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Hattie's the youngest champion

Fourteen-year-old Hattie Vail has become the youngest-ever winner of the John Gasson Memorial Solo Jig Competition at Sidmouth - with the president of the Morris Federation, John Bacon, as her musician.

Hattie's victory went down well with an exuberant audience at the Manor Pavilion theatre, at the end of one of the most spirited competitions to date.

The 1992 winner Sue Graham and musician Mark Rogers, of The Outside Capering Crew, were placed second after Sue fluffed her big finish in a technically accomplished Fool's Jig. The pair had been given applause and a few cheers throughout the dance.

The audience prize went to "Led" and "Weight", both wearing extremely tight jeans and extravagant glam-rock wigs, whose hilarious Stairway To Heaven jig to electric bass guitar received rapturous applause.

The pair - bearing uncanny resemblances to Dave Brassington and Trevor Cook, of Great Western Morris - amazed those watching by starting the dance with a leapfrog over the musician, leaving people wondering how they'd finish.

In the closing bars, they looked set to complete the dance with the same trick - but went one better with a leap into a shoulder ride. The final note on the guitar was all-but drowned out by the cheering.

The new prize for a first-time entry was won by Sue Hamer-Moss, dancing a characterful version of Fieldtown "Signposts" to the playing of John Golightly (who'd won the main prize with dancer Lucy Cunningham in 1994).

Hattie, who dances with Ditchling Morris in Sussex, was taken aback by her win. She'd been standing at the back of the theatre when the results were announced. "When they said Sue came second, I didn't know what to expect, because that's who I thought had won.

"I didn't think I would win. I was totally shocked. Everyone around me said, 'You looked completely dazed.'"

She'd won the audience prize in the 1997 competition, having first entered the previous year.

This time she danced a neat, spirited version of Bledington Ladies of Pleasure, faithful to the original with strong, well-defined hocklebacks, and slows performed facing out at an angle. By chance, a heavily-modified version of the same dance won the 1999 competition.

Hattie owes her dancing skill to the regular jig sessions hosted by Ditchling Morris. "We haven't done it for a while because everyone has been busy," she said, "but we used to have jig mornings every other Sunday where we would learn new jigs. It wasn't just Ditchling - it was anyone from the surrounding area. Jigs are just basically part of the repertoire."

John Bacon introduced the sessions and nurtured the team's younger dancers. Hattie's not the only one to have competed at Sidmouth.

"All my jigs John has taught me, so it's all thanks to him," said Hattie.

John's bright touch on the accordion has become one of the best-known features of the jig contest in recent years.

Hattie's used to high-profile performances - she's also a member of Stepback, the innovative dance company that's adapted the morris for the stage (controversially dispensing with morris bells). Last year Hattie performed on the Sidmouth arena stage in the Stepback show, and she appeared with the company at its Ballroom Blitz day at South Bank in London a week before her competition win.

The John Gasson Memorial Jig Competition is run by Chris & Tracy Rose on behalf of the sponsors - The Seven Champions Molly Dancers and John Collinson

The results in full

2000 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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