PUBLISHED: 15:06 22 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:53 20 February 2013
Percy West hung up his dancing shoes when he settled down with Doreen in Suffolk 30 years ago. Now the landscape gardener is back on board; meet East Anglia's Championship 'Steppers' keeping a Suffolk tradition alive and dancing
Tell us a bit about stepdancing
Well, I suppose its just a way of havingfun. You know, entertaining yourself likewe used to in the old days when I wastravelling. We dance in leather or hardsoled shoes on a board. To a squeezeboxplayer usually. No set steps, just inone spot thats typical Suffolk. Someused to dance on a tin tray to makethemselves heard, but Doreens gotmetal plates on her shoes for that now.
So its traditional to Suffolk. Is it liketap-dancing then?
Its all about hearing the rhythm andletting it come out through your feet.But there are no set steps if you had ahundred steppers together, theyd all bedifferent.
Is Suffolk stepdancing difficult to do?
Anyone can have a go its all for fun, forthe good company. All generations steptogether. Doreens self-taught, beendancing about eight years though hergranddad and aunties danced. WhenI was a kid, wed have all the travellingfamilies gathered together aroundthe fruit picking. Wed have music andamuse ourselves and my father wouldsay Get on that board and step! I soonpicked it up and added to it. Nearlyeveryone would step then. That was inthe 50s.
When did you start to dance?
About 6 years old. My mother had 17children: 10 boys and 7 girls, we nearlyall danced. My dads brothers Dukeand Noah, they danced played themelodeons and harmonica too. I wasborn in a Reading Wagon thats stillabout these parts today in a privatecollection. We lived in a horse-drawncaravan and spent half our life outside.
If it was entertainment then, do youthink theres a bit of showmanshipabout it too?
My brother Nelson he can dance! Hecame second in a talent competition onthe tellie with his stepping some 50 yearsago. I remember seeing him on the blackand white set, in his silk shirt and dickiebow.I was so proud. Yes, I suppose thatwas showmanship.
But youre quite a celebrity yourself...?
And Doreen too, weve both won prizesin local stepping competitions. Ivewon the Steve Monk Memorial Trophytwice at the event organised by the EastAnglian Traditional Music Trust and fourgold sovereigns at The Blaxhall Ship.
Where can we find you and othertraditional Suffolk steppers dancing?
In pubs, at events and family gatheringsmainly. The East Anglian TraditionalMusic Trust run a good Septembermusic day in Stowmarket and wevegot a special concert which we put onin Debenham in October with lots of stepping, traditional Suffolk music as wellas the occasional stepper from otherparts of the country.
What sort of music do you dance to?
Jigs and hornpipes mainly. Pigeonon a gate is the one that the growingthrong of Suffolk steppers like. I preferGrandfathers Hornpipe and Doreen likesDavey-Davey Nick-Nack.
Is there a local dancer past or presentwho you admire?
I danced on the Bygones programmealongside the late Richard Davies, thelifeboatman from Cromer. He was one ofthe nicest men I ever met. I liked his styleof dancing. These days, I like getting onthe board alongside Lenny Whiting hesa good old boy, a good dancer too.
Any particular ambitions?
Id like to dance with my brother, Nelson.That would mean a lot to me. Hes notedmore as a singer now, but hes a fantasticstepper. Hes up in Norfolk though andprefers to stay where hes comfortable.
What are your greatest loves apartfrom dancing?
My wife and son, of course, but I do loveanimals Lurcher dogs, game chickensand horses, though my driving days areover and Ive only got two Shetland ponylawnmowers.
If you were to give anyone a piece ofadvice, what would it be?Be nice. I mean that, you know, be gentleand good to one another.