watervole: (Default)
 An excellent (and surprisingly accurate for a newspaper article on morris) piece about the morris demonstration team of the English Folk Dance Society who fought in the Battle of the Somme, and mostly died there.

I'd come across some of the names before.

George Butterworth can be seen dancing in one of these clips form 1912  (and you may also note the existence of women like Maud Karpeles dancing at this date.)




watervole: (Morris naked)
Small world syndrome.  I had to phone Barclays today, and the lady on the other end of the phone (after discovering the account was for a morris team) told me about her parents who were morris dancers who regularly entered competitions on the Isle of Man. She recalled being a mascot for the side as a little girl, and the precision of the costumes and the pristine white pumps they danced in.  Carnival morris.  I asked her about the music, as I was curious.  In that generation, they were still using traditional tunes rather than pop, but it was still recorded music.  (I'm guessing that very precise routines may be helped in some ways by totally consistent music)

So, I decided to post a bit more about carnival morris.


 This article is copied from a page owned by Thelwall Morris.

It was interesting and I didn't figure I could put it any better.  (and I wanted it here so I didn't lose it)

In essence, competition drives change and may end up changing the very thing it is trying to preserve.

Morris to Carnival

(Geoff Bibby was interviewed on Resonance FM Radio on this topic)

Whenever traditions are under threat there are always those who try to set up situations to help their continuance. This has always been true of Morris Dancing.

There have been many peaks and troughs in the popularity of Morris dancing and interested parties will endeavour to revive flagging teams, re-awaken traditions that are dormant or collect and preserve dances from 'dead' sides - so that these dances are able to undergo a renaissance. Whatever form the input takes, this input itself inevitably has an effect on the tradition.

After WW1 many sides found themselves unable to raise a team - the men simply weren't available. The responses to this situation were variable:

  • Some sides didn't dance again.
  • Some sides re-formed as mixed adults.
  • Some surviving dancers taught boys and some taught sides of mixed sex children.

Most of the 'old' dancers tried to maintain the 'maleness' of the dances.

Teams continued to struggle and the cancellation of many 'traditional' events such as Whit and May festivals during WW2 caused further breaks in continuity. It became rare for boys to dance and girls took it up in large numbers.

In the north of England and particularly in the north - west, competitions were organised in an attempt to encourage troupes once more to be a part of the village festivals. To this end the idea was very successful, but much was changed, and some would say lost, in the process.

Prizes were awarded to the winning troupes in various age categories and there was a massive revival. However the structure which needed to be created for the competitions to succeed, changed both the form and style of Morris dancing very rapidly over a very short time span and in any traditional context, revolutionary change, rather than evolutionary change, is unusual, not to say rare.

Points were lost if lines weren't straight, so movement in dances became much more regimented and shape changes in figures became slower to give more precise control. Regular stepping was rewarded, and the judges agreed on specific rules that regularised exactly what was 'correct'. The rules stipulated what was to be assessed and how it was assessed. Thighs had to come up to the horizontal, pumps had to be clean, innovation in costume and dance gained points.

There was thus a very active encouragement for the dances and costumes to be changed annually to meet the demands and standards set by the competitions. Regional differences in dance and in style of performance could not be maintained if a troupe wanted to win and their dance and style did not match the criteria!

So regional differences were soon sacrificed for the sake of winning prizes and prestige. However the rapid growth of these 'carnival' morris troupes soon swamped the village fetes and festivals and the competitions became unwelcome to organisers. Competitions now take place as internal events in carnival morris circles.

watervole: (Default)
 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.
watervole: (Morris dancing)
 Anonymous Morris just signed up to dance at Winchester Mayfest.

I noticed that the list of sides attending in included Guith Carnival Morris.  Wow!, I thought, a genuine carnival morris side. I though they never, ever, mixed with the folk scene.

Sadly, no.

