White Rose Festival Blog

The White Rose Festival – Leeds – June 2013

When volunteers were asked for the White Rose Festival, I wasn’t exactly sure what this would entail. The first surprise on the first practice night was the very serious discussion about the design of sashes to be worn by the ladies. I was pleased that no such great debate would be required for the men – kilts, a shirt and tie – no problems! Ah but what colour of shirt and tie to complement the yellow bordered tartan sashes and all black outfits that were eventually chosen (about week 3!) for the ladies? Well, the obvious choice was black shirts and yellow ties! At least our socks were a conventional cream.

Now we could focus all our intention on learning the dances. Having to rely on memory with no recap was another new experience. We each had to learn a number of the dances, each of which was performed by the same partners in the same position in the set, which did help the learning process but after a couple of weeks I started to have doubts about the wisdom of volunteering! Would I ever be able to remember all of my dances?

On the great day, the temperature in Leeds was 29 c when we arrived at the school. The dancing in the afternoon was outside in the playing fields with more than 200 dancers taking part. A bit hot for wearing 8 yards of 16 oz wool! The festival started with a grand parade with all of the teams marching round the field behind a piper with the team’s name being called out by the MC as they passed the band stand. It was a bit like the Olympics as we waved to the onlookers – steady on, don’t get carried away!

Now nearly all the teams were in white, so black and yellow really stood out. No one could fail to identify Cockermouth - we were nicknamed the Bumble Bees by some of the other teams. Well you can have too much tradition and we certainly made a statement. Fortunately our dancing was okay, if perhaps not so outstanding as our dress! We certainly set new standards in the fashion stakes!

My highlight of the afternoon was the enthusiasm of the children who were taking part, although I’m glad the patient ladies in the club don’t follow the lead of some of the young boys, who if their partner was a bit slow to take hands to lead down the middle, they just took off with the poor girl running behind to catch up. I was also envious of their energy – cartwheels between dances – in a kilt? Perhaps not for adults!

By the end of the afternoon I was exhausted but then had to re-energize after dinner for the dance in the evening. By the end of the night I was truly exhausted but had had a great day. The band was excellent and how they could play all afternoon in the heat and then all night and still have a great swing to the music was beyond me.

However perhaps the bit that best summed up what a coordinated, tight, well drilled team we had become occurred on the way to the hotel. I will not mention names but the person who had booked us into the hotel said that satnavs took you a bad route and so we should all follow in procession whilst he would lead the way. Off we set. At a junction my satnav said turn left, but we turned right. Ah I thought this must be the bit where the satnav is wrong. A minute later, we queued up so we could take turns of doing a U-turn in a cul-de-sac, whilst one of the residents out walking their dog looked on in amazement. I suspect it is not often that a fleet of cars execute a tournée for their entertainment at 11.30 at night!

It was a really good day and a very positive experience. The sight of so many dancers on the field was a great spectacle and we all felt tired but elated when we eventually found our hotel.

Will I volunteer again? “Yes! “ Would I recommend the experience to others? “Yes!” The six weeks of practice shortened the summer break from dancing and taking part in such a festival is really good fun. It was also good to meet people from other parts of the country that we don’t tend to meet at dances in Cumbria. There was also the opportunity to watch some really proficient dancers and even join in with them in the evening. As you would expect people were very friendly and happy to help out with the more difficult dances in the evening, which fortunately were re-capped.