American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 28, Number 3
December, 2008

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 In Celebration of Morris in America  

The Reading Cloggies in the DVRA:
Part I -- Solo Dancers in Performers' Showcases
Tony Barrand


Cloggies? Who or what are "cloggies"? It's an uncomplimentary, joking way the English have of referring to Morris dancers, especially those doing "North-west" or processional dances, obviously, in clogs. It seems to have been originated by cartoonist Bill Tidy in the satirical magazine Private Eye where, from 1967 to 1981, he ran a strip: "The Cloggies, an Everyday Saga in the Life of Clog Dancing Folk". Parodying the eternally-running BBC radio soap opera of rural farm life, "The Archers", it was a satire of northern and urban British male culture, particularly those parts related to Lancashire clog-dancing. Collections of the cartoons were published between 1969 and 1977; The Cloggies (1969), The Cloggies Dance Again (1973) and The Cloggies are Back (1977) sold widely in England and solidified the use of the term.
 

Cover of Bill Tidy's 1969 Book



They had their imitators: for example, in 1968 a group of students at University Hall, Buckland, Oxfordshire copied the costume, dancing and drinking behavior as closely as they could.

The Cloggies of University Hall, 1969


However, while some Americans do use the invented word "Morrisers" to refer to dancers who might read this newsletter, they do not have the term "Cloggies". Many dancers from the north of England, however, disliked being associated with the joke. The brilliant Lancashire clog dancer, Pat Tracey, was one. A dancer on her team (Tony Severs) told me that Pat insisted on her team being known as Camden Clog, definitely not "Camden Cloggies". Others were comfortable with the tag as a nickname, notably Reading Cloggies, formally called Reading Traditional and Step Dance Group. They were formed in 1965 by dancers familiar with the work of the late Tom Flett. From 1979 to 2002, they hosted an annual clog and step dance festival in the fall using a four-part format:

  1. Workshops on different step or clog routines stretching over morning and afternoon sessions with a "workshop showcase" (what Americans might call a "show-and-tell") at the end of the afternoon;

  2. A post-lunch "performers' showcase" typically featuring the workshop leaders and invited teams;

  3. A scholarly lecture/demonstration by a luminary and, often, their associated team;

  4. What the English call a "barn dance", open to the public, with a caller and popular band. Unlike American contra dances, it usually included a standard drum set, electric bass and other electrified instruments. While it would shock American folkies, "folk rock" is standard at English barn dances. A few of the Reading festival barn dances had performances by selected individuals or teams. Other than these few performances, the barn dances were not recorded.

THE READING CLOGGIES FESTIVAL COLLECTION

From 1993 to 2002, funded by Reading Cloggies, Wizard Video Productions produced "official" VHS tapes, some as video and some as DVD. They can still be purchased.

I bought some of these when I was at festivals in 1994 and 1995 teaching clog dances I had learned from Anna Mae Marley of Rockville, CT. These I digitized and added to the DVRA. They were added again as part of the Reading Cloggies Collection after Mike Cherry, one of the founders of the Reading team, recently gave me his set of all ten Wizard videos. Another Reading dancer and researcher, Chris Brady, came to the U.S. to visit my teacher Anna, and was responsible for persuading me to teach at the Reading weekend in 1994 and to take a group of seven "New Dancing Marleys" to dance at the festival in 1995. He completed the set of videos as far as is possible when he donated copies of films made at the festivals in 1990 and 1992 as well as other videos made or funded by the Reading Cloggies. The other videos he gave to my collection focus on solo clog dancers such as Bill Gibbons, Sammy Bell, Sam Sherry, and Pat Tracey will be examined more closely in later articles.

Mike and Chris gave me permission to add these recordings to the DVRA. They represent the 12th (1990) and 14th - 24th (1992 - 2002) festivals. These years and numerical orders can be used as search terms: e.g. the participants for the 1997 festival can be found by searching on +Reading +19th (or +1997). As is standard practice for the DVRA, I have separated the recordings into clips of distinct performances identified by team name, performer, workshop leader or lecturer. All will be listed from a search in chronological and sequential order.

