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East Acton Stick Dance

East Acton Stick Dance

The East Acton Stick Dance was originally a comedy sketch written by Eric Sykes and performed on the Harry Secombe Show in 1955. Below is a condensed version of the history of the dance, but there is also a more detailed version of this story available.

In November 1955, the Goons (Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers) appeared at the Coventry Hippodrome. They did several solo acts, but the one act they did as a trio was "The East Acton Stick Dancers".

Secombe wrote in his biography: “The only time the three of us appeared on stage together was at the Hippodrome in Coventry. It was the policy of the theatre to put on what they called a birthday show in the run-up to Christmas, and we were booked as the headliners.

"I was to do my usual performance – a mixture of gags and straight songs; Spike was at that time still working on his act; and Peter, who was completely without nerves, was experimenting with all kinds of comic ideas because he hated doing the same act night after night. The only piece of material which we did together was a skit on Morris dancers (called the East Acton Stick Dancers) which Eric Sykes had written for one of my television shows. For this we wore farmers' smocks and shapeless hats and had bells round our ankles and waists. For some reason best known to himself, Peter appeared as a hunchback, a la Charles Laughton in the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. We also carried sticks will bells attached, with which we bashed each other in time to the music of the 'Blue Bell Polka'.”

We don't just know it happened, we even know the costumes and the music! Sit back, look at Andrew Hilditch's cartoon, listen to the Bluebell Polka and use your imagination.

This version of the dance was copied from the dancing of Old Star Morris, with the occasional tweak by Anonymous Morris.

Instructions

Form a line of three across, facing the band. The dancers are "Right", "Middle" and "Left". This dance looks good with several parallel lines of three.

Sticks should be held in the middle throughout the dance.

Figure Music
Chorus AA
Short Arm Turn B
Chorus AA
Backs to Backs B
Chorus AA
Three Man Stars B
Chorus AA
Stick Star B

Chorus (AA)
Depending on the space being danced in, this dance works particularly well if each chorus is done facing a different direction. In a long, narrow space, this might be alternating between dancing towards and away from the band. In a larger space, it works really well rotating the direction 90 left degrees each chorus, starting facing the band.
Count Moves
1-16 Four steps forward and four back. Use big steps. Repeat.
17-20 Middle dancer does tips and butts with the dancer on their Right, one clash on each beat. The 'tips' clash will be forehand, the 'butts' clash will be backhand.
21-24 Middle dancer turns right and does tips and butts with the dancer on their Left.
25-32 The middle dancer pass right shoulder with the Left dancer and starts a three-person hey. Dance one complete hey, back to place.
Short Arm Turn (B)
Count Moves
1-8 The Middle and Left dancers switch sticks to their left hand and take elbow hold with their right. They then turn around each other twice.
9-16 The Middle dancer swaps the stick back to their right hand and takes left hand elbow hold with the Right dancer for two turns around each other back into place.
Chorus (AA)
Backs to Backs (B)
Count Moves
1-8 Middle does a large circular back to back with Left, passing right shoulders.
9-16 Middle does a large circular back to back with Right, passing left shoulders.
Chorus (AA)
Three Man Stars (B)
Count Moves
1-2 Swap sticks to left hand. Move into position for a right hand star, clasping the wrist of the person in front.
3-4 Right hand star with sticks held out vertically.
9-16 Swap sticks to right hand. Left hand star.
Chorus (AA)
Stick Star (B)
Count Moves
1-8 Right hand star with sticks held vertically upright in the centre.
9-16 Middle leads dance off, sticks held high in the air.
Rules of Thumb
Rules of Thumb

Unless otherwise specified, the following general rules apply:

  1. Always start right foot first.
  2. There are 4 beats to a bar. This works out as two steps.
  3. The top of the set is towards the band. Likewise, the bottom of the set is away from the band.
  4. When resting stick on shoulder, the tip of the stick should be level with the middle of your ear.
  5. Turns on the spot will usually be right-hand turns (clockwise). Common exceptions are when dancers need to turn in or out of a set the shortest way.
  6. When passing shoulders with another dancer, the first pass will be a right-shoulder pass. Many dances will have figures that alternate right and left shoulders.
  7. Where a fast turn on the spot is needed, it will be on the first beat of the bar. E.g. If you need to turn and then move across the set, you can count it as 'turn, two, three, four'.
  8. Swings with a partner will be right-hand (clockwise), with the stick held in the left hand, unless otherwise specified.
  9. Figures are usually in multiples of four beats. If you mentally keep counting 'one, two, three, four', then you'll have a good idea of when to move and change.

We rehearse Thursdays from 7:30 - 9:30pm, at St. James Church Centre, Poole, BH15 1JN