John Gardiner-Garden is a dance teacher, researcher, performer, leader, choreographer, organiser and musician (on hurdy-gurdy, border pipes and wooden flute) with 25 years of experience. He is well-respected for the rigour he brings to his historical research, the creativity he brings to his his productions and the enthusiasm he brings to his teaching. He is literate in every dance notation system from the 15th to the19th century and possesses a library of over 200 historic dance manuals. He is Earthly Delights' band leader, dance troupe artistic director, and main dance leader for public classes, workshops and balls. Here is a brief skim through his artistic life-and he regards himself as still all the time learning more about the wonderful world of social dance.
From 1980 to 1986 John danced with Renaissance, Irish, Scottish, Finnish, Australian Colonial and International dance groups in Canberra, learnt dances in many other traditions from visiting dance teachers, and sampled many styles of dancing during various study periods in the former Soviet Union, Europe and Asia.From mid-1986 to 1987 he learnt Baroque, Irish, English country, American contra, Cajun, Tex-Mex, Vintage and Scandinavian dancing in the US and was honoured to receive a scholarship to the Medicino Dance Camp in California.
Upon his return to Canberra in 1987 he started 'Dancing in the Park' and 'Country Dancing' and co-ordinated these series for 4 and 6 years respectively - during which time he helped form such bands as 'Fancy Footwork', called for 'Dancerye', 'Miller's Reel', 'The Porch Band', organised guest appearances by many talented local, interstate and international artists (including Americans, Finns, Swedes, Norwegians and Slovenes), and organised many specialist dance workshops.
During this time John was a guest at folk festivals in Victoria (Yackandandah), the A.C.T. (the National Folk Festival), N.S.W. (Jamberoo, Sydney and Thredbo’s Shakespeare Festival) and Queensland (Maleny)- and danced at the Sydney Opera House with a leading Finnish dance troupe. In 1991 he wrote and published A Country Dance Companion- a book which included a substantial history of social dance in the western European tradition and notes on 180 dances and 120 tunes.
In 1991-92 John was President of the Monaro Folk Music Society and in 1992 he started 'Peasant Wedding', a band which specialised in western European dance music from the 16th to the 20th century and which played for Medieval and French theme Fetes, English country dance nights, multicultural functions, Bohemian balls, American Contradances, Scandinavian and Baltic dance workshops, National Art Gallery evenings, Botanic Garden concerts, spots at National Folk Festivals and Folk Clubs, outdoor fairs and wedding / work / school bush dances.
In 1995 John founded the band 'Earthly Delights'. In 1998-99 he also played at festivals and on radio with the Hungarian band 'Lotsi and Friend', led by fellow Earthly Delights' member Laszlo Lakk. In September 1998 he won a Canberra Critics Circle Music Award for the 32 dances and 90 tunes which he composed for A Book of Earthly Delights and the double CD set A Box of Earthly Delights. He also wrote all the tunes, dances and commentary to the big book and 4 CD set The Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, released in November 2000.
In addition to working with bands, John also works as a solo dance teacher- for example in 1999 in the A.N.U.'s Continuing Education program, the Victorian Folk Dance Weekend at Lorne, Ausdance Professional Development course, and the Illawarra Folk Festival; in 2000 running Brain Gym evening dance courses at the Canberra College Woden campus and various workshops sponsored by Healthpact ACT and in 2001 for the Early Music Weekend at Bundanoon, the A.N.U.'s Young Musician With Talent program and the A.N.U.'s Sports and Recreation 'Dancing through the Ages' courses. In November 2002 John published The Christmas Carol Dance Book, presenting dances he'd written to go with more than 60 carols. Since then he's written another 50 plus dances and 120 plus tunes which he and the band is now leading and performing.
