In addition to hundreds of Folk Dance Clubs around Britain, there are a number of Display Teams (known as Performance Groups in the USA and Demo Teams in RSCDS). I'm not talking here about Morris, Rapper, Longsword or Molly sides — these are specifically display dances and are covered elsewhere. I mean teams which display English Country Dancing (often with the addition of other dance forms) to an audience.
ECD isn't designed with display in mind — it's done for the enjoyment of the participants rather than to entertain or impress an audience — so the dances are often “souped-up” a little, and four or five can be glued together into a sequence or suite of dances, often varying the formation and rhythm from dance to dance. In my view this is fine so long as the original dances are still discernible. If a dancer in the audience can say “It's an eight-couple version of Cumberland Square Eight” or “It's a six-couple version of Dorset Four-hand Reel” I'd be much happier than if they said “It's an impressive piece of choreography but I don't recognise any of it”!
Often however there are no dancers in the audience; the team may perform at a village fête or a twinning association event where the audience knows nothing of Folk Dancing. In this case a sequence of three complicated Playford dances may well be totally wasted on them — most people won't even realise that three different dances were involved — whereas a simple energetic traditional dance may go down really well. Teams are often quite nervous at the thought of appearing at a Folk Festival, where experienced dancers may be judging their performance and noticing all the little mistakes.
EFDSS had its own Display Team, London Folk
, for many years. In particular they performed at the Albert Hall Festival each year — a real show-case for the Society. But times change, the falling audience figures meant that the Albert Hall Festival was abolished, and London Folk is no more.
Some would argue that if you want to dance well, with other people who are committed to dancing well, the best thing to do is join a Display Team. I'd say this isn't necessarily true, but it's certainly worth a try!
There's a fascinating talk by Roy Dommet about the history of Morris Dancing at http://www.opread.force9.co.uk/RoyDommet/Others/sidmouth94lect.htm