The Old Sod Folk Music Society and its dance series
We're a volunteer-run, non-profit organization that promotes contra dancing and contra dance musicians/callers in Canada's national capital. During the dance season (September - June), the Old Sod Society sponsors at least three dances a month. We also organize the occasional special event such as a winter dance weekend, workshops, and concerts.
In November 2008, the organizers of the two long-running Ottawa dance series (Old Sod Society 20 years; Ottawa Valley Contra Dance 10 years) met with a group of community members who shared an interest in becoming involved with dance organization. After having an open meeting to which all dancers were invited, a committee was formed to organize the dances. With renewed energy and excitement, the merged dance committee has infused some new ideas while keeping all of the great aspects of what had been in place over the years. More information on the history of the two organizations can be found further down on this page.
So who's on the Contra Committee now? They are...
Catherine Burns, Cheryl Arratoon, Emily Addison, Esther Fraser,
Peter Simonyi, Neville Miller, and Stephen Gabe
A special note that 2014-2015 marked our 25th Anniversary. In September 2014, Catherine Burns and the Old Sod Band were interviewed on CKCU's Canadian Spaces about the organization AND band's 25th anniversary. Listen here!
All members of the dance community are encouraged to become involved in the organization of the dances, whether at the broader level, by helping out at the dances or with outreach. ou can contact members of the committee to get involved or for any other reason. Committee contacts are listed here.
Past years dance schedules are available at these links:
Mission of the Old Sod Folk Music Society of Ottawa
In 2013, we engaged in a visioning exercise with our dance community, collecting feedback about how they envision the organization and where they would like to see it go in the future. From this, we worked to develop a new mission statement to guide the organization. Here it is:
Our mission is to provide an affordable opportunity for our community to participate in well-run, vibrant, exciting, and energetic contra dances with live music on a regular basis. We aim to provide a fun, friendly, welcoming and inclusive social atmosphere and work to foster a strong sense of community. We actively pursue a goal of offering a program to dancers with a wide variety of ages, skill level and abilities. We are an all volunteer non-profit organisation with an active, involved organising committee and we encourage all of our dancers to volunteer in the running of the dances. Our aim is to have well-informed and committed volunteers who are a very important part of our community.
The Musicians and Callers
Our goal is to offer programs with a variety of high quality musicians and callers, both local and touring talent, experienced and newer talent and more traditional with more modern genres. We also try to ensure that all of our musicians and callers have a positive experience when they come to perform at our dances.
Everyone is welcome at our dances regardless of age and experience. We work hard to make sure that everyone has a good time and that beginners feel part of our community. We offer our dancers the opportunity for physical, social and intellectually engaging activity and we have special events to strengthen our community such as potlucks and after dance get togethers.
In addition to regularly programmed contra dances we host special afternoon dances to give dancers diverse opportunities and we promote traditional song and music by hosting concerts and song sessions. We also support the growth of local talent by offering musician and caller workshops.
A history of the Ottawa Valley contra dance series
The Ottawa Valley Contra Dance Series was the younger of the two series in Ottawa. However, it was not that new having started with its first dance on November 7th 1998.
Shindigo playing at the Ottawa Folk Festival
Instigated because Shindigo (a local band including James Stephens, Greg Brown, Duncan Gillis, Rob Graves, Ken Harper, Ian Clark, Chris Bartos, & Ken Easton) was interested in playing dances, John Argus lead the organization of the dances for 10 years until the merger of the two series. Shindigo was the house band during the early years of the series and later John booked a wide variety of callers and bands.
Ottawa Valley Contra Dances were always held at the All Saints Anglican Church in the Sandy Hill neighbourhood of Ottawa and, for most of the duration of the series, occurred approximately once a month.
Callers that performed as part of the Ottawa Valley contra dance series included:
Bands that performed as part of the Ottawa Valley contra dance series included:
A history of the Old Sod Folk Music Society, its concert series, and dances
The Old Sod Folk Music Society of Ottawa was founded by Ian Robb and Gord Peeling in the early 1980s as a non profit corporation promoting traditionally-based folk performance in Ottawa. The name "Old Sod" arose as a reference to the type of music promoted by the organization - that of British and Irish origin, quite literally meaning "the old country". At one time, there were up to 12 members on the Old Sod Society Board of Directors! Catherine Burns was heavily involved in the early years of the Old Sod Folk Music Society and later became the lead organizer of the contra dances.
The Friends of Fiddlers Green
For the first 15 years, the organization presented regular concerts by top touring artists from both sides of the Atlantic, mostly in relatively informal community hall settings. Look below for a list of the artists featured in this series. In March 1999, the Board of Directors announced their decision to cease promoting concerts given declining attendees at concerts. Many regular concert attended lamented the demise of the series but market realities could not be ignored. Examples of the newsletters and concert posters from this time are available below.
In 1998, responding to a perceived interest in more participatory community events, the Old Sod sponsored its first contra dance with local callers and a house band comprised of local musicians - the first contra dances in the Ottawa area. The house band for the dances eventually became the Old Sod Band, and has played monthly dances with house caller Catherine Burns, ever since. The band, usually a 5 or 6 piece, currently draws on a roster of great Ottawa musicians including James Stephens, Ian Robb, Ann Downey, Tim Cutts, Ian Clark, Philip Murphy, Greg T. Brown, and Duncan Gillis. More on the Old Sod Band, visit their website.
The first dances in Ottawa were held at the Champlain Field house, a little hall north of Scott Street - dances were free. Later the dance series moved to the McNab Community Centre and then to the Multicultural centre/Firefighters community hall on Richmond Road before finding its final home at All Saints Anglican Church in Sandy Hill.
In November 2000, The Old Sod produced Ottawa's first ever dance weekend. Called "Hey Fever", the weekend was such a success that it became an annual event. After five consecutive years, the committee that organized the weekend decided to organize the odd special event in lieu of organizing a full dance weekend.
Click below to look at various PDFs of the Old Sod Society newsletter and concert posters.