Douglas Neil Kennedy

(1893—1988) folk musician and dancer

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(1893–1988). By profession a biologist, but his life's work turned out to be the revival and encouragement of folk dance through the auspices of the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS) and its successor English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). Kennedy was introduced to dancing by his sister in 1911, just at the moment when Cecil Sharp was planning to found the EFDS, and was immediately brought under the spell of Sharp's enthusiasm and sense of mission. He became a regular in Sharp's demonstration team which he used to illustrate his lectures and spread the gospel, and as one of the few of Sharp's young men to survive the First World War (he was awarded an MBE for his service), Kennedy (and his wife Helen, sister of Maud Karpeles) became leading lights in the burgeoning revival of interest in both country and morris dancing. On Sharp's death in 1924, Kennedy became Organizing Director of the EFDS and remained Director of the EFDSS until 1961. In that time he was the major organizing force in the dance revival and guided the Societies through many crises brought about by changing circumstances and attitudes, in particular over ‘standards’ of performance and the scrapping of Society examinations, broadening the repertoire of social dance from an over-reliance on the courtly Playford dances to more vigorous traditional dances being collected in English villages and later to include American square dancing, and the need for such a society to adapt, or die. He taught, demonstrated, edited, lectured, organized festivals, led delegations abroad, and remained the official public face of folk dance for decades. Kennedy was awarded an OBE in 1952. When he died, in 1988, the last direct link with Sharp was severed, and it is probably true to say that, after Sharp, Douglas Kennedy was the most influential person in the 20th-century folk dance revival movement.

Kennedy also served as President of the Folklore Society 1964–7, and his three Presidential Addresses are concerned with the concept of ‘Human Ecology’ and show his continued interest, as a biologist, in the physical world of dance and song, and on the expression of ‘feeling’ in traditional cultural activities (Folklore 76 (1965), 81–9; 77 (1966), 81–90; 78 (1966) 81–9. His only major book was England's Dances: Folk Dancing To-Day and Yesterday (1949), revised as English Folk Dancing Today and Yesterday (1964).

From A Dictionary of English Folklore in Oxford Reference.

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