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2014 sees the 50th Anniversary of the Billingham International Folklore Festival of World Dance (BIFF). Each year, Billingham has linked its community to a global network through dance – the oldest form of personal expression. This colourful mixture of music, rhythm and culture overcomes political boundaries, and has helped forge Billingham’s distinctive place identity.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Billingham U.D. Council had developed a new traffic free shopping centre. Traditionally Billingham residents went to the larger and established shopping centres of nearby Stockton & Middlesbrough. To attract shoppers the Council organised entertainment in the centre, which, because it was traffic free lent itself to such performances.

On one such Saturday an Irish Dance Troupe led by a Sunderland head teacher, Phil Conroy performed on the Town Square and attracted a large and enthusiastic audience. At the end of the show Mr. Conroy happened to mention that his group had just returned from the continent where they had performed at a week long folklore festival. He also remarked that the town centre would be an ideal setting for such a festival. Councillors present liked the idea. So was the Billingham Festival born in 1965. Billingham then became a founder member of CIOFF- the international organisation of folklore festivals and Phil Conroy became its General Secretary, a post he held until his death.

From small beginnings - only Austria, Estonia and Hungary were represented at the first festival -and now in its 50th year, over the years the Festival hosted over 15000 performers from more than 90 countries of the World, and each year it hosts 8-10 groups with over 400 artists from abroad and presents the best world of traditional dance and song has to offer.

To commemorate the 50 years of dance in Billingham we are launching the Billingham Festival Virtual Museum, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

We will be delighted if you could share with us your memories of the festival, your photos and video.

We would like to thank everyone who send us their personal archives, photos and videos, especially:

Kaye Poole (Heddon on the Wall)

David McNeill (who sent us the photo archives of festival early years, taken by his dad Chris McNeill)

Karen Smith (Billingham)

Nick Whelan (Northallerton) (who sent us photo and video archives of his dad Tony Whelan)

Joe Pearson Billingham) 

Please browse through our festival archive collection and leave share your memories with us.

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