Kyklos International Folk Dancers have a long and storied history linked with Reed College in Portland OR.
Art Leigh and his wife Dorothy, Ted and Gloria Wright, and George and Ann Hay started the folk dance group in the mid-late 1960s. In the early days participants were mainly Reed faculty, alumni, and friends. Reed students had their own dance group.
Grace Houghton had run the International Group on Scholls Ferry Rd. for many years, and agreed to run the Reed College group. Art Leigh liked the name Kyklos, but Grace preferred the Meridians, so that’s what they were called for a long time.
Later on, Pearl Atkinson joined Grace Houghton in leading the group. Pearl was the director and a teacher of women’s Physical Education at Reed College, and encouraged her dance students to participate with the Meridians (which became Kyklos).
Pearl arranged for several well-known European folk dancers to come to Reed and teach. She also found ways to fund students and send them to the yearly folk dance camp at Stockton, California. Some of the older people went to Stockton, too. It’s a great way to learn new folk dances. Dancers who attend Stockton Folk Dance Camp often bring back dances they learn there to enhance the repertoire of the group.
Originally the folk dancers met in the old gymnasium, which is where the swimming pool is now. Then they met in the old Student Union building that burned down in 1969. Next they moved to the new sports arena, the upper smaller gym, now called the Women’s Gymnasium.
At first, the music was on records, played on a turntable that was housed in the gym where we danced. Later the music was gradually transferred to individual tapes. We danced in the Women’s Gym for a long time, until the sports folks put some substance on the floor that interfered with dancing. That’s when we moved up to the Dance Studio, where we continue to meet weekly in non-Covid times, except for a brief winter break and the month of August.
In 1989 Ralph Pratt and Art Leigh’s wife Ruth Newbury led for a year. Then Ruth dropped out. Ralph led for 13 years in all, along with his wife Evie Pratt, who kindly shared much of this history with us. Leading the group consisted of transporting the equipment every week, making a program, teaching of some of the dances, and monitoring the group during the evening to be sure everyone was having an enjoyable time. Ralph shared his wonderful sense of humor along with his knowledge of folk dancing to make for a very enjoyable experience for participants.
In 2002 Ralph’s declining health required him to relinquish leadership of the group. At that time 14 dancers stepped up to try to fill Ralph’s shoes. We organized ourselves into six pairs of leaders, one director of the leadership group and a person to handle the equipment. After a year or two the equipment arrangement changed and the people who were to lead the following week would take the equipment home the previous week and then bring it back.
In 2003 the leadership group decided to use some of its money to purchase equipment that would allow the music to be played out of a laptop computer. Bob Epstein did the project of converting all the tapes to a format for the computer. This project simplified the process of making the program, running the music and transporting the equipment.
In April 2020 during the Covid pandemic lockdown we made the move to Zoom, continuing to dance weekly on Sunday evenings connected by the internet.
There have been quite a few changes in the personnel of the leadership group over the years, but several people have been in it since the beginning. See our Contact page for the latest list of teams who take turns running the dance evenings.
Written by Mimi Epstein, informed by emails from Evie Pratt, who also spoke with Art Leigh, all in 2010.