Collected From: Arthur Biddick, Boscastle (1982) & Charlie Jose, Boscastle (1981) Boscastle Breakdown was first discovered in 1981 when a ‘tip off’ from their friend John Bolitho led Merv and Alison Davey to the Napoleon Inn in Boscastle. Lured by the rumour that dancing and singing still happened at the ‘Nap’, they went along with John one evening, accompanied by Pat and Dave Crewes and their camcorder. After what seemed like forever waiting in the pub, when they had given up hope that anything would happen, someone slid a toe under the corner of the carpet, which promptly rolled back to reveal a wooden floor. Dancing then ensued, and thanks to the Crewes family we are able to give you a glimpse of that evening on DVD Two, where Charlie demonstrated the ‘chorus’ part of the dance.
Talking about the dance afterwards, Charlie stressed the importance of dancing on a hard surface such as slate, explaining that revellers had been known to ‘borrow’ a gravestone for the purpose when a suitable slate floor was not available! He also explained that what we know as the ‘shuffle’ part of the dance should sound “..like a train”, further emphasising the need for hard shoes on a hard floor. Unfortunately Charlie was unable to give a great deal more information about the dance, and sadly died only a short time after the footage was taken.
Fortunately Merv and Alison were also put into contact with Arthur Biddick, another native of Boscastle, who was able to give much more detailed information about the dance and, at a younger age than Charlie, was able to actually teach the dance step by step. He explained that the dancers would improvise on the steps and gave some examples which are included in the notations. He described a scene in which the men would circle around the room as a preliminary to the dance. He stressed that neither dance nor tune had a very rigid format. Dancers would improvise around the basic pattern and try to out do each other. Arthur explained that the name derived from the ‘old Boscastle Jigs and reels’ which were ‘broken in together’ to form the tune for the ‘breakdowns’. The tune ‘Boscastle Breakdown’ was recorded by the BBC in 1943. You will find this track on the accompanying audio file, where you can also hear the sound of a step dancers’ feet.
The dance notations given here show the basic pattern or ‘chorus’ of the dance as provided by Charlie Jose, with some of the variations suggested by Arthur Biddick as the dance is repeated.
· 8 Bar Introduction, Walk in a circle using a heel toe step, finish in centre with two stamps. This introduction has come and gone with fashion on the Cornish dance scene, and is not included on the video although it is still very much a part of the dance as it was collected.
· 1—16 are the CHORUS STEP.
· 1—8: Jump three times on the spot with both feet. Then step on left foot and kick the floor along side of the left foot with ball of right foot. Repeat this four times.
· 9—16:Repeat bars 1— 8 but stepping on the right foot and kicking with the left.
· 17 — 19 (SHUFFLE STEP)Step on left foot and shuffle with the right (this is a slow shuffle moving from the hip and with the whole foot beginning with the toe contacting the floor in both forward and backward directions). Step on right foot and shuffle left in the same way. Repeat this three times.
· 20 (STEP ONE) Step on both feet, raise heels and ‘click’ together.
· 21— 24 Repeat bars 17 — 20
· 25 — 27 Repeat bars 17 — 19
· 28 (STEP TWO) The double shuffle, which is simply the shuffle outlined in bars 17 — 19 at double speed.
· 29 — 32 Repeat bars 25 — 28
· 33 — 48 Repeat bars 1—16
· 49 — 51 Repeat bars 17 —1 9
· 52 (STEP THREE) Step backwards with the left foot and the backwards with the right foot. Then step forwards with the left foot and forwards with the right foot. If danced on the barrel this part would be stepping back onto the rim, so the step isn’t too big.
· 53 — 56 Repeat bars 49 — 52
· 57 — 59 Repeat bars 17 — 19
· 60 (STEP FOUR) Roll backwards onto the heels of your feet and tap your toes together, then roll forwards onto the toes of your feet and tap your heels together.
· 61 — 64 Repeat bars 57 — 60
· 65 — 80 Repeat bars 1 — 16
· 81 — 83 Repeat bars 17 — 19
· 84 (STEP FIVE) Slide the left and right toes away from each other, then slide the left and right heels out. Slide the heels back in again, and then the toes back in again into a standing position. Your feet should not leave the floor for this step.
· 85 — 88 Repeat bars 81 — 84
· 89 — 91 Repeat bars 17 — 19
· 92 — 96 (STEP SIX) 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 music should speed up at the end for this.
The tune originally collected is played at reasonable dance speed in the audio file below:
Here is a version courtesy of the BBC Archives recorded in 1943 where you can hear the sound of the step dancers feet.
The Boscastle Breakdown has a simple chord structure which invites almost endless variation and improvisation. Visit the Cornish National Music Archive to listen to some of these including a version by Charlie Bate, the renowned Padstow accordionist who gives his own takeBoscastle Breakdown lends itself well to choreography and additional improvisation to create new step dances.