Guith Carnival Morris are a mixed Border/ Cotswold side, who probably don't even know that Carnival Morris exists.  Most morris dancers don't. It's the morris of which nobody speaks.

This clip is Carnival Morris.  You find it in the North West of England, especially Lancashire and also North Wales..  It's danced by girls, often starting quite young. It's done to modern pop music, and it's always recorded, never live music. It's very precise (to a degree most North West morris teams would  sell their eye teeth to achieve.)  It's highly competitive, and for all these reasons, you can see why it rarely overlaps with the normal morris world.

Longsword

May. 17th, 2013 03:49 pm
watervole: (Default)
Had a great evening last night.

Anonymous Morris have a new band member, been with us for a few weeks now and fits in  very well. He's a gamer.  (there's a lot of geeks and gamers in Anonymous Morris)

We have a general policy of encouraging the band to learn a couple of dances - this allows me to get to dance, and the other musicians find it beneficial as it's easier to play for dancers when you have the sense of the timing that comes from actually having done it.  We also have several musicians who like longsword, so we've been working on a longsword dance mainly for the band (it only needs one person to play the music for longsword).

We're working on the Helmsby II dance which is mostly (though not entirely) traditional.  It's one of the most complicated dances out there - I figure that if it's worth doing longsword at all, then it's worth doing a showy one.

Asked Chris if he'd like to give it a shot, and he took to it like a duck to water, turning the correct way every time.  He says it comes of being both a musician and a mathematician and I agree.  Longsword is a bit of a mathematician's dance.  It's all topology and rotations and you do need to be able to visualise the patterns in your head.

In case you think it's an easy dance, I'm also working with a group of 8 year olds at a local school.  The last two weeks, we've been doing the 'double under'.  That's a single figure from the Helmsby dance (it comes up in a lot of longsword dances).  Most of the children have got it now, but a few are still struggling.  By next week, at least a third of them will have to relearn it.

a 'double under' is almost impossible to describe in words.  Here's an example from a web page I just found "1&2 make arch, 6 passes under turns under right arm, faces 1 stands close to and outside 2 making second arch with 1. 3 4&5 in turn pass under the double arch turn to left and return to places 3&4 passing under 5's sword get out as double over."  (you have to visualise dancers in a ring in numerical order from 1-6)

It's almost impossible to follow - even I'm finding it hard and I know what they're talking about.

If you look at this video of the North Skelton dance, you'll see a double under (repeated three times) at 1:45

North Skelton (named after the village where it was originally recorded) is the dance we are teaching the children (we're missing out the figure where everyone in turn goes over a sword, as we've only got 7 weeks in total).  My friend Paul is doing most of the teaching with the children - he's a retired teacher and taught his children longsword for many years - he's got a very accurate idea of how long it takes for them to learn the dance.

Chris got the double under right pretty much first try and every time after that.  And he had no problems with the pousette or the single over, etc. etc.

It is a lot easier when you are doing it with people who already know the dance, but even so, I was a very happy bunny.
This entry was originally posted on Dreamwidth where it has comment count unavailable comments.

Longsword

May. 17th, 2013 03:49 pm
watervole: (Default)
Had a great evening last night.

Anonymous Morris have a new band member, been with us for a few weeks now and fits in  very well. He's a gamer.  (there's a lot of geeks and gamers in Anonymous Morris)

We have a general policy of encouraging the band to learn a couple of dances - this allows me to get to dance, and the other musicians find it beneficial as it's easier to play for dancers when you have the sense of the timing that comes from actually having done it.  We also have several musicians who like longsword, so we've been working on a longsword dance mainly for the band (it only needs one person to play the music for longsword).

We're working on the Helmsby II dance which is mostly (though not entirely) traditional.  It's one of the most complicated dances out there - I figure that if it's worth doing longsword at all, then it's worth doing a showy one.

