Please note this course has already started, if you would like to join it please contact me to discuss possibilities
I’m looking forward to teaching a course on English Step Dancing during the summer term (May/June 2014) at Cecil Sharp House the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
The course will focus mainly on Lakeland (Westmorland) Step Dancing which can be danced in hard shoes or clogs; it’s a lively style with lots or visual as well as rhythmic interest. We’ll learn some traditional steps and put together some dances, and we’ll also have a go at some freestyle dancing for jamming along in reels, sessions, social setting etc.
The course is aimed at those with little or no step dance experience or those new to the Lakeland style. Bring some hard shoes (that make a noise on the ground) or clogs if you have them.
Lakeland Step Dancing was recorded in the 1960s by Tom and Joan Flett at a time when there were still a number of dancers who could remember and dance the old steps. The Fletts wrote an excellent book on the subject which is still available from the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) .
Traditional Step Dancing is about dancing to live music, so I’m hoping that some musicians will come along who are interested in playing for us. There will be no course fee for musicians but please contact me first for more information.
Wednesdays, May 14, 21, June 4, 11 & 18. Time: 7.00 to 8.30 pm (please note the half term break on 28th May).
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, Camden, London, NW1 7AY.
Please contact me via the contact page for more information or to book a place.
Course fee (5 classes) £35 / £25 Concessions (free for musicians)
 Flett, J. F. and T. M. Flett (1979) Traditional Step-Dancing in Lakeland. English Folk Dance & Song Society, London
Lakeland Music and Step Dance Workshop
Sunday 27th April 2014
Jackson’s Lane, Highgate, London
A combined workshop looking at traditional music and Step Dancing from Cumbria. Led by professional Lakeland Fiddler, Carolyn Francis, and Westmorland Clog Dance Champion, Toby Bennett.
Due to space limits workshop numbers are limited, to reserve your place please contact Toby.
Music: 1.30 to 3.00 then until 4.30 playing for the dancing
The workshop will explore tunes from Cumbria many of which come from manuscripts of local fiddle players such as William Irwin (19th century Fiddler from Langdale). Carolyn has spent many years exploring these tunes and her playing is informed by her experience of playing for dancing including step dancing. Music will be provided, though memorising of tunes is encouraged … and essential for good dance playing.
Musicians need to be of intermediate to advanced standard to fully benefit from the workshop, though less experienced players who are rhythmically competent can be accommodated. The workshop is 1.5 hours long but you are welcome to stay and play for the dancing.
Step Dance: 3.00 to 4.30
Lakeland Step Dancing (sometimes known as Westmorland Clog) is a lively, fun and showy style that was recorded in the 1960s in the area that is now called Cumbria; it can be danced in hard shoes as well as clogs. We will explore the basics, learn some of the steps and put them into simple reel type dances. The aim will be to develop confidence to explore the steps and the rhythms and enjoy stepping in an informal context, we’ll be dancing to some great Lakeland Hornpipes played by Carolyn Francis and the musicians from the preceding music workshop.
Suitable for beginners or those wishing to explore the Lakeland step dance style. Bring some hard soled shoes so you can make some noise with your feet, or clogs if you have them.
NB: Toby will also be teaching a short step dance course at Cecil Sharp House in May/June for those who wish to develop their skills further. More information here
Jacksons Lane is very near to Highgate tube station at 269a Archway Road, London, N6 5AA. Information about how to get there can be found at www.jacksonslane.org.uk/your-visit/
Music workshop £10/£7 concs (1.5/3 hours including playing at the dance workshop)
Dance Workshop £10/£7 concs
Music and Dance workshop £15/£10 concs
Due to space limits workshop numbers are limited, to reserve your place please contact Toby.
Carolyn Francis has been making a living as a Fiddler, One Woman Band, and Border Bagpiper in and around Cumbria for the last 17 years. She specialise in tunes unearthed from Lakeland Fiddle manuscripts, and loves playing for dancing, whether it be for ceilidhs (with Striding Edge band), for whole classes of clog dancing young people (with Alex Fisher) or for great solo dancers, such as Toby Bennett. Her playing is lively, rhythmical, and energetic, and she particularly enjoys improvising around tunes to bring the music and the steps closer together. She is also a great tune-smith, and is seeking to keep alive, and develop, traditional music and dance in her locality; she runs two community projects, Lakeland Fiddlers and Common Ground Ceilidh Band; and also teaches violin/fiddle in schools several days a week.
Toby Bennett is a dancer and dance teacher specialising in traditional step dance, particularly the rich tradition of English step clog. An experienced performer he has performed in many countries including Europe, Egypt and the USA. His dancing combines energy, attack and speed with lightness and fluidity. Starting as a folk dancer, Toby went on to train in other forms of dance before becoming a professional dancer and later a dance educator. Now returning to his folk dance roots he draws on this rich experience in his performance and teaching of English step dance. Twice a champion clog dancer Toby has studied with numerous teachers including a number of the key figures in the clog revival such as Sam Sherry, Pat Tracey. His current repertoire includes steps from various traditional sources as well as his own dances, but he is best known for his interpretation of the Lakeland (Westmorland) step dance tradition.