THE PERFORMERS' SHOWCASE

The first two parts of this essay will focus on the individual and team performers taking part in the two opportunities to show and show-off their skills: the post-lunch Performers' Showcase and, on occasion, the Barn Dance. These constitute about one hundred performances. The vast majority are types of English clog dancing by solo or group performers with small numbers by exponents of Irish stepping, Welsh clog dancing, Canadian forms stemming from Scottish dancing, and Quebecois stepping. America is represented by forms mostly derivative from Appalachian clogging or "flatfooting" and English versions of what could only be called "Tap". Finally, in the later years of the Reading festival, the stepping workshops included rapper sword and Cotswold Morris.

Jig Dolls

We'll examine them all but start the way Chris Brady as "Compere" (or "MC") begins a couple of shows: with performers showing Jig Dolls. Pat Pickles regularly brought her extensive set of jig dolls to the festival and began the 15th performers' showcase in 1993 with an unusual Polish set of dancing dolls. In the same show, an Irish expert on the set dances, Val Knight, showed a jig doll duet of Irish-style step dancers.

Solo English Clog

The early years of the festival brought several major figures in English clog dancing, many now deceased, to teach and perform. Chief among them was Pat Tracey who learned her dancing from her mother. Pat was very loyal to the Reading festival and, in 1990, even cancelled an appearance in London where she was to receive her gold badge which was to be awarded by the English Folk Dance and Song Society for distinguished lifetime contributions.

Her distinctive "Old Lancs" (Lancashire heel and Toe), seen here, she performed many times in these recordings as well as much of the rest of her enormous repertoire including an unaccompanied Military Drum Roll routine.

Another important regular was Alex Woodcock, originally from Alnwick (pronounced "ANN-ICK") in Northumberland. Introduced by MC Chris Brady as "…a gentleman who dances clog like you have not seen clog danced before", Alex demonstrates his smooth, elegant style with a set of waltz steps that he danced, unusually, "off both feet": first to one side and then the other. His elegance and formal bows were completely at home with his primary dance form: ballroom dancing which he taught right up until his death in November 2006.

Another of the now deceased "greats" of English clog dancing, Sam Sherry, taught at the Reading Cloggies festivals represented by these clips but was never in good enough health to perform solo [N.B. there are plenty of clips of Sam himself dancing elsewhere in the DVRA]. Instead he was represented by most of his several protégés: "Sam Sherry's Polka" by Melanie Barber; jig steps from Peter Clifton, and his "Exhibition Steps" from Chas Fraser.

A treasured memory of mine was from 1995 at Reading when Sam was in the audience as his last and, some would say, best student, Harry Cowgill, performed Sam's Jig when my troupe of the New Dancing Marleys danced in the performers' Showcase.

There are over sixty solo performers (see APPENDIX 1 at the end of this article for a list), and most showed forms of English dancing and were very good. I urge readers to use the list of names to explore them with the search ability of the DVRA. I recommend either by searching on the name enclosed in quotation marks (e.g. "Ian Dunmur") or with multiple keywords (e.g +Reading +Dunmur ). A few deserve special attention. Ian Dunmur is one. Recently deceased, he was a key member of Reading Cloggies as a dancer and musician, and a specialist in the Lakeland-style reel steps collected by Tom and Joan Flett. He was justifiably famous for his 17-step Lakeland clog.

Another was Brenda Walker who had won the Durham championship in 1979 when I danced in the novice competition.  I was unable to arrange or persuade Brenda to let me film her dancing on my field trip that year so I was thrilled to discover performances by her and her daughter (also a champion dancer). Brenda learned from Johnson Ellwood who also taught my first clog teacher, Peter Brown. His only clog dance is the championship hornpipe steps he learned as a boy from Johnson but he presents them more like the Morris and rapper street performer that is his normal milieu.

In contrast with Peter's flamboyant style, Jennifer Hill moves her amazing feet with a shy personality. As a young girl, she won various competitions around England. The competitions generally are based on the rhythm the English call a "Hornpipe" with steps danced off both feet. In this clip, wearing the belt she won, Jennifer dances her "Lancashire and Cheshire Saddleworth Rushcart Championship Clog".

