Sidmouth FolkWeek ‘monitoring debate’ after blackface ban at Shropshire event

Sidmouth folk festival 2016. Ref shs 31-16TI 5720. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth folk festival 2016. Ref shs 31-16TI 5720. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth FolkWeek bosses are ‘monitoring the situation’ after their up-country counterparts decided to ban performers in ‘blackface’.

Shrewsbury Folk Festival organisers said the practice – a morris dancing tradition – was no longer welcome at their event after they were threatened with legal action by an equality group.

Despite saying there were ‘no racial connotations’, from next year they will not book dancers wearing full black face paint.

FolkWeek organisers have yet to make a decision on the issue.

A spokeswoman said: “It is an issue which is current among the traditional dance fraternity in the UK, with strong feelings evoked on all sides.

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“FolkWeek has always been sensitive to race equality issues and deplores any form of racial discrimination.

“At least one side at this year’s festival experimented with a variety of facial colours, as well as their traditional black – this initiative coming from within the team itself, before they arrived at the festival.

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“Other teams, which appear regularly at Sidmouth, have already adopted different approaches, including masks to emphasise the disguise aspect, which was the original reason for blacking faces.”

Shrewsbury Folk Festival was accused of racial harassment and threatened with legal action by FRESH (Fairness and Racial Equality in Shropshire) after performances in full black make-up in the town centre.

Organisers said they were ‘caught between two sides of this opposing argument’ so they were phasing out booking those groups that use it. Some groups next year may wear partial black make-up.

The Sidmouth FolkWeek spokeswoman said: “We will continue to consult with the dance teams themselves, our festival attendees and other relevant and interested parties regarding teams wearing traditional disguise, but will take note particularly of any developments within the traditional dance world.”

She said it should be noted that in all of FolkWeek’s years as an international festival, there were ‘no negative responses at all’ to English dancers wearing traditional disguise, including from visiting performers.

She added: “However, today, different considerations are being brought to bear, hence the debate.”

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