Mudcat Café message #2535987 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #117529   Message #2535987
Posted By: MikeofNorthumbria
09-Jan-09 - 09:52 AM
Thread Name: Morris joins the Dodo?
Subject: RE: Morris joins the Dodo?
Les in Chorlton wrote "…what message are we giving about The Morris when sides with no history are dancing made up dances in parts of the country with maybe a tenuous connection with that particular version of The Morris?"   

It would take a book to answer your question properly Les, and I don't have time to write one just now, so please take what follows as a preliminary sketch of an answer.

What message are we giving? Well actually, several messages. Firstly, that it feels good to be alive and kicking, rather than dead or drooping. Secondly, that leaping about to the beat of a cheerful tune while tracing geometrical patterns on the pavement can be fun.   And thirdly, that whether we see this activity as the preservation of an ancient tradition or simply a piece of street theatre, it can brighten people's lives for a moment as they pass by - and for a bit longer if they hang around and watch.

What about some of the dances being "made up"?   Well, at several places where there is a particularly intimate connection between "traditional" dancers and their locality (e g Bampton, Abbot's Bromley, or Padstow) records show that over the years performers have "made up" significant changes to what they do.   Why not? It's the locals who own the dances, not the folk-lore scholars. And as St Paul said to the Corinthians "the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life" (2nd epistle, ch3, v 6)

What about dances that have no direct "connection" to the places where they are now performed? Well, can we really be certain there is no connection? We have only fragmentary records of the dances our ancestors used to perform. Some have been preserved more or less intact, but there is good evidence for the existence of others whose details went unrecorded, and it seems reasonable to infer that many more have been entirely forgotten.
It's true that by the time academic folklorists began studying them, specific styles of dancing did appear to be rooted in particular regions. But we can be reasonably sure that most "traditional" dances weren't created from scratch in the places where they were eventually collected. On the contrary, the surviving evidence strongly suggests that Morris dancing was imported into England sometime before 1450, probably as a metropolitan novelty. Over the next few centuries, it spread outwards geographically and downwards socially, changing its form to suit local tastes and circumstances. But the details of who did what, where and when remain conjectural.   

In the midst of all this scholarly uncertainty, why spend so much time and energy arguing inconclusively about authenticity? Leave that to scholars who are too old and stiff to dance themselves. While we're still fit enough, let's get on with the dance, do it as well as we can, and pass it on to others who show an interest.