Asked Chris if he'd like to give it a shot, and he took to it like a duck to water, turning the correct way every time.  He says it comes of being both a musician and a mathematician and I agree.  Longsword is a bit of a mathematician's dance.  It's all topology and rotations and you do need to be able to visualise the patterns in your head.

In case you think it's an easy dance, I'm also working with a group of 8 year olds at a local school.  The last two weeks, we've been doing the 'double under'.  That's a single figure from the Helmsby dance (it comes up in a lot of longsword dances).  Most of the children have got it now, but a few are still struggling.  By next week, at least a third of them will have to relearn it.

a 'double under' is almost impossible to describe in words.  Here's an example from a web page I just found "1&2 make arch, 6 passes under turns under right arm, faces 1 stands close to and outside 2 making second arch with 1. 3 4&5 in turn pass under the double arch turn to left and return to places 3&4 passing under 5's sword get out as double over."  (you have to visualise dancers in a ring in numerical order from 1-6)

It's almost impossible to follow - even I'm finding it hard and I know what they're talking about.

If you look at this video of the North Skelton dance, you'll see a double under (repeated three times) at 1:45

North Skelton (named after the village where it was originally recorded) is the dance we are teaching the children (we're missing out the figure where everyone in turn goes over a sword, as we've only got 7 weeks in total).  My friend Paul is doing most of the teaching with the children - he's a retired teacher and taught his children longsword for many years - he's got a very accurate idea of how long it takes for them to learn the dance.

Chris got the double under right pretty much first try and every time after that.  And he had no problems with the pousette or the single over, etc. etc.

It is a lot easier when you are doing it with people who already know the dance, but even so, I was a very happy bunny.
watervole: (Morris naked)
Sallymn has been talking about Elsie Oxenham, the writer of the Abbey School books.

Elsie was an early member of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and wrote a lot about morris dancing in her novels.

Sally said in  reply to a comment of mine:


 "I knew about her experience with the Society (and that she based quite a
  few of the early characters on other members - overtly)

  I'd love to see the dances as they were done then, as she saw them, to
  compare..."

Sally, your wish has come true.  A little over 100 years ago, the earliest known film of English folk dance was made.  Here are Cecil Sharpe, Maud Karpeles and George Butterworth dancing the morris.  

Look especially at Maud Karpeles dancing 'Jockey to the Fair'.  She's a wonderful dancer, a real spring to her step and light on her feet.  And if anyone ever wondered why morris dancers use hankies, look no further.  She uses them to great effect, to emphasise every movement, making it both more visible and more graceful.



There's no music on the film because that wasn't possible back then, but we know what tune Maud was dancing to - the dances were often named for the tunes and Sharp recorded the tunes before he ever thought about recording the dances.

Here's a modern side dancing Jockey to the Fair - they're doing it as a set dance, rather than as a solo jig (both forms were used historically), so you will recognise some of the footwork and some will look different as it's being done on the spot by Maud and the morris men are moving through figures.


I must admit that I'm getting an urge to read some of the Abbey School books.  I shall have to keep an eye open for them.

May Day

Jan. 22nd, 2013 11:21 am
watervole: (Morris dancing)
If you want a morris team for May Day, book them early...

If they own a maypole, doubly so.

I've now got four people wanting Anonymous Morris plus maypole over that weekend.  I think we can fit in two of them, but we're certainly not going to perform three days on the trot.  

All paid bookings.  It hurts me to say no to people offering cash when the side can use the money, but one has to be realistic. 
watervole: (Morris naked)
 I'm totally wiped!
On Friday, we got up just after 6 in the morning and drove 2 hours to a school in Somerset where we did morris workshops all day with the children (with the help of other volunteers from Anonymous and a couple of people from other sides who pitched in to help).  The school had asked the local morris teams, but none of them were able to do it - so we ended up travelling from Poole.

After dancing and teaching all day, I got dropped off near Exeter for a weekend morris workshop.  We did several more hours dancing on Friday evening, lots more on Saturday and a fair bit on Sunday morning.