Finally, I'll mention a stunning clog dancer I had never seen before adding these Reading tapes to my collection. Jane Pollitt learned as a girl from such great Lancashire dancers, Sam Sherry and Pat Tracey, and was a three-time winner of the Lancashire and Cheshire Clog championship. Definitely a second generation (what some might call a "revival") performer, she has what seems to me to be a most attractive modern style.

Tap

It is fascinating to me that a very able English contemporary step dancer such as Jane Pollitt stuck to the English clog format. Others, of course, drew on the American forms of tap and Appalachian clogging which allow more opportunities for personal expression. A successful English tap dancer, Ronnie Collis, started a conventional American-style tap school in Northampton, England but kept up connections to Reading Cloggies. Given that English dancers mostly do not maintain a pedestal dance, of particular interest to me is his vaudeville-style ragtime routine on a small table.

Appalachian-style Clogging

While Ira Bernstein did demonstrate and teach "the real thing" in Appalachian-style clogging, the freestyle flatfooting remains the most popular stepping form in England with its own home-grown heroes, notably Ross Allen.

Welsh-style Clog Dancing

The other component countries of the British Isles, of course, have their passionate exponents who do not look elsewhere for inspiration. Welsh clog dancing has been an unbroken tradition with living exponents but has undergone a revival in the last years of the twentieth century that attracted younger devotees. Two of these, Osian Evans and Aron Davies showed "Her y Dafern", simulating a Tavern Contest between dancers.

Irish step dancing

Since Riverdance, no one can question the popularity of the contemporary, high speed Irish styles of step dancing, but the Reading festival had some glorious exponents of the older and slower but elegant forms. Mick Mulkerrin was a classic performer and teacher of the sean nos, an old style of step dancing that originated in the Connemara region on the west coast of Ireland. Showing a similar, calm, leather shoe style of dance, Céline Turbridy, was "...a lovely dancer", as MC Chris Brady put it. Accompanied by her husband on flute, Ms. Turbridy showed "A Job of Journey-work", an Irish traditional set dance in the old style, as collected from Dan Furey and James Keane.

In part 2 of this essay, we'll look at the groups that performed at the Reading Festivals.



APPENDIX 1 (NAMES OF SOLO PERFORMERS AT THE READING CLOGGIES FESTIVALS 1990 - 2002)

APPALACHIAN CLOGGING
Allen, Ross
Bernstein, Ira
Hamburger, Lynne
Walser, Bob
Young, Julie

CANADIAN STEP DANCING
Harmer, Jo and Simon
McConnell, Frank
Bernstein, Ira
Chartrand, Pierre

IRISH STEP DANCING
Mulkerrin, Mick
Patrick O'Dea
Tubridy, Céline

SOLO ENGLISH CLOG
Allison, Francis
Barber, Melanie
Barrel, Nina
Bell, Sammy
Boydell, Alex
Brady, Chris
Brookman, Penny
Brown, Jack
Brown, Peter
Cherry, Mike
Clifton, Peter
Cowgill, Harry
Craigs, Ian
Davies, Carrie
Dawson, Ray and Dawn
Dunmur, Ian
Floyd (née Flett),Jane
Ford, Gill
Foster, Jenny
Franklin, Julie
Fraser, Chas
Hargreaves, Alison
Hill, Jennifer
Hitchcock, Rachel
Hutchinson, Paul
Inglehearn, Madeleine
James, David
Knightingale, Kay
Lesley Gowers
Lynette Eldon
Metherell, Chris
Moore, Annie
Naylor, Gwen
Nutter, Carol
Pointeer, Sharon
Pollitt, Jane
Randall, Sarah
Smith, Jean
Tracey, Pat
Walker, Brenda
Watson, Gemma
Wilson, Ednie
Woodcock, Alex

JIG DOLLS
Pickles, Pat
Knight, Val

TAP
Bernstein, Ira
Brookman, Penny
Collis, Ronnie
Daybles, Becky
Keen, Sophi
Victory, Dennis

WELSH CLOG DANCING
Cherry, Mike
Evans, Osian
Davies, Aron

 
 © American Morris Newsletter  ISSN: 1074-2689