CDSSP is one of the oldest English folk dance groups in the U.S. and is a branch of the Country Dance & Song Society. The group was founded by English musicologist Cecil Sharp in 1915, when he taught and lectured here in Pittsburgh for several days, numbering among his students the novelist Willa Cather and her friends Isabelle McClung and May Willard. Of his visit Sharp later wrote: “I worked terribly hard at Pittsburgh, taking five and six hours’ classes each of the four days I was there and lecturing three times.” Of her experiences, Willa Cather recalled that May proved the best dancer of the three of them, but that all “regained a youthful exuberance from the dancing classes.”
With such a distinguished beginning, Pittsburgh has long enjoyed a tradition of English country dancing. The current group can trace its beginnings to mid-1950s, when dances were held at various members’ houses. CDSSP burgeoned with its annual participation in the Pittsburgh Folk Festival and at other festivals and celebrations in the western Pennsylvania area.