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Southdowns festival of dance and song brings folk together

PACKED full of music, dance and singing, the Southdowns Folk Festival drew in crowds over the weekend.


The festival returned for the fifth year to Bognor Regis with glorious weather and plenty on offer for all ages.


Held over four days, the event in the town centre included a dance programme, schools project, skills project and market and craft stalls.


London Road, the High Street, William Hardwicke, The Alex, Hothampton Arms, Regis Centre, Alexandra Theatre and Place St Maur all hosted a variety of entertainment with well-attended crowds.


Brighton-based dancers Crooked Moon Appalachian were invited to come to the festival, performing and hosting a workshop session. The group was formed in 2011 and has 14 dancers. Dancer Ben Schwausch, 31, said: “It’s great to be here for the second year. We love performing and bringing different forms of dance to people who have never seen it before. It’s fantastic to be able to keep the traditions going.”


Fellow dancer Sarah Leverton, 33, said: “We have performed existing routines at the festival. We practice for two hours every week, throughout the year. This is our last festival we are performing at this summer.


“It’s really great to have an audience and to see the sunshine this year. These festivals give a great opportunity for people to join in and raise awareness of the different dance styles.”


Cecilia Price, 38, and her son Tyler, six, were attending the event on Saturday from Pagham. Cecilia said: “It’s been a really enjoyable day. It’s not my sort of thing really, but we happened to be in town getting some shopping and Tyler heard the music so we went to look. It’s actually been really great fun.


“We had some fun watching the dancers by the arcade and then just went to watch a Punch and Judy show in the marquee. Most of it is free which is great and the weather’s been fantastic today.”


Inside the Studio at the Regis Centre, visitors could enjoy intimate sets played by musicians. Ilona, 30 from Bulgaria, pictured centre, right, lives in London and was invited to play a set. She said:


“My manager knows the organiser and I was invited down to play. The festival is such a great idea, and Bognor Regis is such a lovely little town. People here are really warm and sweet.


“I really love the intimate audience with people coming here who actually want to listen to you and enjoying the music – it’s priceless. These events are so important to bring the community together.


“In big towns, people are used to these types of events all the time and the novelty wears off. A smaller town like here gives people a sense of belonging and there is nothing like music at bringing people together.”


The Datchet Border Morris dancers from Windsor were adorned in their costumes complete with face paints. The group, who formed in 1961, have 19 members ranging in age from 14 to 94.


Tim Harris, Eddie Walter and Harrie Hayward were thrilled to be at the festival for their first year. Harrie said: “We’ve had a really good crowd and had great weather. These festivals are lovely events and give lots of people the chance to experience different forms of dance and music. It’s important for people to see these things and keep the traditions going.”


Also featured at the festival was the Festival Schools Project which featured five local primary schools performing songs based on the sea.


Adian Thorn, the year three teacher from South Bersted Primary School, said: “We have brought the year four class to the Folk Festival this year. It’s been really well attended and the children performed really well. It has a happy vibe here and gives the children a chance to learn about culture and performing. All the children have been really comfortable performing and it’s helped their social development.”


Elsie Merritt, aged nine, from the school said: “It was really fun and exciting. I’ve really enjoyed the music. We sang our school song, ‘We’re bound for South Australia’ today. It’s been fun to be with children from all different schools too.”


Organiser Roger Nash said: “The weather was really good and the standard of musicians and dancers were excellent. The town was rammed, especially on Saturday, which is the name of the game.


“It was a fabulous festival, it was the best one we’ve done yet.”

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