Camden Clog

Pat Tracey

Pat Tracey, 1960.

Pat Tracey, from Nelson in East Lancashire, started dancing at the age of six. She learnt her dances mainly from her mother. Her uncle was a professional clog dancer. Many of the steps she taught have been danced by family members since the middle of the 19th century. This is "traditional" dancing in every sense of the word.

In 1990 Pat was presented with the Gold Medal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. The presentation was made by Sam Sherry. Sam was a professional clog dancer for many years and epitomised the showier aspects of the Lancashire style. His citation is reproduced here by kind permission of the EFDSS.

I was honoured to receive a telephone call from Alan Barber, on behalf of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, asking if I would present its gold badge award to my friend and colleague in clog dancing, Pat Tracy. I was delighted to accept.

Pat's roots in Lancashire traditional clogging go back at least three generations to her Mother, her Uncle and her Grandfather, and who knows how many before them. We all have Pat to thank for the revival of the East Lancashire heel and toe style of clog dancing.

Although I had spent most of my working life as a professional dancer, mixing with dancers from all parts of the world, I had never before seen this particular style of clog dancing, and I am quite convinced that had it not been for Pat, this style of dance would have disappeared completely. This fact alone entitles her to the gratitude of this Society and the thanks of all who value tradition. Now, hundreds of dancers have been taught by Pat, in a period covering more than 30 years, and Lancashire heel and toe clog is safe for posterity. I am pleased to say that at the 1991 Fylde Folk Festival at Fleetwood there is a plan to add a competition for this style to the Lancashire and Cheshire Championships. I am sure this will give Pat great satisfaction.

Pat's first connection with Cecil Sharp House took place in the mid 1950's when she replied to a newspaper article in which Douglas Kennedy asked anyone who could clog dance to contact him. This led to invitations to dance at many of the Societies functions, and an instruction class was started at Cecil Sharp House in 1959 with Peter Kennedy as musician. This was really the beginning of the clog dance revival.

The list of Festivals, functions and workshops which were graced with Pat's footwork during the following seven years is far too long for me to tell; but it included two Royal Albert Hall Festivals, Hugh Weldons Arts programme "MONITOR" on BBC television, and teaching her Miners Clog Dance to actors at the Royal Court Theatre for John Ardens play "Sgt. Musgraves Dance", which was to be repeated in the 1980's.

By 1966, with two small children to care for, Pat retired from the scene and the revival almost died. I came to the folk world in 1968 and kicked some life back into it. Happily, in 1973, a phone call from Peter Dashwood brought her back to the fold - since when she has continued to perform and teach, not only in the U.K. but in places as far apart as America and Belgium and she was twice again involved in teaching the Miners Clog Dance for "Sgt. Musgraves Dance". At the Old Vic in 1984 - the cast including Albert Finney and Max Wall - the dance scene (in a pub) was a hit at every show, and I was lucky enough to be part of it.

A couple of years later, Pat taught the cast at the Canonbury Theatre. She also gave her expertise to the television production "A Simple Man", the ballet choregraphed by todays most famous dance producer, Gillian Lynne, on the life of Salford's painter L S Lowry.

Pat mentions three highlights from her long and pleasurable association with Cecil Sharp House. The Golden Jubilee Ball attended by the Princess Margaret in 1982, the special ceilidh to mark Nibs Matthews retirement in 1985 and in 1988 the memorial celebration for the life of Douglas Kennedy - who had launched her EFDSS career so many years previously.

So many achievements - so much affection from the vast number of clog dancing devotees - yet Pat remains ever modest and charming, and continues to travel many, many miles each year to perform and teach her beloved Lancashire clog dancing.

Pat Tracey, it is my pleasure and a real privilege to present to you the Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Pat Tracey died in 2008. Kate Tattersall spoke about Pat's dancing at her funeral. These are her words.

Pat Tracey was the best clog dancer in England and therefore the world.

She learnt to clog dance in the Lancashire style as a child from her mother, Sally Nutter, who had learnt from her father and her uncle, a professional clog dancer, who had themselves learnt as children.

By the age of six Pat was already dancing on stage in a pair of adult clogs with newspaper stuffed in the toe.

Her family were an old fashioned lot. They had lived in the Pendle area of Lancashire for generations. Her grandparents still spoke a strong dialect rich with Danish words lingering from the invasion of the 9th century.

The steps she learnt from the family were old too - known as the Old Lancs Heel and Toe style of dancing. The oldest clog steps that we have, they were developed in the early 1800s by the cotton weavers of East Lancs, some of the first people to work in purpose built factories, and were based on the rhythms, movements and sounds of the cotton mills.

Her great uncle, the professional clog dancer, picked up new steps on the circuit and brought them back, and they were passed on too, hornpipes and waltzes in the new style, with plenty of work off the toe, and lots of showing-off great skill and dexterity.

Pat and her mother also collected steps in the 1940s from the Irish community, who had come to work in the mills. They brought their traditional steps and formed an amalgam of them and the Lancashire style of dancing - at parties the carpet would be rolled back, the accordion and drinks brought out and the dancing go on all night, simple steps for all to join in and complex steps as solos or duets for the more skilled dancers,

But the First World War had more or less brought an end to clog dancing in East Lancs. Many of the dancers never returned and those who did lost the knack.

During the 1950s there was a revival of interest in old traditions and in 1959 Douglas Kennedy, Director of the English Folk Dance and Song Society wrote to the national papers asking anyone who knew about clog dancing to get in touch with him, Pat, who had done a lot of research, saw the letter, and said to her husband Roy "I know something about that". But she was then, as later, an unassuming lady and needed a lot of encouragement from Roy to come forward. Little did he know what he was letting himself in for!

