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What are the musical traditions of East Anglia?

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Stepdancing

 

What is stepdancing?

 

Where can you see stepdancing?

 

East Anglian stepdancing on film

 

Stepdance Day 2014

 

Information about Stepdance Days

 

Stepdance Day 2013

 

Previous Stepdance Days

 What is stepdancing?

 

Stepdancing is a vernacular form of tap dancing, where individual dancers improvise a sequence of steps, most frequently to a hornpipe tune. The sound of the steps is probably the most important aspect, and the dance, although energetic is not particularly dramatic. Dancers are usually self-taught, and dance in informal settings mostly in pubs and other social gatherings where there is a suitable atmosphere and music. If more than one dancer is present, they will often dance in turn. These days, stepdancers often carry a wooden board with them, as so many floors are carpeted. Some dancers add blakeys to their shoes to enhance the sound, others prefer a pair of leather-soled shoes.

 

  Brian Whatling                      Percy West                     Richard, Ben & Fiona Davies       Doreen O'Connor        Amy & Jess Chilvers

                                                                                                                                                                     & Lenny Whiting

 

 Where can you see stepdancing?

 

In East Anglia, stepdancing survives outside the rarefied air of the folk festival and club, and is still danced freestyle in pubs and village halls wherever there's some music. Some of the events are listed on our website, and others organised by Rig-a-Jig-Jig in Norfolk or in Suffolk in village halls and pubs will include stepdancers. Our Traditional Music Day attracts many stepdancers every year, and we run several events during the day where you can watch stepdancing, talk to the dancers and have a go yourself, although there is no formal teaching on the day. Since 2006, we have also run a Stepdance Day in the summer, which is a magnet for dancers from all over the region, and includes informal dancing and competitions. See below for details of this year's event, and previous ones.

 

Outside East Anglia, you are most likely to find stepdancing in Devon - the Dartmoor Pixies are a good contact point, featuring Jason Rice in their line-up, and the Dartmoor Folk Festival includes workshops and a competition. There are now pockets of people who are researching and learned traditional stepping - Kent / Sussex / Hampshire being a current hotbed of interest. The research organisation Instep has a website in development which should be helpful in finding such groups around the country.

 

Aside from that, most north country clogging is found in folk circles, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn Lancashire and north east clogging styles: a good starting point to find your local teachers or teams would be to look at your local folk magazine or telephone the English Folk Dance and Song Society (020 745 2206).

 

 

 East Anglian stepdancing on film

 

Cromer lifeboat crew

This film was made by Anglia Television in 1976 in the Bath Hotel in Cromer, and features members of the Davies family dancing to the music of Percy Brown on melodeon. The dancers are: Richard Davies, Dick Davies, Jack Davies, Friday Balls Davies, Shrimp Davies. Members of Richard's family still dance: his daughter Fiona and, on occasion, his grandchildren Ben and Emily.


The Barley Mow

Made in 1955 by Peter Kennedy, this captures something of the atmosphere in a rural pub on a Saturday night, with plenty of songs including old ballads and rousing choruses. With stepdancers Geoff Ling, Eli Durrant, Peter Jay and Lily Durrant dancing to Fred Pearce's melodeon.

 

There are many short clips on YouTube, here are some of the best:

 

Traditional Music Day 2010 Percy West with Katie Howson playing Albert Hewitt's Hornpipe.

 

Diss Corn Hall 2013 - Dominic Smith followed by Percy West with Lindsay Want, John Howson and Katie Howson playing. We were invited to play and dance in the foyer as a warm-up act for John Spiers and Jon Boden's "Backyard Songs" tour -everywhere they played the invited a local traditional musicians in and also played some local items themselves - there is stepdancing from this tour in Devon and Hampshire on YouTube as well - interesting to compare! At Diss, young stepdancers Ella Beal, Catrin & Rhys Pena also danced on stage.

 

Milton Gypsy Festival, Cambridgeshire 2010 featuring Leo Temple (Baker). The clip is mainly singing (which you may well enjoy too!) and Leo dances - as ever, very briefly - to diddling by Yvette Gaskin at 3.42.