The workshop was organised by Great Western Morris and taught by Roy Dommet.  Roy is in pretty poor heath due to kidney problems and all sorts, but he knows more about Cotswold morris than half a dozen experienced dancers added together.  He gave several talks over the weekend on topics related to morris history (He actually knew William Kimber - you have to a be a real morris buff to understand why this suddenly brings home to you how old Roy is.)  One of the key points he was making was that folk dance and music collectors collect what they want to collect.  Things that don't fit their expectations or desires will be missed out.  eg.  Cecil Sharp ignored morris tunes that came from the popular music of the time as he wanted older material.

I started the weekend as a total novice as far as Cotswold morris was concerned.  It was certainly a baptism of fire as Roy raced us through different dances from different traditions and variations upon them.  Luckily, there was usually someone in the set who could talk me through the footwork.

One thing I soon realised is that many Cotswold dances exist in both stick and hankie forms.  They're essentially the same dance, you just change the hand movements and the chorus.  To most audiences, they will look totally different, so you get two dances for the price of one.

A lot of Cotswold dances seem have very similar figures - I think Cotswold - in a very over-generalised sense - has the variation in the stepping and the choruses, and North West has the variation in the figures, but has much simpler stepping.

One thing we did on Saturday, which was good fun, was an exercise in looking at an old dance and then trying to learn elements from it (without being allowed to watch it more than a few times).  The dance chosen for the exercise was an old favourite of mine - Wilson Keppel and Betty doing the sand dance.



We had half an hour or so to put together  a performance in our groups of six.  All the results were funny and some very much so.  "Rameses's Revenge" were awarded 'most authentic moves' though we didn't win overall.  It was great fun and a good change of pace from morris.
watervole: (Default)
One of my flist, hurrah!, is thinking of taking up morris, and is contemplating a North West side and a Cotswold side. Just to aid the decision-making process, here are two excellent (and I don't use that word lightly) morris sides demonstrating the two styles.

Here are Sidmouth Steppers, a North West side showing the formation and precise team moves that are characteristic of North West morris.

 



And here, proving beyond all doubt that a hankie dance can be as dynamic as a stick dance, are the Cotswold side 'Fool's Gambit'.  Cotswold is more fluid than North West and there's more emphasis on foot and hand work.  the dancers are still in formation, but the formation is not what the dance is all about.  (Yes, you get lots of Cotswold stick dances too)



watervole: (Morris naked)
 Hurrah!

They included morris in the closing ceremony - with Eric Idle no less!

Blackheath and Rag morris, both in fine form.

(Rag are the Bristol university morris team.  They're the ones in tatter jackets and doing the hankie dance - great dancers and a fun bunch of people too)

I now have the temptation to write a dance to "Always look on the bright side of life"...
watervole: (Default)
 Just back from Eastercon, probably a day later than most other folk.

Mine was a con of four parts.

1.  Morris

2.  LARP

3. Doc Weir

4.  Programme 

The morris, you probably anticipated:  I did the ceilidh workshop, two Border morris workshops and a longsword (which is nothing like the Scottish dance that half of you will now be visualising) workshop and all were well attended.  I was aided by an excellent group of musicians, which freed me to concentrate on teaching the dances without having to play at the same time.

People really got into the spirit of it and had a lot of fun.  It was great to see smiling faces - and the occasional laugh when the longsword groups got into a tangle.  Longsword is a bit like that - the dancers are in a linked ring and you go under and over various arches/swords without ever letting go your hands.  Turn the wrong way by mistake and you can get in a real tangle. 

Longsword is less physically demanding than morris, but a lot less  forgiving of mistakes as you can't just slip quickly back into place as you can after a mistake in morris.

