One of the quaintest things about long-established English life is having a pleasant summer’s drink in a quiet rural pub when a troop of Morris dancers turn up in their fine colourful garb with bell pads ajingling and clogs aclogging, isn’t it? One of the most endearing things though is their quaint music surely. No electric guitars rubbish here certainly, but some versatile keyed squeezeboxes and a big drum, no less
Morris dancing itself has been around for some six hundred years and is an icon of ancient folk dance, but it got badly sidelined at the time of the industrial revolution only to see a bit of a revival a century or so ago.
We Brits love to export our strange cultures, so expats are out there promoting the Morris tradition with a couple of hundred troupes in many parts of the world, including America, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the like.
One of the great things about Morris sides (or teams) is that they don’t mess about, do they? No, before they setup or get going with any music or dancing, they get the beers in, don’t they? Morris dancing is certainly thirsty work and on a hot sunny day, they need to quench their thirst regularly. These clog wearers promote their activity as being both fantastic fun and great exercise – but their size, weight, and fitness seem to have lost out a little bit to the beer fun, wouldn’t you say? Mind you all the stomping of clogs on hard surfaces, the hopping, rhythmic stepping, half a dozen dancers weaving in and out, waiving of handkerchiefs, or the banging and clashing of sticks, to the backing sounds of lilting reed music, tend to give the impression of a healthy hobby to be proud of, wouldn’t you say?
Certainly Morris dancing is a tradition that has been past down for generations and hopefully will continue to do so. Many sides are mixed male and female, so there is no sexism here! The dances themselves often come from regional areas in England such as Cotswolds, North West, North East, Yorkshire, Welsh borders, etc, but they all look remarkably similar to the untrained eye, don’t they? One of the great things is that often the pub revellers are encouraged to have a go themselves and there is nothing better than public participation in such a fun activity – the non-drivers with a couple of drinks inside them are usually game for it and delight the other spectators who video it all on their mobile phones to cause mirth and embarrassment to the amateur participants sometime later!
There is another strange tradition of some dancers ‘blackening-up’ which historically could be down to impoverished dancing beggars using that as a traditional means of disguise – but that reason may just be a popular myth, wouldn’t you say?.
[If you are interested in having some fun and preserving a truly English long standing tradition, be one of fifteen thousand and join a local Morris Dancers side – there are more than six hundred of them around (listings are on the web)]