 

See also the Old Hat Concert Party page for some clips from the 1980s featuring Font Whatling and Cyril Barber.

 

If you came to Stepdance Day or Traditional Music Day in 2010, you might have seen some filming going on, and you might even have spotted two famous folkies, Rachel and Becky Unthank. All this was to do with a BBC4 programme about traditional dance across the UK. It was first screened in December 2010 and has been regularly repeated - look out for "Still Folk Dancing After All These Years". Look out for Percy West, Leo Baker, Lenny Whiting  and other stepdancers from the east - we're about half-way through it.

 

There is also more information about East Anglian stepdancers on our "profiles of Traditional Musicians" section. See nos 14 - Geoff Ling; 19 - Dick Hewitt - this now includes some sound clips of Dick dancing and his father, Albert, playing;  28 - Font Whatling; 30 - Old Hat Concert Party and 31 - Cyril Barber.

 

Rig-a-Jig-Jig researcher and fiddler Chris Holderness has written some extended articles about traditional musicians and dancers in north Norfolk. These are published on the Musical Traditions website. Click here for a direct link to his article about the Davies family of Cromer.

 

 

 Stepdance Day 2014

 

 

This year's Stepdance Day took place on Sunday 27th July at the Swan Inn in Worlingworth, Suffolk.

 

Winners of the 2014 competitions were: Steve Monk Memorial Stepdance Championship: Simon Harmer and Best Newcomer: Ron Frost; Font Whatling Traditoinal Stepdance Trophy: Simon Ritchie.

 

Photos to follow.

 

Presentations of trophies and certificates are made at Traditional Music Day, during the Stepdance Special in the afternoon, for all those able to be present.

 

 

 Information about Stepdance Day

 

Until 2004, the Steve Monk Memorial Championship was run by the Delarre family in Moreton near Chelmsford in Essex. In 2005 they invited EATMT to run it together with them at the Eels' Foot in Suffolk and in 2006 EATMT stepped in to run it without the Delarres when it would otherwise have been cancelled. Many thanks to Steve, Jayne, Dave and Jamie for setting it up, keeping it going and passing it on!

 

Although the competitions are the main event of the day, stepdancing is not usually a competitive activity, and there are always demonstrations from some of the best dancers and some informal dancing after the competitions as well.

 

We do not run a separate children's competition, as many of the youngsters are as good as the adults. The Steve Monk Memorial Competition has three times been won by under-16s: in 2005 teenager Jessica Chilvers won and in 2011 and 2013 it was won by Ella Beal aged 11 and 13. In 2012 eight year old Alfie Matthews won Best Newcomer.

 

It has been held at the Worlingworth Swan since 2007. The famed stepdance Font Whatling lived just opposite the Swan, and the pub is still very welcoming to musicians and dancers (See Village Portraits page for a new article about the pub).

 

The day is usually enhanced by the arrival of some pony-and-traps as well as a few tunes, songs, and food and fine beer from the pub. The stepdancing takes place in a marquee in the pub’s large garden. There’s plenty of room, but not too many chairs, so bring your own camping chairs if you wish. Simon Ritchie provides an introduction to stepdancing at around 1pm, and there are two competitions open to all-comers, starting at around 2pm. It’s a very informal day, when you are assured of seeing some of the best dancers around, and if you would like to have a go, it’s a good chance to do so, even if you’ve never done so before!

 

The event is free, but we do try and sell you a programme and some raffle tickets in order to cover costs and maybe raise some extra for the Trust. Donations of raffle prizes are gratefully received, either before the date, or on the day.

 

The postcode for the Worlingworth Swan is IP13 7HR. Telephone 01728 627772. For more details, a map and event the OS grid reference (TM224 682), have a look on the Suffolk CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) website.

 

Steve Monk Memorial Competition

 

Open to allcomers - even if you've only had a go for the first time in the preceding workshop, you're encouraged to enter this competition. Dancers have a free choice of music and musician for this competition - there are always several really experienced stepdance musicians around!