I asked on Friday  if anyone would like to do a morris dance in the cabaret and got two volunteers.  Kethry and Sean (and a couple of the band) gave up a couple of hours of their time practising 'Cuckoo's Nest' with me on the fourth floor landing.  It's not the easiest of dances, as it has some tricky stepping on the chorus and a wide variety of stick moves, but they ended up giving an almost flawless performance in the cabaret and getting some enthusiastic applause from the audience.

I was absolutely delighted.  There's few so happy as a teacher whose pupils excel.

I'm looking forward to doing more dance workshops at Discworld.
watervole: (Default)
 Because it's my day for talking about folk traditions...

Here - with comments on each photo to explain what is happening - is Saddleworth Rushcart procession.

This is a modern rushcart - and the event is totally unadvertised and totally amazing.

 I took the photos last year.  I'd have gone again this year, but I'd already booked for Discworld and it clashes.

I took four short video clips - they're called Saddleworth Rushcart 1,2,3,4 if you want to view any after the first...



Broom Dance

Apr. 1st, 2012 10:14 am
watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
 for Vera, who noticed Henry's long legs...


watervole: (Morris dancing)
 This is the only photo I've ever seen of historical North West morris garland dancers.  It's from 1910 and Whitworth Rushcart procession.
You can see the Quayside Cloggies in my icon doing a hoop/garland dance, but this photo has all male dancers (as I'd have expected historically).

I've always assumed, but with very little evidence to back it up (which is why I'm rather glad I found this photo) that hoop/garland dances were tied in with the rushcarts as the churches were often decorated with garlands when the new rushes were laid on the floor.

It's rare now to see male dancers doing a hoop dance.






The guys in small skirts at the front are the Coconut Dancers - a dance that is, amazingly, still performed in the same costume today.
The Coconut dancers are  one of the many interesting quirks of morris history and no one is quite sure where the tradition came from, but it's a Lancashire dance just like North West Morris.



They have small wooden discs on their hands and knees, which is the sound you're hearing when they pass their hands over their knees.

Notice, that like all good Lancashire traditional dancers, they're wearing clogs.

watervole: (Morris dancing)
 It is possible that I may have mentioned Earlsdon Morris before - if I haven't, then I should have.

Quite simply, they are the best North West Morris side in the country (well, of those that I've seen, but I've seen quite a lot)

They have the big advantage of having young male dancers performing in North West morris's home territory of Lancashire.  I saw them when I went to Saddleworth Rushcart and they totally lived up to my expectations.

I dance North West with Quayside Cloggies (see icon).  I know good dancing when I see it.  Cloggies are good.  Earlsdon are better.

Here's a trailer for the new Earlsdon DVD:


IF one of my family buys it NOW (big hint) then it will be ready and waiting for my birthday.



watervole: (Default)
 For my friends down under, conclusive proof that morris originated in Australia...


watervole: (Default)
Fingers crossed, I think Anonymous Morris have our youngest dancer yet.

C is age 12.  We picked him up after we did a workshop for a local scout troupe.  He's keen, well-behaved, is already developing a good standard of dance after only two sessions and we're very pleased that we decided to break our minimum age of 16 to take him.

We're also working on a mumming play.  We tried to do one last year, but half the cast went down with flu, which rather put the kibosh on that.

So far, this year, it's looking promising.  We're well into rehearsals - or at least, as much rehearsals as mumming plays require.

We've had two run-throughs now and 2/3 of the cast have their words memorised.  Young C is playing the Valiant Solder and has got his part learnt (ran through it with his parents) and is acting with gusto.

Graham, our St George, makes me crease up with laughing every time he comes on (he has to tell me not to giggle) .  He's a gently camp St George with a slightly wistful look - reminds me of Sgt Wilson in Dad's Army.  Graham has done mumming before (a long time ago), and was keen to do it again.  He created his own approach to the part.

At practice we have plenty of sticks lying around and a broom that we use for Henry's broom dance.

When it comes to the lines:

"In comes I, St George!  A valiant man,
With naked sword and spear in hand,
I fought the mighty dragon"

- he promptly picked up a stick for a sword and brandished the broom as a menacing spear...

