cultural traditions.

The conference was co-presented by Sussex Traditions, The Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research (University of Sussex), and The English Folk Dance & Song Society, and supported by The Centre for Memories, Narratives and Histories (Brighton University), and Sussex University’s Music Department.

The organisers welcomed submissions from independent researchers, writers, community performers and artists, and the day’s programme included displays, films and performances. Traditions from India, USA, Sweden, Orkney and Ireland were represented, contributing to the culturally rich, varied and inclusive programme.

Highlights from the programme:

Shirley Collins MBE, Patron of Sussex Traditions and President of the English Folk Dance and Song Society read from her book All in the Downs (published in May 2018) and reminisced about her local Sussex childhood, in a Q&A with Elizabeth Bennett.

Lucy Neal, co-founder of the London International Festival of Theatre, gave an inspiring keynote speech on her highly influential great-great aunt, suffragist and social reformer Mary Neal CBE. More than a century ago, Mary Neal’s vision for the power of participatory arts helped drive the first revival of English Folk Song and Dance.

The youngest speaker, Nora Rhodes, aged 15, travelled from New England, USA to give her first conference paper. She also sang a beautiful rendition of a traditional ballad at the evening reception.

Folk singer Lucy Ward and dance practitioner Deborah Norris performed an excerpt from ‘The Two Princesses’ ballet and discussed their creative process.
It was a busy day of parallel panels, accommodating the many speakers selected for this significant event which coincides with the centenary of a major step in women’s’ suffrage in the UK. It was clear that many left the conference enthused and inspired to further develop their knowledge on Women in ‘the Folk’.

Many delegates and speakers wrote to express their thanks and enjoyment of the event:

“…it was wonderful to hear speakers that have a direct link to music, it was also fascinating to hear so many contributions from visual artists, anthropologists, historians and folklorists. These are all the things that spark an excitement in me and the talks I heard definitely contributed to my understanding and knowledge of cultural traditions.” Women in ‘the Folk’ delegate

“ Thank you for organising such a wonderful conference… it was interesting and thought-provoking and full of new discoveries.” Women in ‘the Folk’ delegate

“…exciting, rewarding and inspiring conference! …Congratulations once again for your kind, effective and collaborative organisation …and for bringing such important people together.” Women in ‘the Folk’ speaker

“I had a wonderful time, and I found that the presentations I viewed were interesting, informative, and thought-provoking. It was also wonderful to see so many people who share my passion for folk culture, and particularly the importance of women’s place in it.” Women in ‘the Folk’ speaker

“It was a great success and very stimulating” Shirley Collins

“The English Folk Dance and Song Society was delighted to partner with Sussex Traditions to co-deliver a conference on exploring women’s roles in folk traditions. Women have been integral to the development, preservation, and practise of our English folk heritage, and this history deserved to be spotlighted and celebrated. Sussex Traditions’ links with their local folk community and their professional approach to coordinating the event helped to make this conference a success, aiding us in reaching new audiences and exploring Sussex’s unique and exceptional folk heritage.” Laura Smyth (EFDSS)