Taking the “folk” out of folk culture

Folk dancing and music communities are struggling to stay connected in a time of separation

September 28, 2020
Image of lines of people contra dancing in a large room with wooden floors.
Before the pandemic, folk dancing and music events like this contra dance allowed community members to come together. Now, events like these would endanger everyone involved. [Credit: Rebecca Sohn| CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

It’s literally in the name — folk culture depends on groups of people. Whether they’re attending a folk dance or a jam session, members of folk communities gather together to engage in a group experience. Or at least, that’s how it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, crowded dance halls and cramped jam sessions feel like distant memories.

Folk dancers and musicians are learning to navigate a world in which physical togetherness, so vital to their culture, is dangerous. But these communities haven’t given up on keeping people connected. From a Facebook group that seeks to capture the energy of a social dance to a livestream series that mimics the spontaneity of playing folk music with others, members of folk dancing and music communities are finding creative ways to stay connected.

This story was reported and produced by Rebecca Sohn and edited by Taylor White. 

Music (in order first featured): 

“Jan’s Waltz” by Debbie Jackson, performed by Debbie Jackson and Karen Axelrod

“The Hare” and “Set Américain” performed by Cedar Stanistreet and Peter Siegel

“Jumper’s Chase” performed by Daron Douglas and Karen Axelrod

Tunes are traditional except when noted. All music used with permission. 

Scienceline · Taking the “folk” out of folk culture

About the Author

Rebecca Sohn

Rebecca Sohn is a science writer and poet based in New York City. As someone with a background in the arts, Rebecca frequently writes about science, art, and culture. A former English major, Rebecca loves storytelling, and hopes to write stories that place scientific understanding in a greater societal context. When she isn’t reporting, you can find Rebecca thinking about her next science poem, playing her fiddle, or attending a local contra dance.


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