So that got a laugh and we've stuck with it.  The sword fight scenes are very entertaining!

The costumes are all very simple, as is traditional with mumming.  The Turkish Solder is Pam with a towelling turban.  As Beelzebub, I get a stick, a frying pan and a little party pair of devil's horns.  The doctor gets to wear a black hat.  Father Christmas gets a santa hat.  We'll all wear our normal purple tatter jackets and I may possibly put on some red face paint.

All I have to do now is to find a date when the entire cast are able to perform... And pubs that are keen to have us.  (Tried the Foundry Arms yesterday and they're fine, so that's one already.)
watervole: (Default)
 Back from Swanage Folk Festival.  Tired, but it was good.

Spent the Saturday dancing with Quayside Cloggies (still having to avoid a few of the hoop dances that trigger the tennis elbow, but much better overall that I used to be).  Took the side's collecting tin during the procession and was pleasantly surprised by a quiet gentleman who put in a £20 note.  

Number one rule of collecting - don't rush.

Also handed out flyers for Quayside Cloggies to any lady around my age who claimed to live near Winton (where Cloggies practice).

Sunday was a more relaxed day overall. Anonymous weren't dancing as we fell below critical numbers when one of our side got a girlfriend in Cornwall (very nice lady) and is now spending weekends in Cornwall.

Henry and I went down and handed out some Anonymous flyers and enjoyed watching some of the other sides dancing.

We were both impressed by 'Cogs and Wheels'.

They're an unusual side to be impressed by.  They're a women's side, and they're all older than I am (which is saying quite a bit).  They dance Cotswold (ignore the tatter jackets in the clip below), and I don't normally think much of women's Cotswold sides ( though I have seen some very good young female dancers in mixed sides.)

What Cogs and Wheels have done is to subtly adapt the dances for the older generation. Instead of doing leaps and kicks badly, they've taken those out of the dances and concentrated on the bits that they can do.  Their hanky work is lovely.  Crisp moves, all in time, all emphasising the arm movements - which is what hanky movements are supposed to do.  Their footwork is similar, simple (and with rest breaks build into the choreography), but perfectly in unison.
Their stick dances have complex sticking, but with the emphasis on timing rather than violence.  Also very well done.

I've chosen to show a hanky dance as good hanky work is a lot rarer than it should be.  Half the trick seems to be to keep the hankies still if you're not using them to emphasise a move.

The clip below from sometime last year shows this rather well.  It's a bit shaky with the camera at the start, but does steady down.


It was also interesting to watch the two Boderline morrises dancing side by side.  (Two groups independently came up with the same name - one has now rebranded itself as 'Neon Borderline'.

Borderline dance in Green tatter jackets and Neon Borderline dance in a wide range of neon pink and yellow outfits.  Neon Borderline look great until they start dancing.  The wildly differing costumes mean that you can't see the wood for the trees.  You tend to look at individual dancers rather than the overall pattern.  When looking at the Green Borderline side, I was far more aware of the actual dance.

Neon Borderline are flashier, but I got more pleasure from watching Borderline (the latter also have some very crisp dance movements). 

watervole: (Default)
Interesting the way morris dances get passed on.

I'm currently looking through a book of Border Morris dances written by John Kirkpatrick in order to find a new four-man dance for Anonymous Morris.  As the dancers get more experienced, they're learning faster.  There's only one dance that they don't all know from the current repertoire -and that's partly because it's a really draining one to do (though it looks really good when performed)

I found a possible dance 'Four Lane End' and started to work through the notation. It can be a bit irritating because a lot of the time it will say 'this figure is the same as the one in 'Half a Farthing Candle', so you have to flip through the pages and read it there - and sometimes, it would have taken very little extra space to write the full text.  You also have to keep flipping to the glossary and half the terms are defined at the back of the book and half at the front...

