Cornish Folk Tradition: Songs Music Dance and Associated Customs
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Cornish Dance: Boscastle Breakdown

Source: Charlie Jose, Boscastle, May Day eve 1981, Arthur Biddick December l982

Charlie Jose performed this dance for us in the Napoleon Inn, Boscastle, My Day Eve 1981, a little under a year before he died. Charlie stressed the importance of dancing on slate explaining that revellers had been known to 'borrow' a gravestone for the purpose when a suitable slate floor was not available! Arthur Biddick, a native of Boscastle who had since moved to Goonhavern, was able to elaborate more on the dance for us. He stated that the dancers would improvise on the steps and gave us some examples which we include here. He described a scene in which the men would circle around the room as a preliminary to the dance and stressed that neither dance nor tune had a very rigid format. Dancers would innovate around the basic pattern of the dance and try to out do each other.

Here we show the basic pattern of the dance as provided by Charlie Jose (Bars 1 - 32) and add some of the variations suggested by Arthur Biddick as the dance is repeated. Others may be seen in the accompanying video. He explained that the name derived from the 'old Boscastle Jigs and reels' which were 'broken in together' to form the 'breakdowns'. Arthur was able to provide with an additional two eight bar `breakdowns` to the tune given by Charlie Jose. The tune 'Boscastle Breakdown' was recorded by Richard Dimbleby in October and December 1943 (BBC Sound Archive 6796 and 6918). Arthur remembered the occasion and maintained that the original musicians from Boscastle were plied with so much beer by way of encouragement that they were incapable of playing by the tine the recording started. The tune was carried by other musicians who had come to join in the festivities but barely knew how to play it! Certainly in the BBC recording the tune is a little vague and gives way to a fairly strong chord sequence. Whether this is due to the age of the recording or the reasons Arthur gave must be a matter of conjecture. This tune and dance does not seem to have been unique to Boscastle, the same (or very similar) tune is known in Calstock and associated with a step dance which has sadly passed from living memory. In 1991 the tune is still kept alive by the Calstock revellers who celebrate darkie days at Christmas and on May Day.
Formation: Solo dance for men, performed on one spot except for the introduction.
Steps Differ according to each bar, please see bars section below. Boscastle-Breakdown
   
Bars  
1-8
8 Bar Introduction:Walk in a circle using the heel toe step, to introduction finish in centre with two stamps.

A-1-2

Jump three times on the spot with both feet. Then step on left foot and kick floor along side with ball of right foot.
3-8
Repeat 1-2 three times more
9-16
Repeat 1-8 but reverse rights and lefts
B 17
Step on left foot and shuffle right (this is a slow shuffle moving from the hip and with the whole foot beginning with the heel contacting the floor in both forward and backward directions not the sharp shuffle of a tap dancer ) Step on right foot and shuffle left in the same way.
18-19
Repeat 17 twice.
20
Step on both feet, raise heels and `click` together.
21-32
Repeat 17 - 20 three more times Speed of music increases
B 33-48
Repeat 1 - 16 but reversing rights and lefts every time (i.e. stepping on alternate feet)
49-51
Repeat 17 - 19 (but faster)
52
Step two feet together, 'jump' two feet, click two heels in the air and land on two feet side by side.
53-60
Repeat 49 - 52 twice more
61-64
Step with both feet, jump clicking heels in the air and land with feet slightly apart` six times, stamp left then right foot on the second and third beat of the last bar, finishing with feet together.
The set tune for this dance is 'Boscastle Breakdown', the tune originally collected with the dance. Link to Midi file
 
 
 
   
   
   
   
     
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