The following article was written by Ed Nightingale for the “Ojai Valley News’s” OJAI GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY – 1921 TO 1971 celebratory booklet (page 10). It is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News.
Folk dancing ‘all for fun’
There were a lot of irate motorists in the Ojai Valley on May 11, 1946. The avenue had been blocked off in front of the arcade to accommodate a throng of strange looking people in odd costumes who had decided to hold the first folk dance festival in the state.
Naturally, nothing went right. The fire department had so watered down the street that nobody could stand up on it for well after the festivities were to begin. Then, the public address system failed to function. In the end, though, they had a jolly old time.
And that was the beginning of what has turned out to be one of the best biennial busts in the state of California. They come here by the thousands to participate or simply watch. It’s all for fun.
Early one morning, the Fire Department was serenaded in Serbian by certain parties from San Diego. Then there was a traffic jam on Ojai avenue in the small hours when Pasadena’s Tartan’s decided to present a Highland Fling in front of the Oaks Hotel. At the same time, a lonely piper from Santa Barbara was blowing his heart out in front of the Village Drug.
Under the leadership of people like David Young, Mary Williams, and Mary Nightingale, the Festival has always striven to obtain the finest exhibition groups in the state. It hasn’t failed. Such organizations as the Gandy Dancers, Cygany, and the Polish Youth Alliance keep coming back in their beautiful costumes because they like to perform here.
The Ojai Folk Dance Festival is held once every two years, usually in April or early May. The next festival will be in 1972. Looking back on 1946, and to cop somebody else’s words, the folk dance people say about the event, “You’ve come a long way, baby”.
In the folk dancing field, Ojai boasts of having one of the number one teachers, Mary Nightingale. Mary has been associated with the Folk Dance Federation for the past 15 years and president of the Festivals since 1964. These Festivals are held in Ojai every two years—a fete that brings thousands of the interested from all over California. Her weekly classes are one of the most popular programs held at the Art Center. She has also taught in Ventura and Santa Barbara. With all this she still finds time to attend the Folk Dance Institutes in Santa Monica, San Jose, San Diego and Long Beach seeking newly imported dances from some small village to add to her repertoire. Mary’s very own favorites are the Scottish country dances from the land of her birth.