I initially mis-read the chorus.  It's very easy to do that the way it's written down, and I notice with some amusement that every side performing the dance on You Tube has it the way I initially read it.

I also note that the point where I thought 'that won't work, you'll have to drop the arm turn' the sides on You Tube have also dropped it.

All the sides I see dancing 'Four Lane End' on You Tube are American - I couldn't see any film of  Shropshire Bedlams dancing it, although the dance originated with them.  I'm guessing that all the American sides learnt it from the same workshop and hence have the same variation of the chorus.  (the way they dance it is the way that is used for the final extended chorus in the original version)

Annoyingly, Kirkpatrick defines a 'Border'  step as taking 2 bars, and it took me quite a while to realise that in the tune he's using for this particular dance,  a 'step' actually fits into one bar.  Took me half an hour to work that out.  I'm trying to think the music for the band at the same time as I'm working the figures for the dancers, so I was rather concerned that the music didn't seem to be fitting.

Have made all those grumbles, this looks like it could be a very useful dance for us.  It's got a nice complex sticking pattern, but it breaks down into a logical sequence that shouldn't be too hard to learn.  There's a stick toss on one figure.  You get to stand still during the chorus, which will be handy for Cu_sith who has a bad ankle.  The figures follow a pattern as well.  It's basically the same thing each time, but with different patterns of stick clashing. 

I like the look of the dance overall and  I think we'll enjoy doing it.  I'm making a start on learning the tune.  (Don't yet know which version of the chorus we'll go with - the You Tube version will require an extra two bars of music, which inclines me towards the original as I like simplicity

Here's the dance - enjoy.



Or, if you want to see it a bit slower and see what a good teacher can do with children, watch this one



There's two different versions of the finish to the dance, but I can't see a version of the original.  That has the dancers tossing their sticks round in a circle.  It would probably look good, though be tricky to get right.  The instructions say to do it to just a drum beat and then have the music come back again, but I'd be more inclined to have the dancers end it with a yell  (the band instructions for the final chorus are messy enough as it is).

We'll also need to decide whether to use single step or 'Border step'. 'Border step is a modern innovation, but it is widely used for many dances.  You can see it on the videos.

watervole: (Default)
We had to find another practice hall at short notice yesterday.  Our usual venue at the school was unavailable as the caretaker was recovering from an operation.  I wasn't very chuffed to be honest.  The only reason why we couldn't let ourselves in and out was because they wanted the burglar alarms reset after we left and there was no one who was available to do that.

Fortunately, I remembered another venue from when I'd been hunting for a place to practice.  I'd turned down St James' hall as it wasn't available every Thursday - I gave them a ring and it was available last night.

So we danced at St James' church hall in a rather pretty part of Poole Old Town. We even gained a spectator!

We'd left the door open because it gets hot when we're dancing and a lady tourist from Jersey heard the music, recognised it as morris and popped her head in.  We invited her  to stay and she watched a couple of dances.  She dances with Jersey Lilies.   I remember them from years ago when I danced with Dorset Buttons and we were invited to Jersey to dance with them for a few days.

She was delighted to see some young morris dancers.
watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
The names of morris dances under go a fascinating process of Chinese Whispers.

I just found a dance on You Tube called 'White Ladies of Aston'.

The usual name of the dance is 'White Ladies Aston' named for the the village where it was recorded.  It's an unusual name for a village, so you can see how the name change occurred.

Another one I've found is "Fiddler's Lock", which was originally named after an old gypsy violin player - 'Fiddler Locke' (and danced to one of his tunes).

Sometimes a dance gets named after the tune used.  We hope to learn 'Dancing Oolert', but we'll probably use a different tune.  However, we'll probably still call it 'Oolert' rather than its original name of 'Rochester Thistle' which was changed to 'Witchmen's Thistle' by teams who learnt it from the Witchmen...

