Where to go and how to get your feet in step
THAT Len Goodman, and TV’s Strictly, have a lot to answer for. Dancing may have been around for Suffolk centuries, but suddenly it seems like the new sociable media. As moving experiences go, it’s more than just a nifty way to tone up those muscles and exercise those little grey cells in one feel-good partnership - dance is flexible, fun and simply fab for making friends. And no matter whether you need to go gently or if you have the drive and energy enough to get right into the groove and give it your all, Suffolk surely has more clubs, classes and ceilidhs than there are sequins on any slinky Strictly outfit. Just give something a go and you could have a real ball.
So where to start? A formal class? An informal class or taster session? What about just going along to a dance or practice night? Perhaps there’s a particular type of dance or music that takes your fancy. Maybe you see yourself more comfortable dancing for relaxation and personal enjoyment than for performance or organised events. In Suffolk you’ll find people strutting their stuff everywhere, from timehonoured ballrooms and village halls to state of the art studios at the fabulous DanceEast HQ on Ipswich Waterfront or even in the streets. Workshops, courses, pay-as-you-go sessions or pop along and join in dances - the possibilities are endless and for most dance styles, there’s no need even for special clothes or equipment. Folk are friendly and club nights breed a very special sort of inclusive camaraderie, so you’re sure to soon find your feet.
Good golly, Miss Molly
Morris dancing is a relatively new addition to the Suffolk dance scene. Possibly more rough and ready, winter-based East Anglian ‘Molly’ dancing was observed in the 1930s but could have been around for centuries. Could John Northbrooke have been pointing the finger, when he declared in his 1579 Treatise against dicing, dancing, plays, and interludes, ‘wherein . . . idle pastimes etc commonly used on the Sabbath day are reprooved’: “They daunce with disordinate gestures, and with monstrous thumping of the feete, to pleasant sounds”? Today Molly and Morris sides abound in Suffolk, welcoming all to brandish big sticks, hankies or garlands, to wear clogs, bells and breeches, or often quite daring eye-catching disguises. Suss out what might suit at pub-based ‘ dance-outs’, festivals or street fayres. Then pop along to workshops, taster sessions or practices to find out more.
TREAD THE TRADITIONAL
For a frolicksome night out with a difference, why not give a ceilidh a go? Pronounced ‘kaylee’, the name suggests not altogether local origins, but it’s still the sort of get-together which traditionally might feel at home in a good ol’ Suffolk barn, with English music and dances suitable for all ages and abilities, plus the added bonus of an official break in the middle, for a bit of a breather and spot of entertainment. Head to rural Rendham in the height of summer and you’ll find one happening in a field. An increasingly popular pastime around rural community halls from Clopton to the Cambridgeshire border, the ceilidh has made a real come-back recently, thanks to its relaxed and friendly formula. Monthly dances like the DanceFolkus night in Woodbridge invite everyone to have a go at their own pace, or even join the ‘Come all Ye’ band led by the Harbour Lights Ceilidh Band, if they are musically minded. “Instruction is given every step of the way,” explains Rachel Smith who, together with her teenage daughter, Daisy-May, has been enjoying the DanceFolkus evenings since they started up over a year ago. “Whether you’re a total novice or tried this sort of thing before, it’s great fun and although some dances make you think, it’s far from daunting as everyone is working things out together. You can go as often as you like too - there’s always a really lovely club feel and the nice thing is that you can join in the dancing as you wish – just the gentle waltzy ones maybe, rather than the stompy step-hops, if you’ve had a hard week!“Ceilidhs are a real social dance classic featuring reels, jigs, polkas, step-hops and waltzes, with reappearing dance figures like ‘strip the willow’, ‘ladies’ chain’ or the daring ‘basket’ where partners are lifted up and put in a spin. “Many of the dances are progressive,” adds Rachel. “That means you keep moving on and changing partners throughout the dance. Fancy a Suffolk something that will get your feet tapping? Stepdancing is a vernacular form of improvised, free-style tapdancing. Traditionally done in pubs or at social gatherings, it’s still very much alive today and always looking for new recruits. Simply put on a pair of hard-soled shoes and let your feet add the percussion as you step on the spot - usually on a solid floor or wooden board to a hornpipe tune. “Just listen to the music, and let it come out through your feet,” advises Suffolk stepdancing guru, Doreen West O’Connor. Now there’s something to practise in the kitchen while the kettle’s boiling! Can’t get on your feet, but would still love to join in? Then why not let a doll do the dancing? Jig dolls – jointed wooden dolls made to dance by flipping a board positioned under their feet – are part of Suffolk’s ‘Sing, Say, Play or Pay’ tradition which got rural people joining in and making community entertainment through live music and dance, before juke boxes and large TVs came on the scene. Have a go with a jig doll at one of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust’s events, at FolkEast 2018 or spot them in traditional Suffolk folk sessions.
‘Even on an evening when you’ve got two left feet people are really understanding and always ready to have a laugh’
It’s a great way to meet new people and a real confidence-builder too. Even on an evening when you’ve got two left feet, people are really understanding and always ready to have a laugh!”
