We are delighted to learn that between 2019-2021, Instep Research Team have kindly sponsored stepdance day as well as other trust-run stepdance projects. You can find out more information about the Instep Research Team on their website here.
During Lockdown 2020, we have created this new page on Stepdance Day and will be adding details of past events to it in due course. If you spot any errors or omissions that you think should be included, please do get in touch: email@example.com.
Information about Stepdance Day
Until 2004, the Steve Monk Memorial Championship was run by the Delarre family in Moreton near Chelmsford in Essex.
Steve “Monkey” Monk’s family came from the Framlingham area, and he moved back there 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 his friends, Jayne & Steve Delarre, felt it would be a fitting tribute to set up a stepdancing event to encourage other people to take part. Another of Monkey’s best friends, Simon Ritchie, a fine stepper himself, for many years was at the centre of this event, and Steve’s widow, Marilyn chaired the judging panel every year until 2018.
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! From 2007 to 2015 it was held at the Worlingworth Swan in central Suffolk. The famed stepdancer Font Whatling lived just opposite the Swan, which unfortunately closed in 2016 (see Village Portraits page for an article about the pub). In 2017, it took place on Sunday 16th July at Occold Village Hall, and in 2018 it took place on Sunday 20th July at the Blaxhall Ship Inn. In 2019 it moved to Norfolk invited by the Strumpshaw Tree Fair organisers which is where it should have also taken place in 2020.
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.
The day is usually enhanced by a few tunes, songs and even a bit of beer! There is an introduction to stepdancing at around 2pm, a workshop to anyone who wants to have a go and then there are now three competitions open to all-comers. 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!
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.
In previous years, the event has been free, but we have sold programmes and some raffle tickets in order to cover costs and maybe raise some extra for the Trust.
For 2019, we were invited by the organisers of the Strumpshaw Tree Fair to join them in their Dance Tent. This means our audience has to pay an entrance fee to the Tree Fair – though a modest one (£10/£5 concession/free U16s). The Trust does not receive any payment for these entry fees but we feel with a footfall of over 5,000 in 2018, this invitation gives the Trust a great opportunity to showcase a very East Anglian Tradition.
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!
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 was often on the judging panel for this competition.
Dancers are welcome to enter both competitions.
Judging panels include winners of last year’s competitions.
The Percy West Plate
This Plate was introduced to the event in 2016 by the Suffolk Stepper’s wife Doreen. This is presented to a dancer by Doreen, also a respected dancer, who she feels has particularly contributed to Stepping over the year.
Percy was one of 17 children and was born in a gypsy Reading wagon. His family (O’Connor-West) was recorded in July 1956 by Peter Kennedy where he made recordings of songs, stepdancing and harmonica playing from a number of the family and you can hear them online via the British Library (links from the Peter Kennedy Archive). Some of these recordings can be heard on a DVD produced by Neil Lanham called “The Last of Old England – A Celebration of Life” – a film set in a Suffolk pub which features several horsemen who arrive with pony and traps, musicians and dancers.
Talking in an interview with the Suffolk Magazine in 2011 Percy says he started dancing when he was about 6 years old. “My mother had 17 children: 10 boys and 7 girls, we nearly all danced. My dad’s brothers, Duke and Noah, they danced, played the melodeons and harmonica too. We lived in a horse-drawn caravan and spent half our life outside”. Stepdancing was a way of life and was entertainment during the fruit picking seasons with other gypsy families. The West family obviously had a natural flair for it because members of the family won competitions and featured in a variety of recordings. Percy remembered with pride his brother Nelson stepdancing (and coming second) on a talent show on the television in the 1950s.
As well as winning EATMT’s competitions over the years, Percy also won the Blaxhall Ship’s Sovereign Competition for several years running as his wife Doreen recalled in an interview for Mardles.org in 2018. His favourite tune to step for was Grandfather’s Hornpipe.
Leo’s [Temple Baker] Tribute to Percy West is a delightful dedication to Percy made shortly after his death, filmed by John Haggar at the 2015 Traditional Music Day.
Marilyn was Steve’s wife and an annual judge at this event. In 2018 she was too poorly to attend the event and we are sad to announce that she passed away in the Autumn of 2018. She will be greatly missed.
2020 Stepdance Day has gone virtual
The organsiers of Strumpshaw Tree Fair have been busy collating photos and videos from their normal contributors – artists, artisan producers, musicians, story tellers – and you can see the final cut over the weekend of 18/19th July. EATMT have added to the event with some stepdancing lockdown footage.
Join them on the Facebook page HERE
In addition to the virtual event in 2020, the Instep Research Team’s grant has gone towards making a short film and we are in the process of filming a small selection of East Anglian steppers which we hope will be available to view over the summer of 2020.
Past Stepdance Days