Arts Derbyshire Header Image

Derbyshire heritage - dance

In this article we are charting the dance heritage that have Derbyshire and Derby City associations. Dance has been very important to the people of Derbyshire for centuries and, as a result, the county has always been home to a wide and interesting selection of traditional dance forms. We have also created a page of contemporary dancers and dance organisations from around Derbyshire; everything from dancers and dance organisations, to workshop leaders, dance therapists and groups to get involved with if you fancy having a go yourself. 

Morris dancing

Chip Chorley BusDerbyshire has enjoyed a rich heritage of morris dancers for centuries, the earliest known reference being in Tideswell in 1797. There are types of morris that are specific to the county, and even to certain towns and villages. The Winster Morris Dancers , for example, perform dances that are specially from that village, having had a tradition of morris since before 1863.

Chip SouthIf you are interested in finding out more or perhaps joining with this Derbyshire dance heritage, there are plenty of morris sides still practicing around the county; we have the all-female 'Chip off the Old...' (pictured), who have provided these photographs of their performances, and the Ripley Morris Men, both of whom perform traditional Cotswold morris. There are also the Chesterfield Dance Teams, who perform a range of different types of morris as well as clog and garland dancing.


A Little More About Chip off the Old...

Chip off the Old… are going to be very busy this year, having been booked to attend a number of festivals including a Dance Festival in the Robin Hood Bay area on the 2 - 4th July, the Buxton Day of Dance on the 24th July, as well as evenings of dance with other local Morris sides, usually at Inns across Derbyshire. Morris Dancing is certainly a very traditional dance art. One of the dances that Chip off the Old… performs today was performed on the quayside when the HMS Victory set sail for Trafalgar.

Following a recruitment drive last autumn, including a call-out on the artsderbyshire website, there have been four new dancers join the side, all keen and learning the dances. However, it takes a long time to learn the whole repertoire of the side's regular dances. Chip off the Old... always welcome new dancers, although during the Dancing Out Season there are not so many opportunities for instruction. Anyone interested in trying morris dance with them is advised to go along to watch and join in when the public is invited to have a go.

The side is also known to play with 'Speed the Plough' ceilidh band, playing and calling many traditional dances at various functions and regularly at Mumpers Ceilidh Club .

Clog dancing

Thought to have been developed in the cotton mills of Lancashire at the time of the Industrial Revolution, clog dancing has been around in England since the 18th century and is still practised in many counties today. Derbyshire is one of these counties. It was originally practiced both inside and outside of the mills, as the workers used to tap their clogs, which were practical footwear for their occupation, on the floor in time to their weaving machines in order to stay warm. It eventually developed to be a very popular form of music hall entertainment in the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. In fact, Charlie Chaplain was known for clog dancing with the Seven Lancashire Lads before going on to conquer the world with his astounding acting and movement performances on film.

In more recent times Derbyshire was home to the Footloose Festival in Matlock that celebrated and taught an entirely new breed of clog dancing. Appalachain clog is an American form of clog dancing that involves metal toe taps rather than the traditional European wooden shoes, and has been popular in Britain for the past fifteen years.

If you want to try clog dancing yourself, there are some groups signed up with artsderbyshire for you to contact. As well as the Chesterfield Dance Teams mentioned in the above section, the Chesterfield Garland Clog Dancers  are a women's team that perform North West clog and garland dances both old and new.

Ceilidh, barn and square dancing

Keith Kendrick

Originating in Scotland in the 1860s, barn dances eventually evolved into square dance in the United States and were known as the ballrooms of the poor. They were traditionally a great way to get a whole community together for a special event like a wedding or birthday, and many of us in Derbyshire still enjoy a good barn dance or ceilidh; a barn dance with traditional Scottish and Irish dances.

The speed and difficulty of barn, square and ceilidh dances vary to allow people of all ages and abilities to join in, and a caller is often present with the live band to instruct those who are not already familiar with the particular steps. If you are interested in attending a square dance club, perhaps consider  Ashover Squares , who meet weekly in Wollaton, Nottingham.

