Hundreds of Shaftesbury area youngsters have performed with Steps in Time since the traditional English dance group was founded 30 years ago. This Sunday, current and past members, their families and supporters are invited to a prestigious event at Shaftesbury Town Hall to celebrate the club’s success.
“We were really lucky to be awarded the QAVS – the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which is basically an MBE for a group,” explained Penny-Jane Swift from Steps in Time. “I can’t say that I have an MBE but the group can say it has this award,” she added.
Representatives attended a Buckingham Palace garden party in acknowledgement of the honour in May this year. “The award will be presented on Sunday by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, Angus Campbell,” explained Penny-Jane.
If you think this sounds like a stuffy event, you would be wrong. “We’re going to start off with a demonstration by the present members of the group. After the ceremony, when we will be given our award, we’ll be showing what we did when we represented England this summer in Germany. We have a short video of that,” Penny-Jane said.
In July, local youngsters attended the Europeade festival of folklore, dance and costume, which brought participants together from 118 European regions to perform their dances, sing and play music. “This year it was in Frankenberg, north of Frankfurt. There were 5,000 attendees and the closing ceremony featured a dance involving 700 children. Ten members of Steps in Time took part.”
Penny-Jane says that watching her youngsters performing in front of several thousand people was ‘momentous’. She is proud that her group ‘flew the flag’ for England. “Most of the countries represented do perform their traditional country dances. Not a lot of people have seen the English versions,” she said.
Penny-Jane hopes that former group members will come and share their stories and memories on Sunday. “If you have any photos from the time when you were performing or if your parents have pictures, please bring them. We want as many ex-dancers as we can possibly get,” she said.
Penny-Jane has curated a collection of photographs for Sunday’s occasion, but she would like more pictures taken before 1997. “Prior to digital, you had to print them out and that was expensive, so not as many photos were taken.”
The group’s first two public dances, 30 years ago, were in the village of Sutton Waldron. Penny-Jane remembers some other special occasions in our area. “We danced at the re-consecration of the altar at Shaftesbury Abbey. It was a special dance written for that event. We have been dancing at Gold Hill Fair, Shaftesbury Food Festival and other major events for years,” she said.
One event stands out as particularly special. “We performed at the 2012 London Olympics. We have pictures from that. It was huge. We were really lucky to be ‘spectator entertainment’. We all had lanyards, the same as the athletes. The head of spectator entertainment saw us dancing and commented afterwards that we had the largest crowd of any of the groups that were entertaining.”
Penny-Jane hopes that former dancers will take to the Town Hall floor on Sunday. She says that traditional English country dance could be compared to riding a bike – even if you haven’t done it for decades, you’ll soon remember the steps. “One of my ex-dancers started dancing again fairly recently and within half an hour she was back into the rhythm of it and could remember everything. It all came flooding back,” said Penny-Jane.
Sunday’s event starts at 2 o’clock. It is free but you need to register at steps30th.eventbrite.co.uk.