Thoughts about social/freestyle Lakeland stepping after my workshop at Sidmouth Folk Week 2013…
English clog dancing (at least in the revival) is largely about formal, composed dances, but I have become increasingly interested in the possibility of improvisation in clogs and by improvised traditional step dance forms such as East Anglian and Southern Stepping in England, Irish Sean-nós and American Flatfooting. I have also been inspired by a few step dance pub sessions I have been to recently, and the work by Jo and Simon Harmer and Kerry Fletcher to promote the ‘Southern Stepping’ that they have learnt from Romany families in Southern England. As I have a particular affinity with Lakeland step dancing I wondered what improvised Lakeland stepping would be like and whether I could use this as a way into improvising in my own dancing.
We know that, in the Lakes, people used to step dance informally during social dances and at other social gatherings such as at parties after sheep shearing. Sometimes they danced in clogs and sometimes in hard shoes, but we don’t know much about what this stepping was actually like. However, we do have records of the more formal clog steps taught there by the travelling dancing masters, and I suppose it is a reasonable guess that they used some of these steps in their informal stepping. These steps, then, were the main resource I had when I tried to reconstruct ‘Freestyle Lakeland Step Dancing’ or perhaps ‘Social Stepping – Lakeland Style’.
Looking at other improvised step dance traditions it seems that most dancers use a relatively small set of basic units that they combine in a variety of ways, the interest is in the dancer’s individuality and the multiplicity of ways in which those units can be recombined to the music rather than the complexity and novelty of the steps themselves. Whilst playing around trying to recreate the Lakeland style I realised that a few of the simpler recorded step units could be used in a similar way to certain American flatfooting steps: they could be learnt very quickly and used to provide a very simple but infinitely variable foundation for the dance. Fortunately, Lakeland stepping also contains many other simple steps that can be added for variety and visual effect, all without recourse to more advanced technique.
But the steps on their own aren’t enough, the music is crucial to understanding these step dances. As a starting point I wanted to use Lakeland Hornpipes played in an un-dotted rhythm, which is how the Lakeland step dance records suggest they were played. I am lucky enough to work with two great exponents of this style in fiddle players Carolyn Francis and Scott Hartley both of whom have frequently accompanied me with some fantastic Lakeland tunes such as Keswick Bonnie Lasses and Elterwater Hornpipe. Working with their music has really helped to bring this dance to life.
My first proper chance to teach this material came as part of Instep Research Team’s ‘Social Stepping’ programme at Sidmouth Folk Week 2013. The workshop went well and by the end of it there were a lot of people dancing around using the steps I taught them, and enjoying it! One person commented to me that they looked much more as if they were ‘dancing’ than in clog workshops where a routine was taught. I did notice that some of those who already knew some formal Lakeland step dancing seemed to want to fall back on the longer step patterns that they knew, rather than let go and improvise with the smaller units, but that’s OK, it is quite a different way of approaching the dance and it can take time to let go of old habits.
Not only has this project has been a useful way for me to start to explore improvisation in my own dancing, I also think this way of approaching the dance is exciting for its own sake. Dancing this material is great fun; it can be done by more or less anybody with a pair of hard-soled shoes and can be danced solo or with others in social settings such as a pub session or during a dance at a ceilidh. I plan to continue to teach it both as a social/freestyle form and, perhaps, as a way of introducing formal Lakeland step dancing to beginners, hopefully giving them a sense of spontaneity and the lively style of the dance that they will be able to carry into more complex dances later.
Who knows whether my Social/Freestyle Lakeland Stepping is in any way ‘authentic’? We will never know, but I think it’s probably as good a guess as any for the moment – and if it works, why not?
© Toby Bennett, September 2013
I’m really excited to be going to Sidmouth Folk Week with Instep Research Team for a series of events around Social/Freestyle step dancing. We will be running some workshops as well as a couple of step dance sessions open to step dancers and would be step dancers to have a go and enjoy step dancing informally together.
Scroll down for the schedule of workshops and sessions, or download the flyer including more information
Improvised step dancing was once common throughout these islands, and was intimately tied to our musical traditions. We will be looking at three English styles: Southern Stepping, Freestyle Lakeland step dancing and Lancashire street clog. These styles (and others such as East Anglian and Dartmoor stepping) provide a refreshing alternative picture of our step dance heritage to the more formal stage and competition influenced styles championed in the English Clog revival.
I will be running the Lakeland workshop taking a fresh look at the style and using some the Lakeland step units in an improvised way. We know that, in the Lakes, people often step danced in shoes as well as clogs, and that they stepped within social dances and at social gatherings, for example a parties after sheep shearing. We don’t know for certain what they did, but it is a reasonable guess that they used the same basic step dance units that were taught to children by the travelling dancing masters. It’s great fun and we will be dancing to traditional un-dotted Lakeland Hornpipe tunes played by Lakeland Fiddlers Carolyn Francis and Scott Hartley.
Social Stepping events at Sidmouth Folk Week 2013 : 2nd-9th August 2013
Lancashire Street Clogging
Lecture: ‘Recording Stepdancing in the South’
Southern Stepping Workshop
Steppin’ Time! Social Stepping Session with members of Instep Research Team
Freestyle Lakeland Step Dancing Workshop
Social Stepping Session, Steppin’ Time Again!