Steps From The Heart
A special step dance collaboration by April Verch & Simon Harmer
Acclaimed step dancers April Verch (Canada) and Simon Harmer (UK) have come together to collaborate on this exceptional project, Steps From The Heart. Combining research, new choreography, performance and teaching, it celebrates two of their dance heroes, Donnie Gilchrist and Alex Woodcock. This web page hosts the various elements of this project for dancers and dance enthusiasts alike. Please feel free to enjoy it and share it! We hope you will find joy and inspiration…we certainly did!
The Land We Step On
While we are gathering virtually and from various places around the globe, we would like to begin by acknowledging the Indigenous Peoples of the lands each of us call home. We take a moment now to acknowledge the importance of these lands, the people who have and who do reside in them.
We do this to reaffirm our commitment and responsibility to improving relationships between nations and to improving our own understanding of local Indigenous peoples and their cultures.
As we collaborate and celebrate through dance, we acknowledge that the Ottawa Valley step dance tradition comes from the ancestral and unceded territory of the Algonquin people that call this land home.
Please take a moment to join us in reflecting and acknowledging the harms and mistakes of the past, and to consider how we are and can each, in our own way, try to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and collaboration.
April Verch is an award-winning musician and dancer who has been dancing since the age of three and fiddling since the age of six! She has recorded fourteen solo albums, and toured and taught worldwide for over 20 years. April grew up in Pembroke, Ontario, and the rich musical and dancing heritage of the Ottawa Valley region is at the heart of her work. Beginning with the tunes and step dancing of the early loggers, it also incorporates influences from French, Scottish, German, Polish and Irish settlers. A member of the Instep Research Team, Simon Harmer hails from the south of England and has been teaching and performing step dance styles for over 40 years, including English clog, Appalachian clogging and Canadian steps from Quebec, Ontario and Cape Breton Island. More recently he has been focusing on the social stepping traditions of the English counties of Sussex and Hampshire.
April contacted Simon after stumbling across the Step Your Way video on YouTube, a project Simon worked on with hip-hop dancer and choreographer Sasha Biloshisky. April and Simon quickly found themselves taking the first steps towards this new collaboration. Their huge respect for and understanding of the legacy of their dance teachers and mentors (what’s becoming known as “dancestry” thanks to dance scholar, Janet Schroeder) inevitably led to the question, “If you had to name one dancer whose influence is still having impact on your dance journey, who would that be?”
April’s answer was Donnie Gilchrist, born in 1925 in Campbell’s Bay, Quebec. Donnie took dance lessons from the age of 4, and after the family moved to Ottawa in 1935 he supplemented their income by dancing at street markets and in dance halls. An international touring and teaching career eventually followed. Gilchrist is widely considered the pioneer of the Ottawa Valley dance tradition and it has long been part of April’s mission to help preserve elements of this style for future generations, including the ability to “dance the tune” and improvise. Simon’s selection was Alex Woodcock, born in Alnwick, Northumberland in 1922. Alex’s father (a miner) arranged for him to take dance lessons from Cuthbert May, son of champion clog dancer and teacher Eddie May. Alex went on to learn hornpipe, waltz and schottische steps, tap routines, and also learned and subsequently taught ballroom dancing and other popular dances of the day. Later in life Alex became better known throughout the UK clog dancing community as a performer and teacher with an engaging performance style.
The legacy of Donnie Gilchrist and Alex Woodcock is at the core of this fascinating project, further shaped by April and Simon’s thorough research, outstanding artistry and passion for their subject. We invite you to read this document (you may also download it if you wish) which includes the findings of our research and outlines our project from start to finish.
The Main Event
On January 8, 2022 April and Simon presented their collaboration live on Zoom through a conversation with fellow step dancers and educators Toby Bennett (UK) and Sherry Johnson (Canada). A recording of that presentation is available for viewing below. (To watch full screen or directly on YouTube, use the controls in the bottom right hand corner.)
The January 8 presentation concluded with the debut of the steps April and Simon choreographed together! Enjoy their Steps From The Heart routine below! We would love for you to leave a comment on the video (on YouTube) to tell us what this dance meant to you. Did it remind you of something? Bring back a memory? Please take a moment to let us know! (To watch full screen or directly on YouTube, use the controls in the bottom right hand corner.)
On January 9, 2022, April and Simon hosted a live workshop on Zoom to teach a few of their new steps to dance enthusiasts from around the world.
In addition to that workshop, part of this project was to produce a professional tutorial video for every step in the routine for dancers to enjoy. That video is available for you below! We would like to remind you that one of the goals of this collaboration is for dancers to use these steps as a “jumping off point.” Please use this tutorial video as inspiration to take the steps and make them your own. If you’re so inclined, we would really love to see your take on these steps or what they inspire you to create! Send us a video clip by email so we can celebrate with you! (To watch full screen or directly on YouTube, use the controls in the bottom right hand corner.)
Simon (with the help of Nickie Dailly and Chris Metherell) is working on notating the steps Steps From The Heart routine using the Newcastle Notation system devised by C. Hays, J. Jarman, A. Metherell, C. Metherell, A. Smith, E. Wilson. Learn more about Newcastle Notation here (PDF used with permission from InStep Research Team). We will be posting the notation here for you to view and/or download in the coming weeks, so if this is something you are intersest in, please check back soon!
April and Simon created their steps specifically to fit this original waltz clog composed by April for the project.
Listen to the sound track (including April & Simon’s feet) below, or download it here.
Listen to the sound track (instrumental only, no feet) below, or download it here.
We sincerely hope you’ll enjoy reading, watching, listening, dancing through these materials! Thank you for your interest and enthusiasm. Some of you have asked about making donations, and if you’d like to contribute, you may do so here.
~April & Simon
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien