Stepping in time for two decades
PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 July 2018 | UPDATED: 17:37 31 July 2018
Sidmouth Steppers have been entertaining the crowds for 20 years with their precise movements.
Pull on your dancing clogs and step back in time this August to celebrate 20 years of friendship and fun with Sidmouth Steppers.
The Sidmouth Steppers Ladies North West Morris formed after the 45th Sidmouth FolkWeek Festival and has been a mainstay of the event ever since, delighting crowds with their straight lines, precise movements and smart uniform.
Liz Clode, was among the original members to join in 1998 after seeing an advert in the paper for the club, which was started by Jean Salt and Polly Hawkins.
Liz said: “I was looking for something to enable me to meet new people and make new friends. I had always worked in hotels and had two small children so therefore did not have many friends in Sidmouth outside work. I did consider the exercise part of dancing but it wasn’t a major factor at this point.
“In the early days, there were three or four families also with young children so it was perfect for forming new friendships for us and also the children. Some of whom we are still friends with and watching the grand children arrive on the scene.”
The group does not just perform at FolkWeek but at festivals, fetes and fundraising events across the country in their traditional clogs, red apron over a skirt of red, white and blue, a uniform that pays homage to a 200-year-old tradition.
The dance style of North West Morris can be traced back to the 18th century when dancers and musicians would accompany rush cart processions to parish churches.
As the spinning and weaving industries took off in the 19th century, mill workers performed the dance styles at feast days and holiday processions.
Along with the traditional dress, made by members themselves, the group also performs with traditional garlands, sticks, handkerchiefs, bobbins and perns.
Liz added: “We get a lot of comments about our kit from how smart we look to people questioning us if we are Dutch or maybe French.
“In the early days, the weekends away camping were always a great social event with husbands and partners joining in and it was, and still is, a great way to see parts of the country you would not necessarily visit.”
The group’s reputation has gone from strength to strength, thanks to members commitment attending weekly rehearsals in preparation for events.
Liz said: “Traditionally the music is mostly melodeon-led but strings, brass and wind instruments, if available, add variety and volume. Drums keep time, which is an essential requirement in this style of dancing.
“Although steppers have changed over the years with dancers coming and going, we do always seem to attract a friendly group of people from all different walks of life. It’s a great social event and gets me out on dark winter Tuesday nights to practise and then fun nights dancing out in the summer.”
Fellow members Alexa Baker, Ruth Lewis and Maggi Lambert also agreed that the social element of the group was a big draw.
Ruth, who joined in October 1998, said: “For me, it is the companionship, the friendship, the support. All of us have had difficult times and we have all supported each other. I have always been interested in folk songs and enjoyed the folk scene and I went along and had a dance and I’m still there, 20 years later.”
The group has also raised thousands of pounds for local and national charities including Children in Need, Sidmouth Lifeboat, Sidmouth Rotary Club, the Admiral Nurse Campaign, Sid Vale Scouts, Sidmouth Guides toilet twinning project, Children’s Hospice South West, Meningitis Research and, this year, Devon Air Ambulance.
As part of their anniversary celebrations, the group held a day of dance at Kennaway House on July 21.
They were joined by eight dance sides, Enigma, Exeter Men, Exmoor Border, Green Willow, Heather and Gorse, Mr Wilkin’s Shilling, Otter Morris and Radden Hill and danced in a number of spots in the town centre and seafront.
Prince George, the Sidmouth Giant, was also in attendance and the Sid Vale Folk Choir also performed.
Alexa Baker said: “We are very grateful to Sidmouth Town Council who awarded us with a grant this year to enable us to put on the day of dance and we are proud ambassadors of Sidmouth when we go out and about to events and festivals. We hope the day was full of fun, dance and music, cementing friendships we have made over the past 20 years.”
The group rehearse weekly on a Tuesday night at the Old Guide Hut, in Lawn Vista, and hold taster sessions in the autumn for people to try it out.
If you are over the age of 18 and would like to find out more contact Liz Clode on 01395 513389 or Cath Nettleton on 07837 846657.