Of course, Pat had never told Roy she was a clog dancer before they married, or even after they married.

As newly-weds they lived in a small upstairs flat in North London. where the only suitable surface for dancing turned out to be in the bathroom, the rest of the flat being carpeted. Unfortunately due to the vibrations the tiles started to loosen. It was a source of great mystery to Roy and to Pat too, seemingly, that he would return from work to find tiles had come down from the walls. The truth didn't come out for some months, by which time it was all too late for second thoughts on Roy's part.

When Pat answered that letter in the papers, she was invited to London, and to teach clog steps to the Folk Society. As a result of this, she performed solo at their Birmingham festival that year, and then later choreographed and performed her celebrated policewoman dance to the theme tunes of Dixon of Dock Green and Z cars at the Albert Hall. Frederick Ashton who created La Fille Mal Gardée for the Royal Ballet with its famous comic clog dance scene was in the audience.

Pat became an international figure. She danced and taught at festivals throughout UK, and also in Ireland, Europe and America. It was really through her energy that clog moved out of the Music Hall and into the folk tradition.

She was involved in the theatre too, training actors at the Royal Court, and working on Albert Finney's production of Sergeant Musgrave's Dance at the Old Vic. Gillian Lynne, who created Cats, took lessons from Pat for her BBC show based on the life of the painter Lowry. Pat has been interviewed more than once for Women's Hour, and attempts were made to get her onto the Generation Game, an offer she turned down.

Pat was unstintingly pleased to pass on her skills, no matter how young, old or two-left-footed you were.

She ran regular classes in London, and eventually she formed a performance side, Camden Clog, out of the the class members, who have since danced with her at the Royal Albert Hall, the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall as well as many folk festivals. It is on joining these classes that I came to know Pat.

She would sit at the front of the classes, surrounded by bags. She was a hard taskmistress, but unfailingly polite: she would never be negative, but her way of saying "yes" after you had shown her some steps you felt you had perfected left you in no doubt that she meant "no". Once after a performance when she wasn't pleased with us she said, damningly: "Well, the audience seemed to enjoy it".

The first performance we danced out with Pat was a Christmas event in the Mayfair Hotel. They wanted Austrian dancers to go with their seasonal decor of wooden chalets and snowy mountain scenery. Somehow they settled on Pat to perform. We danced her Lancashire hornpipes to Austrian waltz tunes as polystyrene snow fell from the ceiling, building up on the dance floor around us. We ladies wore dirndle skirts, flowers in our hair, puffy sleeved blouses and tight little bodices. Tony, our male dancer, wore lederhosen. I was terrified, but Pat was game for anything.

When she was dancing we could tell when not everything was going according to plan by the faces she would make at us when she did a step that involved turning around - but the public always got a smiling face. She had a special step she would do when she went wrong, that she could continue to do until she got right again. This was fine for her solo dances, but it could cause chaos during a group dance. Dancing to Baa Baa Black Sheep in the big pavilion at Whitby festival she went wrong, the rest of us went wrong in sympathy, we were all doing different steps and we were frantic about how to get back in one piece - Pat was smiling benignly, doing her "going wrong" step.

At one performance, she was too unwell to dance, but stood up to take a bow. Unfortunately she stood in the middle of the set, and wouldn't move. We had to dance with her standing still between us, which made our travelling steps rather tricky.

We had a booking at Walthamstow town hall - a very imposing municipal building. We had all made it there except for Pat. So we had madly started to re-choreograph the dances, assuming she was stuck in a traffic jam, when there was a little tap on the changing room window and rather plaintive voice from outside said 'Hello, I can't get in'. For some reason she hadn't been able to find the main entrance, despite its overbearing pillared frontage on the main road.

In 1990 she announced that we had been invited to dance at the National Gallery and what a great honour this was. We were bemused at the idea of dancing in an art gallery, but she had actually said the National Gathering, where she was to be awarded the Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance and Song Society for her contribution to clog dancing. An award she was justly very proud of.

Her dance style was neat, precise and accurate. And fast. She could dance so fast that her feet would blur. You couldn't work out how the sound was being produced.

She would normally have to ask musicians to speed up, flicking her hand up and down behind her back. They would have to improvise, playing a very simple tune, or dropping half the notes from a complex tune in order to keep up with her. When, in the last step of the dance she indicated that it was time to speed up even more you could see them despair.

Roy who, having encouraged Pat to make herself known to the wider world, found he was lumbered with following her around attending folk festivals and events, retaliated by forming the Grouch club - The Guild for the Relief of Unappreciated Clog Husbands - a sulking and drinking club. It came in handy for the rest of the Camden Clog husbands as well - their tasks of holding handbags, rushing back for forgotten items and looking after infants being taken for granted and totally unappreciated.

Pat always wanted to dance at the Little Braxted village fair and regretted that there was no suitable surface to dance on, which says much about Little Braxted as we have danced on grass, carpet, sticky lino and gravestones.

The last time I saw Pat was in late November. We went to the Compasses in Great Totham. She was tired in the morning, but she perked up after the meal and we put on our clogs and danced in her practice room, known by Roy as "the conservatory". She was frail then, and had not been well for a long time. There was still no way I could keep up with her.

She was a bloody good dancer. I am proud to have known her. We all are.

Alex Fisher has brought three articles written by Pat to our attention. We would like to share them with you.

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