Mudcat Café message #2116660 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #103732   Message #2116660
Posted By: GUEST,Mikefule
01-Aug-07 - 02:00 PM
Thread Name: Morris segregation
Subject: RE: Morris segregation
Interesting. Does Captain Birdseye put all this intellectual effort into improving his/her own Morris side and still have time to share it with the rest of us? Or is this a bit like me (a non cricketer) holding forth in the pub about how poorly the England cricket team sometimes performs?

90% of everything is technically very poor quality. Most books, most poems, most pop records, most brass band music, most football matches, and most Morris dancing. That doesn't mean it isn't fun or worthwhile.

I have been dancing for 24 years in a Cotswold side. Periodically, we trim our repertoire because it keeps grwoing.

It typically stands at about 30 dances plus half a dozen jigs, plus a few that we dance from memory with little or no practice.

The practice season is about 34 weeks long, from which we lose one practice for the AGM, one for Christmas, one for New Year. If everyone turns up every week for an entire hour of solid practice, that gives us roughly 1 hour's practice per dance per year.

With other commitments such as work, family, bands, other hobbies, and eating and sleeping, one evening a week set aside for Morris practice is a big commitment. Not everyone can manage it.

So if we can manage straight lines, a reasonable level of vigour, no collisions or falls, and some degree of uniformity of style, over 30 dances from six varied traditions, that's pretty good going.

As for the performance, as a Fool, I constantly talk to the audience, trying to make a show from the limited ingredients available.

All the dances the same? Only in the same way as all Irish reels, all Bluegrass tunes, all ballads... I notice that we have in our repertoire:
Handkerchief corner dances
Handkerchief set dances
Handkerchief column dances
Single long stick dances (set and corner versions)
Two long stick dances (set and corner versions)
Single short stick dances
Two short stick dances
Rounds dances
Solo jigs
Double jigs
dances for four, six and eight men.

We could do a long show without doing two dances that looked similar to anyone who was watching with any degree of interest at all.

Go to Bampton and watch the real thing: six men and anything from one to three or four musicians. The dances are simple. The costumes are simple. It is done with reasonable vigour and dignity, smiles, straight lines, and a respect for what they are doing. But they manage without all the paraphernalia that has attached to revival sides. There are no extreme costumes, no throwing of sticks (no sticks at all), no beast, no circus skills, no blackened faces.

Go to Headington Quarry and see the real thing: six men and a musician. Simple, almost boring, costumes. Simple steps, simple figures. A reasonable level of vigour and dignity, smiles, straight lines and a respect for what they are doing.

Go to Winster and see the real thing: a dozen or so men doing a very simple dance to a small "band". Simple costumes, rough and ready lines, broad smiles.

Go to Hayfield and see the real thing: one simple dance with only three figures, danced all day.

It is a mistake (one I have made over the years) to try to make the Morris into more than it really is. It's simplicity is part of its magic. It is there whether the person in the audience watches or not. We all prefer a good crowd and a bit of banter, but that is not esssential to the tradition. It is part of the modern "show business/street circus/competing for attention" attitude. "Look at me, I'm a Morris dancer; I'm mad I am."

The Bampton sides attract a crowd on a wet morning in May simply because they are there.

The music, I agree, is often done badly in many Morris sides. The priority has to be the dance. The musicians should play for the dance, rather than the dancers dancing to the music. One instrument or several; melodeons or fiddles; pipes or concertinas, the principle is the same: play to the dancers. However, even this is not clear cut when dealing with processional dances where the band marches ahead and plays and the dancers follow.

It isn't perfect; it is what it is.