If you've been dancing for years and years, it's probably a question you never ask yourself! Maybe you should. Do you just dance because you've been doing it for years? Are you still looking for the same things you were looking for when you started dancing? Let's consider some of the possibilities.
The obvious answer is “I dance because I enjoy it” — but that just leads on to the next question: Why do you enjoy it? What is it about dancing that makes it so special?
I think there were two things that got me interested in this kind of dancing. One was the sheer physical joy of the movement, and the fact that there was a shape to it rather than just jogging about. And the other was the music. A good tune can turn an average dance into a great dance. I was a Folk Singer and guitarist, so I was already keen on Folk Music, and I discovered Playford music through the first two EFDSS Playford recordings by the Orange and Blue, which I still think are wonderful. But I don't imagine I was dancing Playford at first — it was the traditional-style repertoire, one or two notches above a barn dance, which got me interested. Then I moved on to Playford-style — not that I've rejected traditional-style or American-style dances at all, but the Playford-style dances have an extra something — a graciousness, an expansiveness, a stylishness which you don't get from the other forms. Then there's the joy in the patterns made by the dancers — and of course American dances, particularly squares, can also have wonderful patterns. Now that's another important aspect of this kind of dancing — you're dancing with people. Not on your own, not just with a partner, but with a whole set of dancers. You're working together to create something, not just doing your own thing. To be a good dancer you need to enjoy being with people and helping them to enjoy themselves too.
Another reason to dance is to meet members of the opposite sex — particularly in a context where it's quite all right to put your arms round them. But I never went to a Folk Dance just to meet women — I enjoyed the dancing, and the women were a bonus. When I was in my twenties I did go to ballroom dancing to meet women — and I hated it — the only other places my friends could suggest to meet women were pubs, which I would have hated even more. With Folk Dance you can dance with someone of eight or sixty-eight and they don't immediately think “Is he after me?” or “Do I fancy her?”. I remember being at a dance at Cecil Sharp House many years ago, talking to a group of women. A man walked in and one of them said “Watch out for him — he's after all the women”. “But I'm after all the women too”, I pointed out. “Yes Colin”, she said, “but at least you can dance!”
And then there's George Bernard Shaw's dictum: “Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire” — but perhaps he was talking of a different kind of dancing.
Of course there are less satisfactory reasons to dance. To show people how clever you are. Some of us even have badges saying “I've sailed through Waverley Ahoy”! Maybe because your husband or wife dances and you think you won't see much of them, or perhaps lose them altogether, if you don't join in.
Here's a link to Musica Pacifica playing a selection of dance tunes — all from Playford except Irish Lamentation which is from Walsh. I know they're not actually playing for dancing, and some of the speeds are not what I would choose, but I'd love to call an evening of dances with them — their music is so full of life. The tunes are: Newcastle, Rufty Tufty, Irish Lamentation, Scotch Cap and Jack's Maggot.