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New prize for Sidmouth jig contest

A prize for newcomers is being introduced in the morris jig contest at the next Sidmouth Festival to encourage more dancers to take part. 

It'll replace the award for innovation introduced in 1995 by Pete Collinson - who'll now sponsor the new category. 

The Audience Appeal trophy, introduced in 1996 and currently held by Jan and Taz Tarry of Stroud, will remain in place. 

"We're bringing in the newcomers' prize because we need to get some new people coming in to the competition," says Tracy Rose, who organises the competition in memory of the celebrated jig dancer, John Gasson. He died in a car crash on his way to perform at Sidmouth in 1987.

The competition is widely credited with increasing the popularity and standard of morris jigs - a part of the tradition that was being neglected by many Cotswold sides when the event started in the late Eighties. 

It's become a highlight of Sidmouth International Festival of Folk Arts, regularly attracting audiences of around 400 enthusiasts. 

The quality of dancing is considered to have grown too - but that's created a problem when it comes to attracting new competitors. 

"It has come to be seen as too hard for people who haven't entered before. People see the best entries each year and think, 'I can't be that good'. 

"They forget the ones who've come up through the competition, improving as they go."

Many past competitors have found their ratings improve from year to year as they learn the tricks of the trade - such as facing the audience, rather than the musician.

"I think the newcomers' prize should make the difference in getting new people to come forward."

The prize will be given to both dancer and musician - but only the dancer need be new to the competition. 

"They don't have to be novices - it could be someone who's been dancing the morris for thirty years.

"But they have to be on the starting blocks of being good enough to dance solo in front of an audience. If none of the new entrants justify the prize, it won't be awarded."

One of the aims to the new prize is to broaden the range of dancers coming forward. In recent years, the number of entries from members of the Morris Ring has dwindled, though that's thought to be partly due to the relatively small number of Ring sides attending the festival. 

In the mid-90s there was a perception that the competition favoured dancers from the "white shoe" style of Cotswold - danced high in the air and very slow. The current holder of the John Gasson trophy has deliberately moved away from that approach.

The Audience Appeal prize was introduced partly to recognise that good jig dancing embraces all styles, and that often it is the character and spirit of performance that makes the impact. 

It's intended to be recognise performance skills that can be far harder to acquire than pure dance technique. 

The prize was inspired by three performances in particular: the fiddle jig by Bampton dancer Matt Green; the genial dancing of Roy Yarnall, one-time Squire of the Morris Ring; and the broom dance presented by two members of Pilgrim Morris Men. 

Sidmouth festival organisers will only allow three prizes to be awarded in the competition, so one of the existing trio had to be dropped to make way for the newcomers' category. 

"Really and truly, the innovation bit has got further than the audience appeal element," says Tracy. "We need to keep the audience prize because people still have to learn how to appeal to an audience. 

"If people carry on being innovative in their jigging, then we will have done our job. But we still haven't done the job on audience appeal. 

"If something comes forward that is very innovative - and good - then maybe they will get a bottle of wine."

Jigs don't need to be innovative to do well, though dancers and musicians who personalise a performance, by introducing distinctive touches, are likely to fare better. 

The prize for the best newcomers is likely to be the same as for the innovation category - a pair of pewter tankards. 

The winners of the Audience Appeal prize are given a trophy, to keep for a year, and two medallions featuring a morris dancer (they're not worth a lot of money). 

The main prize winners are given two tankards and keep the John Gasson memorial trophy for a year. 

Winners of the Innovation Prize: 

1995 not awarded
1996 Jameson Wooders and Jane Berrisford-Smith
1997 Mary-Jo Searle and Penny Gillett
1998 not awarded
1999 Jan and Taz Tarry

Competitors in the John Gasson Memorial Jig Competition are judged on music, technical skill , and performance (presentation and artistic interpretation). Music is marked on the basis of both the quality of playing and the extent to which it supports and enhances and dancing. 

Audience appeal is judged separately. 

The next competition, will take place at The Manor Pavilion theatre at the 2000 Sidmouth festival, probably on Sunday, 6 August 2000.

For information on taking part, e-mail Tracy Rose via

Links: Seven Champions Molly Dancers



1999 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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