In about 2002 he issued ‘Lost Dances of Earthly Delights: Pleasures for Four Seasons – a book of 64 original dances and over 200 tunes- all composed by himself. The arts magazine The Muse has headlined him as 'The Dancing Master' (February 2004) and the editor of Freefolk.com kindly wrote (Issue 12, March-April 2002) 'I have heard most of what we, in the British Isles and Ireland, have produced but in John Garden we have met our match. He is up there with the very best and the best and leaves most of the rest yapping at his feet'. Throughout the first half of that decade he continued to research, teach, play and compose both dances and tunes.
In 2005, after a decade of constant dance teaching, social dance leading, and dance and dance music composing, John released his two volume book set ‘Lost Dances of Earthly Delights: Volume 1- Pleasures for Four Seasons and Volume 2, Favourites for Four Settings, together with 8 CD he produced with the playing of his band Earthly Delights—the full set presenting 128 dances of his own composing and about 400 tunes of his own composing, together with a work of fiction to explore and satyrise the art of dance composition, reconstruction and transmittion.
No sooner was John finished with that (effectively 10 year) original music and dance project, than he started work on what 8 years later has become his 10 Volume work Historic Dance.
In 2006, 2007 and 2008 John continued with dance teaching about 3 nights a week (including once a week at the Australian National University), continued organising and preparing the repertoire for monthly balls (12 a year for 10 years-each with a different thoughly-researched historic theme), and continued calling, teaching and playing on demand (including at festivals such as the National Folk Festival, St.Vitis Renaissance Dance weekend) and continued to organise and teach dancing, sometimes alongside invited interstate and overseas specialists, at special weekends he and his wife have organised on Renaissance, Baroque, Regency and Victorian era themes. He also during this period directed dozens of costumed live-music dance displays of repertoire from Renaissance, Baroque, Regency and Victorian times at Festivals and open-days-including performances in all these eras at the Governor-General's and twice took a 24 strong Renaisssance dance and music troupe on tour to Queensland. All these performances were all being billed as by Earthly Delights and the Bordonian Heritage Dances, but his dance teaching was starting to be consolidated under the banner of the Earthly Delights Historic Dance Academy ('Australia’s only Academy specialising in dance, music and costume of 1450 to 1900').
In 2009 and 2010 John cut back on his private function playing and his festival appearances but still devoted 2 nights a week to dance teaching, presented 11 historically-themed public balls each year, still organised displays and dance participation for big events (from Parliament House in Canberra to Old Government House in Sydney), still led dancing for special days at schools, and still guested at some festivals (such as the Bundanoon Traditional Dance festival and the Jane Austen Festival Australia). During this period his band members and troupe were billed as 'musicians and dancers from the Earthly Delights Historic Dance Academy' as most had not been part of the earlier Earthly Delights and Bordonian Heritage Dancers line-up. His main musical collaborators had become pianist Sally Taylor. In this perid he also presented a series of public lectures hosted by the Australian Capital Territory Library Service on 'Dance, Dances and Dancing Masters'.
In 2011, in between all his regular dance teaching and displaying commitments, his now slightly-irregular public ball series (Peacock Renaissance Ball, a Russian Arc ball, a Christmas Carol Ball etc), and dancing teaching all day every day for back to back Jane Austen Festival and '19th century dance week', John undertook an 8 week trip which will involve him teaching and leading dances in a dozen different styles, from a dozen different periods at a dozen different places across north America and Europe. He not only enjoy the musical and dance company of some of the northern hemispheres leading dance musicians, teachers, organisers and researchers, but also enjoyed dancing and playing in some wonderful venues with wonderful dance communities in the US, Canada, England and Denmark.
In 2012 John's focus has been on producing a first edition of his magnum opus Historic Dance: 10 volumes of working notes on the Dance, Dances and Dancing Masters of the 1450-1900 ballroom, building a fun dance classes series and on preparing the special events such as a 16 person strong 2 hour long Journey through the Italian Renaissance show to be staged in the theatre of the National Gallery of Australia, 6 days of 'English dance from Shakespeare to Austen', and miscellaneous other displays with themes from the Renaissance to Dickens.
In all the above endeavours, John has had the invaluable assistance of his wife, Aylwen Gardiner-Garden.