Description of quarrel and’ I want to tell the story as it has not yet been told and as it never will be told unless I tell it.’
…..For two years Cecil Sharp, Herbert MacIlwain and I worked in perfect harmony, my part being organising, arranging and all the details of what was becoming a very growing movement.
Then trouble began to develop which at first was
to me quite understandable. It is only by the slow unfolding of its meaning through the long years that I have been brought to understand and to want others to understand this insignificance that was so deeply significant, this tiny drama which yet went to the very foundation of life, this re-creation which was in truth a re-creation and are-birth of a truth old as the earth itself - - - perhaps older, who can tell?
I want to tell the story as it has not yet been told and as it never will be told unless I tell it.
The story began in November, 1907, when Punch published a full-page cartoon by Bernard Partridge representing Mr. Punch leading a band of Morris dancers under the title: “Merrie England Once More.” I knew nothing whatever about it until I got a telegram from a friend saying: “Congratulate you on Punch.” I went out and bought a copy of Punch and was much thrilled to find the cartoon.
There was also a little paragraph about the revival of these dances and a notice of the Conference to be held at the Goupil Gallery next evening. I took it straight to Mr. Sharp and as he looked at it I saw a sort of blind come down over his face. Before many minutes he said he was not coming to the Conference, it was too soon to begin a national movement. I pointed out that the Conference
was his Conference as much as mine, that it really centred round him and that it put me in a very difficult position if he did not attend. He persisted that he would have nothing to do with it and Herbert MacIlwaine and I left him bewildered and worried. But, of course, the conference had to be held. It was very well attended, Mr. Sharp came after all and was very obstructive. But eventually we decided to form an association for furthering the collecting and practising of folk dances, a Committee was elected and a Chairman appointed. The Committee met in due time, Mr. Sharp arrived with a pile of books half a yard high and proceeded to advocate the forming of a Constitution very cut and dried and it seemed to some of us quite unsuited for its purpose.
At this time Mr. Sharp was having a serious dispute with the Folk Song Society of which Miss Lucy Broadwood was Honorary Secretary. He said he wanted our new Society to have such a strict constitution that it would be possible to control it in a way impossible with the simple constitution of the Folk Song Society.
We met several times and eventually decided to disband as it was quite impossible to come to any agreement. After that I called a few friends together and we did start a small association with the idea of getting the movement outside the Esperance Girls’ Club. From that day began a
bitter attack by Mr. Sharp on the work we were trying to do.
It is almost impossible to state what the exact quarrel was about. Perhaps, just briefly, it was that Mr. Sharp wanted to make an exact canon for dancing and I wanted it to follow the traditional freedom of the old dancers. However we carried on for six years giving concerts, outdoor shows and teaching all over the country until 1911 when the Folk Dance Society was formed and a definitely rival set of teachers sent out to teach and rival demonstrations organised.
Until then there had been no criticism of the dancing of the girls, no suggestion of their not being in the tradition and faithfully carrying on that tradition. From the hour when the Committee decided to break up as we could come to no decision, the whole atmosphere changed. Mr. Sharp openly opposed everything we did and did not cease from that till the war brought an end to my Club.
I maintained and do so still that the original folk dancers were amateur in the real sense of the word. The words “expert” and “professional” and the establishment of an exact canon seemed to me absurd. But Mr. Sharp was a professional music teacher and could never shake off the atmosphere of the class room, and gradually repudiated all his original acceptance of our girls’ dancing and teaching.