 

“Monkey’s” family came from the Framlingham area, and he moved back here from Essex in the 1990s. He was a gifted entertainer, with a relaxed and humorous approach to the sessions he ran. He died suddenly in 2000, and Jayne & Steve Delarre felt it would be a fitting tribute to set up a stepdancing event to encourage other people to take part. One of Monkey’s best mates, Simon Ritchie, a fine stepper himself, remains at the centre of this event every year, and Steve's widow, Marilyn chairs the judging panel.

 

Font Whatling Trophy

 

Started in 2008 by EATMT in memory of the Worlingworth Swan's resident musician and stepper (1919-1998) who was also for a number of years a member of the Old Hat Concert Party and became well known at folk festivals around the country. The aim of this competition is to keep the older style of dancing with hard-soled shoes going and encourage a higher standard. Entrants are not permitted to wear clogs or tap shoes, and have to dance to two specific tunes: Pigeon on the Gate (hornpipe) and Oh, Joe, the Boat is Going Over (polka) played by the same musician for all dancers.

 

Font lived for many years in the house just over the road from the Swan, and played and stepped here on many occasions until his death in 1998. He became interested in playing the melodeon through Walter Read, a renowned local player. Read was blinded in the First World War, but had a tandem, and Font would often steer the two of them through the lanes to a pub that welcomed music. Later he teamed up with Wattie Wright and Eddie Woolnough as “The Three Ws”. Font and Wattie were known for their habit of stepping together, with their arms on each others shoulders, but Font’s personal party piece was to play the melodeon and step at the same time. His stepping style was very rhythmic, and is evident in the dancing of his sons. Font came to wider attention through recordings and books in the 1970s, and through outings around the country with the Old Hat Concert Party in the 1980s and 90s. Font's son Brian is usually on the judging panel for this competition.

 

Dancers are welcome to enter both competitions.

 

Judges include winners of last year's competitions.

 

See below and also the link at the foot of this page for more photos of previous Stepdance Days.

 

 

 Stepdance Day 2013

 

Last year's Stepdance Day took place at The Swan Inn in Worlingworth, Suffolk on Sunday 21st July. It has been held here for several years, as it is where the famed stepdance Font Whatling lived, and the pub is still very welcoming to musicians and dancers.

 

For the first year in quite a while, all the winners were very local, although people had travelled from far and wide to watch and take part.

 

The Steve Monk Memorial Stepdance Championship was eventually won, for the second time, by 13 year old Ella Beal from Framlingham in a dance-off against Doreen West, who took second place, with 15 year old Dominic Smith very close to them both on points. Robert Hunt from Thorndon won Best Newcomer.

 

The Font Whatling Traditional Stepdance Trophy was won by Lenny Whiting from Stradbroke, who was one of the many people present who remembered Font, but one of only a few who had danced to his music! Lenny also won this trophy in 2008.

 

In the midst of the heatwave, we were very lucky that the weather was fine and cooler, allowing people to spread out from the marquee under the trees in the back garden of the pub. As usual we had a couple of pony and traps in attendance and some singing and music after the main business of the day was over. The empty stage even tempted 17 month old Keeley-Sophia Love to have a go (see photo, below right).

 

Presentations of trophies and certificates are made at Traditional Music Day, during the Stepdance Special in the afternoon, for all those able to be present.

 

 

 

Above left: Ella Beal and Lenny Whiting with their trophies (photo: John Halliday)

Above right: Dominic Smith, Keeley-Sophia Love and Steve Matthews (photo: Rachel Robinson)

 

 

Link to Previous Stepdance Days

 


Home      News      Diary of events    About EATMT     Friends of EATMT     

What are the musical traditions of East Anglia?

Traditional Music Day     Melodeons & More      Workshops, classes & schools      Community Projects       

          Profiles of traditional musicians        Research         Jig Dolls        Dulcimers     Stepdancing

Resources      Shop        Links      Press Room     Contact Us