There was quite a bit of interest in my previous post on Carnival Morris, so I'll try and show the evolution.
Here, one of my favourite pieces of morris insanity is the Saddleworth Rushcart procession:
Now, the Rushcart procession often used to be accompanied by morris dancers dancing as part of the procession. Why aren't they dancing with it now? Well, as you can see, they're all pulling the rushcart!
This is an old photo of Whitworth Rushcart procession. You can see the Coconut dancers in the foreground (Coconut dancing is an almost extinct offshoot of North West morris) and the morris men along the side processing down the road with their garlands.
Especially in the North West, which was really into carnivals and processions (home of many marching brass bands as well), the dance style evolved to work well with processions. This means a focus on formation moves (rather than complex footwork), choruses that move you forwards, and moves that work well with music with a steady rhythm and a steady drum beat. You're moving at a steady pace, and there may be other bands in addition to your own, so you can't afford to be dependent on music with complex tunes. A lot of North West dances have a chorus that is either forward/backward when static, or forward/forward when moving in a procession.
It's likely that somewhere around a third of traditional NW sides danced in clogs. It used to be believed that this was because a lot of mill workers wore clogs (which is true), but people often wore their best clothes for dancing. My personal belief is because of the sound. Listen to an NW side dancing on cobble stones or tarmac or any hard surface. They provide their own percussion, and it keeps the dancers in sync. You can tell instantly if anyone is off the beat.
See this video and scroll to 3 mins, to see Customs and Exiles. You'll see exactly what I mean about clogs being useful in a processional environment.
See Mendip Morris Men below for an example of a North West morris processional dance. (In all honesty, they're not terribly good, but it does show you the general idea.) They're using 'slings' in their hands. North West morris usually used slings or short decorated sticks or garlands. The slings may well have had their origin in knotted handkerchiefs. Nowadays, anything that swings well can be used. Often short lengths of decorated rope, or sometimes old mill spindles with rope coming out the end. (You hold the spindles in your hands)
Having said they aren't that good, notice how the footwork suddenly becomes much better as they get closer to the audience. There's no point in exhausting yourself in a long procession in the bits where there's hardly anyone watching.
Here are Earlsdon morris, an excellent men's side from Coventry. They're dancing a modern North West dance that is pretty much in the general style of the tradition. The focus is on formation and crisp polka steps. The short decorated sticks are the norm for North West morris.
So, how's our bastardised offspring looking against the tradition?
I can recognised the stepping. If you allow for the fact that the girls are dancing on their toes, rather than in the flat-footed style demanded by clogs, the main steps are virtually identical. The girls also dance with a higher knee-raise, but I've seen younger NW sides aiming for a much higher knee raise as well. There are similarities in a lot of the arm movements too - though you've obviously got to look at dances with sticks rather than with slings. There is the potential for processions as well, the dance on and off were very well done.
The biggest difference seems to lie in the curiously static nature of the figures. In traditional morris, the moves between figures are much faster and more fluid. In Carnival Morris, the emphasis is far more on the stepping and it takes a long time to move from one figure to another. It's possible that this may relate to the high degree of teamwork and precision in Carnival morris. There's probably a trade-off between speed and precision.
The girls are also able to dance on grass. North West dancers perform on grass with reluctance. It's very easy to skid when doing fast moves in clogs (even when the clogs have rubber on the soles). Other forms of morris are a bit happier on grass, though wet grass is a high risk factor for any dancer of any kind.
If you've read this far, share your thoughts... Questions, disagreements, comparisons with other traditions, all welcome.