Singleton Cloggers’ Squire Eileen Skinner has been dancing for over 15 years. I caught up with Eileen and Foreman Alison Matthews before the first of a new series of beginner taster sessions to find out more:
CM: What is a Squire? That’s quite an unusual title. Where does it come from? What does a Squire do?
ES: I haven’t a clue where the title Squire comes from! Its a traditional name for the leader. I liasie with everybody, when we are out on a gig, I liaise with the organiser or other teams to sort out when, where and how long we are dancing for.
CM: Can you tell me about the Singleton Cloggers and their history?
ES: Singleton Cloggers originally started in 1949 when a group of people got together and decided they wanted to dance in the Singleton Village Day, which to this day we still participate in.
We carried on dancing at local galas: Poulton, Wheeton, Lytham, Fleetwoon, Thornton, Staining, Bispham. We also dance at festivals and we can also be hired for functions such as weddings. We’ve just done a Pimms Party. We visit schools and have done WI Dabble Days.
There is a story that the percussive nature of North West Morris Dancing is similar to the sounds of the shuttles in the looms in the mills and the workers wore clogs on their feet. That’s one theory as to why Morris Dancers in the North West wear clogs.
CM: My impression of clog Morris Dancing is that it’s an activity rooted in English history. Do you think it might have a revival? Is it becoming popular with younger people?
AM: Its changing, the younger people are adapting it to their way, so some teams do have a lot of younger people, but some teams may die out as they’re not getting the younger people in.
CM: Are there any exams similar to other dance forms?
It’s all amateur, at the moment there are no exams for Morris Dancing, although there are currently exams for Stepping, which uses clogs.
CM: What would a beginner expect to see if they came here for the fist time?
AM: A very warm welcome! We’d take them through some of the standard movements and slowly begin to build up a repertoire of steps. Once they are feeling confident with one or two dances, we like to give them the opportunity to ‘dance out’ at an event because people improve much more once they have danced out.
CM: Would you need any special equipment to join?
ES: Just comfortable shoes to start with. If they decided to stay, then a uniform can be made.
CM: What equipment would a more experienced clog dancer need?
AM: They will need a full costume, and of course some clogs.
The dancers prepared themselves for a demonstration by getting themselves into a pattern and forming rows and facing Alison who stood at the front as the Foreman. Armed with a whistle, she shouted out the next set of movements.
It was thunderously loud, the repetition of bell-decorated clogs beating the wooden floor accompanied by live musicians is enough to get anyone to want to join in. Which I did.
Armed with a stripy pair of bell-embellished short-sticks I took my place in the line and a regular clogger was brave enough to partner with me. Alison dance talked us through a standard dance sequence stage by stage. By then end of fifteen minutes of patient instruction, I’d managed to get thought the entire dance without poking anyone’s eye out with my stick.
I needed a sit down at this point and got chatting to Peter Greenwood the Singleton Cloggers’ flautist, who talked to me about his role with the group.
CM: Is it possible to dance and play, like in a marching band?
PG: I’m the only dedicated musician, I don’t dance as well. No… I have seen it done once, someone with the Cotswold Morris with a melodeon. It looked very hard and I don’t know anyone else who does that.
CM: Are there any particular songs that you have to learn especially for Morris Dancing?
PH: We play fairly standard folk dance tunes, you can use them for both country dancing and various styles of Morris.
Peter is just one member of the band which accompanies the dancers. In addition to himself there are two harmonium players, a trap drummer and a snare drummer.
Having zero experience in any form of dance, I was incredibly surprised at just how much I enjoyed myself at the taster session. This merry group of dancers and musicians are incredibly welcoming and these is a real sense of fun and friendship within the group.
The Singleton Cloggers are currently looking for new dancers and musicians. They meet every monday at Singleton Village Hall at 7.30pm. For more information contact Eileen Skinner on 01253 301483 or 07876 506564 or email [email protected]
Images by Dawn Mander of Two Old Birds Photography
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