Tall hats and flannel are all the range for Welsh folk dancers. Carys Thomas talks to the Gwerinwyr Gwent about keeping the tradition alive and dancing internationally.

GWERINWYR Gwent is a Welsh folk dancing group which has been running for 38 years who are now made up of 16 members aged between 29 and 70-years-old. The majority of the 16 women and five men are based around Newport with an exception of a couple who travel from Hereford.

The group were established by eight people from the Gwent area in 1976 to try to revive the traditional dance which had started to decline in the 19th century. The team have competed in a mixture of competitions including the National Eisteddfod and Llangollen International Eisteddfod.

Linda Dixon, 58, chairman of Gwerinwyr Gwent, said: "I've been involved for the best part of 30 years, I joined the group in 1980. I started folk dancing while at Swansea University, I joined a folk club there and when I moved to this area I was able to carry on with folk dancing and join this group.

"Welsh folk dancing is a lot of fun, the dances are interesting with the variation from slow to quicker ones. It is very sociable activity. You don't have to have a partner to go dancing, most dances you have a partner but sometimes dances are with one man and three ladies."

Mrs Dixon, of New Inn, Pontypool has been chairwoman of the group for the past three years.

She said: "It's a good exercise and we get to dance to the public and go abroad. Overall it is very nice to be involved with - I enjoy it and I'm still fit enough to do it.

"Personally I've competed with the group in three National Eisteddfods. We weren't terribly successful but I enjoyed it and being on the Eisteddfod stage was worthwhile."

The group practice on Thursday evenings at the Graig Community Hall in Bassaleg. They have three musicians who practice with them; a fiddler, percussionist and a harpist.

Mrs Dixon said: "We make quite interesting patterns in the dances some of which can be quite complex. The reel step is in the majority of dances, which is when you hop on your right foot and take off on your left, take two steps to the right and left for two.

"Some patterns are repeated in other dances but others are quite unique - experienced dancers can do the dance from all the different positions. With slow dances we actually walk and possibly skip as well -my favourite dance is the Pont Abermo."

Sue Venn, who has been a member of the group for the past seven years, said: "The live music in practice helps. It's very joyful and makes me smile. I enjoy the slow dances and the livelier ones.

"I'm English, so I didn't do any folk dancing at school. I discovered Welsh fold dancing and I was hooked. The group are such a friendly bunch, it is a great atmosphere."

The group recently took part in St David's Day celebrations in Caerphilly and participate in an annual open garden day at Llanover House near Abergavenny.

Mrs Venn said: "Lady Llanover was a big champion of Welsh folk dancing. She more or less designed the folk costume, she would have her servants wear the traditional dress around the house.

"Her descendants still live at the house and we go there every year to perform in March in the gardens."

The group have performed in folk festivals across Europe including in Heidenheim, Germany, Latvia and in Greece. They perform in Tredegar House Folk Festival and danced on the gondola of the Newport Transporter Bridge last year while it was stationed in the middle of the River Usk.

Barbara Griffiths, 66, of Rogerstone, said: "We performed on the gondola with Russian and Czech dancers. We didn't get to practice on there before, we had to improvise - it was a new experience to do that."

"It is such a fabulous experience learning about other cultures and folk dances. We went to Greece last September as two of our dancers have moved out there - we got to experience Greek folk dancing, it is quite energetic.

"It's great at Christmas time that I can send cards to so many different countries from meeting them through dancing."

The dance group have set up an annual festival for children called Gwyl Plant Gwent which takes place in Newport, Abertillery, Abergavenny and Cwmbran. Members of the group go into primary school to teach folk dancing workshops.

Mrs Griffiths said: "We are trying to pass down the culture to primary school children in Gwent, there is not as much interest in this area as it is quite Anglicised. We have Twmpaths, where we call up the children to dance.

"When I was head teacher at Ty Sign Primary School in Risca, I used to teach folk dancing to the children. It's important to teach them about Welsh culture."

The former head teacher has been teaching folk dancing for the last 30 years has passed the dancing gene to her daughter Rhian Woolley, who teaches folk dancing and is also a member of Gwerinwyr Gwent.

The dance group includes five Welsh speakers but is short of male members.

Ian Richardson, 62, of Usk, said: "I have been involved with the group for the last seven years. I started folk dancing late in life. It is fantastic , a general phenomenon.

"I took part in English folk dancing and joined the group when I moved to the area. With Welsh folk dancing you need to be a lot more careful on your feet, you use your tip toes a lot more."

The group appeared on the X Factor when they entertained crowds with their rendition of Gangnam Style, the song made famous by South Korean popstar Psy, when they performed outside the Millennium Stadium last year.

Mrs Griffiths said: "It was good fun, we just wanted to show everyone that folk dancers can have fun. They also perform traditional dances to entertain the crowd while they waited.

"The Welsh wool is quite heavy, we only wear the traditional tall hats for performances."