Hello all, a big thanks to the regulars for continuing to follow this blog into the New Year, and welcome to all the new readers. I’ve had some good feed back recently, and that helps inspire me to keep blogging!!
Amidst all the doom and gloom that is being reported these days, I read another bad news tale that is closer to my interest than some others. It was a snippet that went along the lines that Morris dancing could die out in 20 years. This would indeed be a sad thing, because, as Charlie Corcoran of the Morris Ring said recently, “once we've lost this part of our culture it will be almost impossible to revive it”. The Morris dance has been around for hundreds of years, and even by Elizabethan times it was considered an ancient art. The title of this page is in reference to the 1448 document that gives payment to the Daunsers for their services. When we see dances these days it is a manifestation of over 500 years of evolving dance from when it started with two performers, to at least 4 these days. Corcoran also says that young people are too embarrassed to take up the activity these days. I can sympathise with the young. The costumes dancers wear, are seen by many, as sources of derision, rather than one of pride. They vary from troupe to troupe, but in the main are traditional working wear, with ruggles (bell-pads).
(image taken from the Morris Ring)
My most recent encounter with Morris dancers was at the White Horse Folk Festival in 2008. We were treated to performances from three different forms of the dance. When they arrived at the pub, they were greeted with gusto from all of the patrons. I was most impressed with all dances, they showed great skill and timing during the dance, but also there was camaraderie about them and a sense of belonging to the team. The Icknield Morris in particular, left an impression on me. They danced with real vigour, aided in the main by the young members of the troupe, which included the Junior Leader playing the melodeon. When I say young, I mean young. They were guys in their early twenties, if that! I felt very privileged to be watching the skill, fitness and strength in the performances.
To be fair, it wasn’t just the youngsters; many of the old boys were clashing sticks, and shaking bells with just as much enthusiasm, although the want of stamina was getting the better of some. During the Icknield’s third dance I had a chat with one of the senior members of the troupe. When I asked why he wasn’t involved in it, he replied that officially he was allowing the juniors to take the limelight for a change! I could only congratulate him on his modesty, and generosity in sharing the acclaim of the spectators amongst the troupe as they sweated away on the warm afternoon. And his choice of ale from the well stocked bar!
Not too long ago, I was listening to Radcliffe and Maconie, who were talking to a caller to the show. They asked him the usual questions i.e. what his job was- formerly in the army, now a trucker, his marital status- married, etc. Radcliffe then asked what his hobbies were, to which the caller said Morris Dancing. As soon as he said that, a surge of interest one could almost feel from the DJs, was being broadcast. There was a bit of rib tickling, because that is Radcliffe’s and Maconie’s job, however, there was a genuine respect from the two to the caller for his involvement in the tradition. They did mention about a fall in numbers, and whether the caller was embarrassed to tell friends that he danced. The reply was that he didn’t feel at all embarrassed, and didn’t hesitate to tell acquaintances of his hobby. “I didn’t tell anybody when I was in the army though!” was his final defence.
Humorous as the response was, I suppose this is the problem faced by many people courting the idea of joining a group. However, this is where the Morris Ring needs to fight on all fronts. If they can demonstrate to potential members the solidarity, and pride in their pursuit that comes from being in a troupe- which was clearly in evidence from all the performers at the White Horse Fest- they will have no problem recruiting. Once a member, dancers will then fully appreciate the health benefits, and the satisfaction of being involved in keeping alive one of this nation’s proud traditions will bring. Let’s see this tradition around for another 500 years.
I’m off to see Vin Garbut performing in Twickenham tomorrow. I am looking forward to that, and telling you all about it with my next update of the blog.