SOME FANCY FOOTWORK
You don’t have stick with local styles, just to get dancing close to home. Who’d have expected to experience exquisite Thai dancing by talented locals in Wickham Market village hall, or find Zahara belly dance classes just along the lane at Parham? Down near Martlesham, you can fall in line Lousiana- Suffolk’s historic airfields sometimes have dances linked to re-enactment events, but the atmospheric old Officers’ Mess, The Red Feather Club, at Horham, near Eye, has an ongoing dance programme not to be missed, including a 1940s Swing Dance on March 24. www.95thbg-horham.com style and you might even spot a Jewish wedding-type Kletzmer ceilidh in Copdock. There’s fancy French stuff on the menu at Stratford St Andrew, jitterbug, jive and swing just over the horizon at Huntingfield, and hiding down Great Glemham’s little lanes, fancy-footwork all the way from Scotland – kilts (not compulsory!) and all. “Scottish dancing is good fun,” admits Vic Stanbrooke, who together with his wife, Mary, has been donning the soft shoes and getting down to more than just the Gay Gordons at Ron Smith’s classes around Glemham for over 20 years. “You have to concentrate a bit to get the steps, but we love dances like Postie’s Jig which reflects daily life - a postman doing his rounds. It can all get a bit serious at times, especially if you’re aiming for Burn’s Night, but we have a laugh. It’s good for movement and a great way
HANGAR BOUT A MINUTE
to meet people. Doing demonstration dances at local care-homes on occasion has been really rewarding.“
‘STRICTLY’ MORE CONVENTIONAL
Prefer to partner-up over a spot of Argentinian Bury-based tango, or sizzling Sudbury salsa? Want to give mambo a go-go or pursue dreams of Blackpool towers with all those ballroom favourites? “Ballroom or sequence dancing are very sociable pastimes,” enthuses Eamon Sheppard, not the most likely dancefloor diva, when you see him shinnying up Ipswich ladders all day as MD of Falcon Windows, but together with his wife, Anna, he’s a regular attraction on the cruise-ships. “You can stay fit in a fun way dancing and it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or professional – everyone can mix in and enjoy it. ‘Party game’ dances go down really well at events around Christmas, but even the more serious practice sessions get you meeting people with similar interests from different backgrounds.” Many of Suffolk’s Schools of Dance hold ‘satellite’ classes away from their main venue, so look out for classes at a community hall near you.
DanceEast has got the formula down to a tea. StowMovers, the over-60s dance class held at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket, is tea dance with a difference, a noexperience-necessary invitation to get moving in a creative and informal way led by a professional dance artist, all polished off with a relaxed cuppa. But back at regional HQ, the Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront, there are equally fluid goings on at the barre, not to mention classes or often pay-as-yougo sessions in everything from ballet, tap, sensory-based nia-dance to creative hip-hop and musical theatre. “Go along and have a go,” invites DanceEast programme manager Carole Creasey. “The environment isn’t precious, but informal and all you need is the energy, commitment and willingness to come and try. We’re looking to run more workshops to show what we do and always encourage participants to share and see people’s endeavours through performance opportunities.” “And there’s no expectation to have your leg up by your ear,” adds Ipswich-born programme manager Alison Hartley, both jokingly and in all seriousness. For at DanceEast, there are moving ways to support everyone, from early career dance artists, demanding teenagers and tiny tots to people with special needs, Dementia or Parkinsons.
MOLLY & MORRIS
Don’t miss the free Halesworth Day of Dance on March 17. Loads of Molly and Morris sides dancing in the streets, music sessions and even a fab evening ceilidh. www. facebook.com/ halesworthdayofdance
DID YOU KNOW?
25% of all adults in England fail to do enough physical activity to benefit their health? Dancing is a proven stress-buster and improves breathing, posture, circulation, co-ordination, alertness, mental agility, memory Having a good dance is a chance to take your mind off things, feel a full spectrum of emotions, get things out of your system, win confidence, express yourself, listen more than maybe you would normally, learn something new, socialise and share, fill some free time, have a laugh
FIND OUT MORE
East Anglian Traditional Music Trust: www.eatmt.org Suffolk Folk incl. social dance clubs plus Scottish, Irish & French dance: www.mardles.org FolkEast August 17-19 (the annual opportunity to have a go at almost everything!): www. folkeast.co.uk DanceEast : www.danceeast.co.uk All styles, schools, clubs & classes list, collated by Brian Vincent: www.eastangliadance.co.uk
French dancing at FolkEast. Photo: Lindsay Want
Pretty Grim Morris in disguise. Photo: John Heald
All are welcome to DanceEast’s Springboard. Photo: Mike Kwasniak
A ceilidh in full swing at Woodbridge. Photo: Lindsay Want
Morris fun at FolkEast. Photo: John Heald
Oxblood Molly dance at the Sweffling White Horse dance out. Photo: John Heald
Suffolk stepdancer Ella Beale. Photo: Lindsay Want