50 Years of Clogging in Reading  

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Recollections from Mike Cherry who was almost a founder member of Reading Cloggies and is still dancing with Aldbrickham

Reading Traditional and Step Dance Group

Following my marriage in 1965 I moved the following year to Twyford in Berkshire to work for Berkshire County Council.

One of the first events that I attended was a visit to the Bell at Waltham St Lawrence where I watched Ian Dunmur performing a clog dance.   As I had some clogs, I made myself known to him and he introduced me to Jennifer M and so started an association which was to last for the rest of her life.   I was invited to Watlington House but when I got there she was on her bicycle and there was no meeting that night.  I was however taken to Brunswick Street an introduced to the Greyhound with the great big soppy eyes.

The following week I joined the clog group which unbeknown to me had only been operating for a very short time.   Many times I came close to leaving the group as they seemed to concentrate on what was known by JM as the Westmorland style and in my opinion they taught it very badly.  Whilst a lot of the steps were very similar to mine it soon became very clear to me that it was even time and that was not being achieved.   Over the years with some perseverance and a lot of complaining from me it was gradually resolved and the seventeen step routine by Ian Dunmur became a regular part of the Group’s repertoire.

There was no doubt that JM had a vast knowledge of clog dancing but she tended to ignore the rest of the country, ie Lancashire and Durham. Prior to meeting her I had met Alec Boydel from Durham who was a past member of the Newcastle University Rapper team and I had attended a couple of Pat Tracey’s workshops.

Seeing that I was not interested in the Westmorland routines we spent an evening together when she worked out a dance around the steps that I knew.  There were five steps danced off both feet and in the space of two months I danced my first solo down in Salisbury town hall.  From that time onwards I was one of the group soloists.

Over the years I refined the steps by adding a few shuffles and the odd heel beat.

Whilst Jennifer liked it to be known that she taught me to dance this was not true. What she did for me was to put a routine together and taught me how to analyse and assemble steps.  Being a died in the wool traditionalist she was absolutely horrified that I should do such things but I digress.   

Very quickly the group got known around Reading and they were invited to go and entertain the Ugandan Asian immigrants who were based at Greenham Air Base near Newbury.  Kennet Morris were also invited.  This one event was the start of the clog group making a name for itself around Reading and they very quickly came to the notice of the EFDSS.   Some of the early events I remember attending was Dancing England in Derby and a National Garden Show which I believe was held in Gateshead.  I also remember performing at Cecil Sharp House which for Jennifer was the absolute pinnacle of her dancing career

Around about this time clog workshops were beginning to spring up all over the country and it was suggested that we should give classes at some of them.  Talking things over with Ian I suggested to him that we ought to be running our own event.  Following talks with the rest of the group we soon were and so the Reading Festival was born.

Working for Berkshire County Council I had access to all the schools and very soon we were set up at the Loddon Hall in Twyford and the local schools which was very successful.  It became very clear that we needed larger premises and I was asked to see what I could find.  I went to Altwood in Maidenhead where I knew the head very well and broached the idea to him.  Being a shrewd businessman his words to me were.  “Any money in it.”   I said yes and I want the whole school with no other bookings.  He looked at me and said, “How about £500.00”.  My reply was, “done”.

One of the Stalwarts of the group at that time was Anne-Marie Hulme who became our business woman and I seem to remember that Ailsa Dunmur was the treasurer.

From that time onwards we were always in the black.  In the evenings we ran a public dance and very often that dance was the saviour that kept us out of the red.

It fast became a national festival and enhanced the reputation of the group and was responsible for many of the step dance groups that exist today. My responsibility was always the accommodation which kept me busy all day long.

Over the years anyone who was prominent in step dance came to the festival and on one occasion a local builder that I knew sponsored Ira Bernstein to come over from the USA.  Another foreign visitor was the French Canadian dancer Pierre Chartrand.

As the years went by the various members at Reading became a little tired of organising the event and there was an attempt to hand it over to another group to organise but it was not very successful.  As far as I can remember when we decided to close it, it was not because there was no market for all the workshops but simply we all had had enough.  Following the closure one of our members, Julie Williams who had moved down to Bristol and started her own day of dance so all was not lost.  I do believe Julie has been very successful and I congratulate her for that.

Over the years the group has danced on three occasions at the International Eisteddfod of Wales and has travelled to Germany and Belgium.  These days it is somewhat smaller in size but still survives. Jennifer unfortunately died a short time ago but the work she did in the early years is still benefiting society today.

Mike Cherry

Mike Cherry

Originality 40 Years Clog & Drum

Mikes book of dances, notes on clog technique  and personal experiences.