City Folk

English Country Dance and the Politics of the Folk in Modern America

352 pages

April, 2010

ISBN: 9780814794692



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Daniel J. Walkowitz is Professor of History and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. He is the author and editor of several books, most recently, Working With Class: Social Workers and the Politics of Middle Class Identity and Contested Histories in Public Space: Memory, Race, and Nation.

All books by Daniel J. Walkowitz

This is the story of English Country Dance, from its 18th century roots in the English cities and countryside, to its transatlantic leap to the U.S. in the 20th century, told by not only a renowned historian but also a folk dancer, who has both immersed himself in the rich history of the folk tradition and rehearsed its steps.

In City Folk, Daniel J. Walkowitz argues that the history of country and folk dancing in America is deeply intermeshed with that of political liberalism and the ‘old left.’ He situates folk dancing within surprisingly diverse contexts, from progressive era reform, and playground and school movements, to the changes in consumer culture, and the project of a modernizing, cosmopolitan middle class society.

Tracing the spread of folk dancing, with particular emphases on English Country Dance, International Folk Dance, and Contra, Walkowitz connects the history of folk dance to social and international political influences in America. Through archival research, oral histories, and ethnography of dance communities, City Folk allows dancers and dancing bodies to speak. From the norms of the first half of the century, marked strongly by Anglo-Saxon traditions, to the Cold War nationalism of the post-war era, and finally on to the counterculture movements of the 1970s, City Folk injects the riveting history of folk dance in the middle of the story of modern America.


  • “Walkowitz has drawn from a plethora of primary and secondary sources, and from his own experience, to produce a fascinating, wide-ranging history of English country dance in Great Britain and the US. . .The transatlantic approach is groundbreaking; no comparable studies exist. The book includes numerous illustrations, detailed endnotes, and a helpful bibliography. Summing Up: Highly Recommended.”


  • “[…] Walkowitz’s conclusion that the English Folk Revival emerged from belief in ‘the redemptive power essential Englishness’ is both succinct and credible; his summary of attitudes within its American equivalent…is persuasive.”


  • “Walkowitz brings the joy of a dancer together with the analytical acuity of a scholar to create a fascinating picture of how English Country Dance reflected the shifting terrain of twentieth-century liberalism. City Folk is a model study of culture and politics.”

    —Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

  • “Richly informative, conceptually exciting, and strikingly original. Walkowitz narrates the stories of compelling characters in the history of English Country Dance, particularly Cecil Sharp and the various figures, mostly women, with whom he dances through the complexities of organizing a movement in two countries. Walkowitz follows this story up to the present, combining analytic, ethnographic, and autobiographical reflections on the recent and contemporary folk dance scene. His authorial stance permits him to engage major questions about modern society, the middle class, and the role culture and cultures play in how people negotiate structural change over time. City Folk will be of interest to a diverse readership that stretches from general readers interested in folk dance and dancers and modern cultural history more broadly, to academic readers in fields including folklore, anthropology, performance, cultural studies, social history, and transatlantic perspectives.”

    —Michael Frisch, University at Buffalo, State University of New York

  • City Folk brings matters of class, nation, and whiteness front and center, reframing the kinds of questions that can be fairly asked of English Country Dancing in the twentieth-century U.S. and Britain. Turning a keen eye on urban cohorts who embraced this dancing, Walkowitz provides a model for joining consideration of things political with things cultural—specifically with practices of the body—and for doing so across disciplinary divides.”

    —Linda J. Tomko, University of California, Riverside