When the revival side started, it was decided to base the style on the Wychwood sides – Leafield, Ascott-Under-Wychwood etc. – as it was thought that contact with these sides was more likely than the likes of Bampton or Stanton-harcourt. Not only was there evidence for this in Sharp’s notes, but there had been times when the sides shared a musician between them. Based on this, it was decided that an energetic, almost athletic style should be aimed for, which meant that the music should be played quite slowly, to ensure that there was time for all the steps and movements to be carried out properly, and to give the impression of staying in the air for a long time. This not only makes demands on the energy and fitness of the dancers, but has also resulted in a style that places certain demands on the musician. Different steps take different lengths of time when they are all performed slowly, depending on the height, and also depending on the individual dancer. This results in a requirement for a certain variation in tempo throughout the dance. The musician has therefore to pay close attention to the dancers to ensure that the tempo remains optimised. A certain amount of compromise is needed when playing for a set of six and only experience will tell the musician which dancer to concentrate on. There is therefore very much a two-way communication going on between dancers and musician and it can take a long time to learn this.
Note that, in all this, ‘musician’ is singular; if more than one musician is playing, the difficulties increase. We do sometimes have more than one playing, but in that case one is required to clearly lead.
For solo or double jigs the process of adapting the music to the dancers is taken further. The solo dancer is free to be more expressive and individualistic, resulting in greater variation in tempo and energy. The musician must work even harder to synchronise with the dancer, as it is the dancer who is directing, much as in Flamenco. Some people watching have not appreciated this, (possibly not used to dancing to anything other than a strict tempo) and have commented that the musician is holding the dancer back at times. Until this style of dancing has been tried it is difficult to appreciate the mutual help that dancer and musician can give.
There are certain techniques that can be used to even out the timing of the steps and this is needed for those dancing in a set. There are also tricks, which make it look like more time is spent in the air than is actually the case. Neither of these is used for the sake of it, but to try and give the dancing a smooth, flowing, and almost laid-back style, whilst maintaining the energetic feel. They also help as the encroaching years take their toll, as well as being kinder on muscles and joints.
Inevitably, in nearly twenty-five years the style has changed, although it is only subtly. I think that this is probably because as originally devised it was enjoyable and satisfying. It is not easy, but the challenge of doing it well means that boredom is less likely and therefore there is no need to look for change. The side went mixed a few years ago and there was the possibility that this would make a big difference to the style, as there seems to be significant differences between other men and women’s sides- (huge generalisation obviously, but I think there is a definite trend) but in the event I think that what has happened is renewed enthusiasm and new blood have raised the standard back up.