2014, Dancing Spies: Nazi attempts to infiltrate the English folk revival

For most English people in the 1930’s, folk dancing had become an “affectation” practised by “earnest, high-souled young men and women who, stimulated by cocoa and sustained on buns, prance respectably around at folk-festivals”. But a young German visitor to The English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Stratford-upon-Avon Folk Festival in August 1938, who impressed all the teachers with his intense interest in English tradition, had no such genteel motivation. A rising member of the SS, he had been sent to the Festival by his superior in Heinrich Himmler’s Ancestral Inheritance organisation, the Ahnenerbe, as part of Hitler’s strangest plan for the invasion of England. That anyone, let alone the SS, would combine folk dancing with espionage seems more like a plot from an episode of Allo Allo than an episode from history. But not only were Nazi plans to establish a “Germanic” view of English folk traditions in process from the early 1930’s, by 1938 work was already well established.

This paper examines the specific history of the Nazi attempts to infiltrate the English Folk Revival but also looks at the role of folk dance in the “Germanification” of Europe under the Nazis.

Georgina Boyes