On the artsderbyshire website we have a number of ceilidh bands, musicians and callers listed, each of which could help to liven up your party or other function:

  • 1st Barn Dance & Ceilidh Specialists: If you're looking for a Barn Dance, Ceilidh or Hoe Down Band and Caller for a function, but don't know "where to start" then contact Fiona and she will use her 30+ years experience to find you the best band for the occasion.

  • 'Speed the Plough' Ceilidh/Barn Dance Band: A lively Ceilidh Band for music and Barn Dancing with a Caller. We can be booked to play at special family occasions and are popular with P.T.A. Groups. Suitable for beginners or more experienced dancers.

  • Red Hot Polkas Ceilidh Band: 4 piece ceilidh band, playing mostly traditional English tunes for barn dancing with a caller. The Band can play during reception and between dances, or at musical events. Book for special occasions, fundraising events, the Band are popular with P.T.A's.

  • Ian Carter, the Caller: A Barn Dance/Ceilidh caller - in other words, the interface between the band and the audience. This has been his passion since the mid-1970s, and he's had the pleasure and privilege or working with some of the UK's top ceilidh bands.

  • Howard Mitchell: A folk musician specialising in music for English Dance in its many forms. He plays melodeon, anglo conertina and double bass. Available for solo performance, as part of the bands "The Ram Company", "The Old Fashioned", and "Up Tails All" and as a teacher for individuals or for workshops.

  • Keith Kendrick: Perform mainly English traditional song, music and dance music (community and ritual) in a solo capacity and with a variety of combos. Also recites dialect poems and monologues. He performs in Folk Clubs, Folk, Town, Village and Arts Festivals. 

Holymoorside and Walton Arts Festival Society is holding a Folk Dance and Music Workshop followed by a Family Barn Dance at Holymoorside Village Hall, as one of the events this year on Sunday 20th June 2010. This is a fantastic opportunity to get involved in traditional barn dance with your family and have a great time dancing the evening away.    
Brampton Community BandBrampton Community Band has been chosen to lead the dancing as they have an inclusive and accessible approach. Family groups are encouraged to come along and take part in this free workshop from 4.00 - 5.30pm, learning simple dance steps and to play music along with the band. Visitors are invited to bring their own instruments or they can borrow from the band, and they can also ask for the music in advance by contacting the band.

There will be a hard earned break for some refreshments after this, and people are invited to bring some supper if they wish to stay and perhaps picnic out on the Village recreation ground if the weather is nice. This will be followed by the Barn Dance with caller starting at 6.30 - 8.30pm. 
The Holymoorside and Walton Arts Festival Society like to include a free admission family event for the Sunday of the festival and in the past this has been a "Taste of The Middle East", which was very popular with those who attended. This event included a drumming workshop and a demonstration of Middle Eastern dance in costume.  People were invited to join to learn some simple dance movements and steps and to try on costumes. 

As if that wasn’t enough, the festival will also be featuring Chesterfield Garland and Cock and Magpie Morris dancers and band at the Society's film event on Tuesday 13th April 2010.  The Chesterfield Dance Teams are coming to dance before we show the film "Morris A Life With Bells On".  Find out more about the film here.

Longsword and rapper dance

Double TumbleThere is a lot of evidence to suggest that the Cleveland longsword dancing tradition came to Derbyshire after the 1890 ironstone miner's strike in Yorkshire sent the workers down to the county to look for work. They returned some years later but left a legacy of this type of dancing that is still practiced today.

The longsword dance often involves wooden swords while the rapper dance requires a shorter, more flexible steel sword. If you're interested in this type of dancing, there is a group in Draycott called the Stone Monkey Sword Dancers , who perform these types of sword dance, both traditional and modern.

Get involved


Many thanks to Yvonne Hithersay, Phil Heaton, Ann Grinbergs and Keith Kendrick for providing pictures and information.

Source materials for this article

Featured artists

Angela Thompson

Angela Thompson

Paula Sharples

Paula Sharples

Richard Bett

Richard Bett


Derbyshire Festivals

Take a look at all the amazing festivals that Derbyshire has to offer right throughout 2020, right on your doorstep - come along, join in the fun and see the world-class entertainment.

Arts Derbyshire on Facebook and Twitter

Come and join in the conversation.