Well-known downtown step dancer Stevie Lane still brings joy to many, including local musicians
Just the mention of Stevie Lane’s name to anyone on his unit at the Agnes Pratt Seniors Home triggers a smile.
“Oh, everyone loves Stevie,” one nurse said. “He’s so full of life.”
It’s the same reaction Lane has triggered for years from thousands of people from this province and around the world who has ever had the pleasure of seeing him in action.
The tiny, white-haired man became somewhat of local celebrity over the years for his quick steps and fancy moves on the dance floors of Irish traditional bars throughout downtown St. John’s.
Performing became routine for him as musicians on stage delighted in playing upbeat tunes to get him moving — much to the delight of the audience, many of whom would often gather around to clap and cheer him on.
“I love to dance. I’ve always loved to dance,” said Lane, who seemed to enjoy the bedside chat about his dancing days.
“I can’t do it now as much as I used to, but I could dance, dance, dance around in circles.”
Lane — who will turn 84 on Boxing Day — was tired on this Friday afternoon and chose to rest in bed as he spoke, but he soon perked up when he talked about his dancing days.
He’d always had a love for dance from the time he was a boy. One of nine children, Lane was born in Sydney Cove, on Pork Island, 11 kilometres off the coast of the Bonavista Peninsula. His family moved to Catalina in 1956 during resettlement.
As a young man, Lane would go to many dances, weddings and parties all over the Fair Islands.
“We did a lot of dancing back then, step dancing and square dancing,” Lane said, smiling. “We’d go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. Oh, it was so good.”
Family gatherings often turned into step dance competitions between he and his brothers.
In March 1965, Lane came to St. John’s and worked in construction work as a carpenter until he retired.
His passion for dancing led him to frequent local clubs downtown soon after he moved to the city.
“We did a lot of dancing back then, step dancing and square dancing. We’d go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. Oh, it was so good.”
Four or five nights a week, Lane — who never had a driver’s licence — would get ready to walk downtown from his home on Suvla Street in Rabbittown to take in the local music and dance.
His wife Linda remembers those times well.
“I was working, so it was his thing,” said Linda, who’s been married to Lane for 53 years. “Sometimes, I’d pick him up. He’d go early, after supper, and be home before midnight. He really enjoyed it.”
The couple would often go dancing together — sometimes downtown or at the Commodore on Torbay Road, the Pink Poodle and the Blue Rail, both on Topsail Road, or the Crystal Palace in the Goulds.
With his quick steps, warm smile and kiss-blowing charm, Lane soon became well known on the bar scene and he attracted many admirers, especially tourists.
In her “Wandering Off” travel blog about four years ago, Michelle Holmes noted Lane’s step dancing at O’Reilly’s Pub on George Street as one of the highlights during her first trip to this province.
“This wee firestorm danced with the vigor of someone half a century younger,” she wrote. “No partners required, or recommended, the dance floor is all his.”
There was no question, when Lane got up to step dance, the floor belonged only to him and anyone who ever tried to join him would soon find that out, as Lane would either stop or walk away. No one seemed to mind, and all would erupt into applause and cheer after each number.
On the off night he wasn’t there, people would ask about him. Local tour groups would even hire Lane to dance for their guests.
“There’s probably a video of Dad on every continent of the world,” said his son, Jon Lane, a talented percussionist and music teacher, who has fond memories of his father dancing and playing accordion over the years.
Local musicians performing at the various Irish bars loved seeing Lane, as he became part of the entertainment.
“The great thing about Stevie is he just brought the room alive,” said Larry Foley of The Punters, who has become close friends with Lane and his family. “He just turned things up and brightened the room …
“He was the lightning rod who brought such an energy to a room. He’s a quirky little guy who still has a hefty presence.”
Foley said musicians would often call on him to get the crowd going with his step dancing. Lane wasn’t particular about the songs, but Foley enjoyed playing “Maid Behind the Bar” for him. Chris Hennessy often played, “Banks of the Roses” for him, while Wabana’s favourite song to play for Lane would be, “Mountain Dew.”
Even an instrumental, with fiddles, bodhran or mandolin, anything with a good beat, would draw him to the floor.
Bob Taylor — who plays in the band Wabana with Carl Peters — said in his decades of performing, Lane’s dances were always a special part of the night.
“He would definitely get things going. He just transformed the whole room and it almost became Stevie’s show. Everyone would clap,” Taylor said.
“Stevie became a local celebrity and a tourism ambassador. I worked in radio and have been on stage for 25 years, but there’s a lot more people know Stevie Lane than Bob Taylor…
“We were paid to entertain the crowd, but Stevie was there to entertain out of the love of music and tradition of dancing.
“He loved it and so did we.”
— Bob Taylor
Lane has slowed these days and he can no longer get out to the clubs to dance. But his passion for traditional music and dancing has never waned.
Neither has musicians’ love for him.
It’s why some of them still make a point of bringing the music to him.
Foley, who has become one of Lane’s good friends, often visits Lane and sings for him, whether it’s by his bedside or to a roomful of people at the seniors’ home.
“It’s what you do for your buddies,” Foley said. “I didn’t see it as a big gesture on my part. I just drop up to see Stevie. I always carry on with him and talk to him just as I always would.
“I don’t dwell on his surroundings or trappings in his life. I don’t know medically where he is, but it’s interesting to see music transcended that.
“Music is a gift to give and gift to receive.”
So, when Lane wasn’t feeling well a few weeks ago and a family friend, Julie Miller — who met Lane when she worked at O’Reilly’s Irish and Newfoundland Pub — arranged to have Foley, Taylor, Peters and Hanrahan come to Agnes Pratt to perform for him, they were more than willing.
It was their way of giving back to the man who’s given them so much over the years.
With the main area filled with residents, family members and staff, they were delighted to see Lane jump to the floor and step dance just as he did so many times before.
“That was special. He really came alive,” said Foley, who hopes more musicians will become involved in such visits. “It was like he always was. It was amazing... I can’t get the sound of the heels cracking on that floor out of my head.
“He was plankin’ ’er down.”
In a video taken by a family member that day, Lane’s excitement was evident as he blew kisses to the crowd while he danced.
“It was pretty magical,” said Taylor, who also brought his sons, Dylan and Daniel.
“We hoped it would be something that would give Steve that little boost he needed. And it did and that’s why it was so emotional — to see him dance again, something that was always such a big part of his life.”
— Bob Taylor
When asked how he felt about the musicians coming to see him, Lane’s eyes again filled with tears.
“They’re wonderful,” he said, “wonderful people.”
And when they come again, you can be sure Lane will do all he can to dance again.
“I’m going to keep dancing,” he said. “I’m going to dance, dance, dance as long as I can.”