It is quite possible that the 'East Acton Stick Dance' (which I saw danced last night at a morris gathering) isn't actually from East Acton at all, but originates from a 50s TV show by Tony Hancock!

Anonymous's own dance "All Around my Hat" (which naturally involves dancing around a hat), is actually danced to "All around my hat, I will wear the green willow".

watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
There were a couple of morris dance workshops at Redemption.  After the second one, we had three volunteers to do a performance in the cabaret.  Then Helen uttered the immortal words, "I have a dalek costume..."

Then a nice gentleman donated me some light sabres, and the rest is history!

My three dancers learned a totally new dance with less than an hour's practice and managed to dance it well on stage in spite of me fluffing the music several times!  Helen also won 'best chaos costume' in the masquerade, when her dalek got the tech crew to lift her on and off stage.  It was a very polite dalek. (but all said in perfect 'dalek-speak')  But it still exterminated everyone.  There are certain principles to be upheld.

Can anyone point me to a photo of the dalek morris dance?

Meanwhile, here's the filk song...  (Permission freely granted to sing/reproduce in any form as long as you credit me)

'Dancing With Daleks' by Judith Proctor


Tune: Waltzing Matilda

Once a jolly morris man, went to a convention,
He leapt and he span and he danced a dance so free,
And he sang, as he swung his hazel stick around him,
Who'll come a morris dancing with me?
Who'll come a-dancing?
Who'll come a-dancing?
Who'll come a-morris dancing with me?
And he sang, as he swung his hazel stick around him,
Who'll come a-morris dancing with me?

Up came a dalek, looking lost and lonely,
"Here is a staircase. Please assist me."
So the morris dancer helped him up the staircase,
Won't you come a-morris dancing with me?
Who'll come a-dancing?
Who'll come a-dancing?
Who'll come a-morris dancing with me?
So the morris dancer helped him up the staircase,
Won't you come a morris dancing with me?


On came the dalek, straight into the morris dance,
Glided through the figures elegantly,
It swung its sink plunger to parry with the hazel stick,
Who'll come a dancing with daleks with me?
Dancing with daleks,
Dancing with daleks,
Who'll come a-dancing with daleks with me?
It swung its sink plunger to parry with the hazel stick,
Who'll come a dancing with daleks with me?

Up swung the dalek gun to shoot the hapless morris man,
"Exterminate.  I am very sorry,"
In the depths of outer space, I hear a dalek singing:
"Who will come a-morris dancing with me?"
Dancing with daleks,
Dancing with daleks,
Who'll come a-dancing with daleks with me?
In the depths of outer space, I hear a dalek singing:
"Who will come a-morris dancing with me?"

watervole: (Default)
It's certainly one way of getting the audience to pay close attention to your footwork!




watervole: (Default)
The partner programme to the clog dancing programme is this one - Still Folk Dancing After All these Years

Catch it before it vanishes off the BBC iplayer.

I enjoyed all the programme, but the highlight for me was the footage of the Saddleworth Rushcart.  A fabulous piece of theatre.  Look at the number of people involved in the procession. Hear the sound of the dancers clogs as they step in unison while pulling the cart.  There, immediately, you understand why North West morris was so often performed in clogs.

Now look at some of the hills they take that cart up and down and realise why there are so many men behind the cart - they're the brakes!  That cart is HEAVY.

For those who can't get the iplayer, here's a feel for what the procession looks like




Saddleworth morris also have what are possibly the best decorated hats of any side anywhere.  They always use fresh flowers.



Next summer, I simply must go and see the rushcart procession for myself.  I'm a northener - this is part of my heritage.  It's also the birthplace of the kind of morris that I dance.

watervole: (Morris dancing)
Courtesy of vjezkova, a couple of photos of Czeech traditional performance dances.



The hats remind me a little of those worn by UK North West Morris dancers, though I've no idea what kind of dance is going to be performed here.  It won't be anything like North West, as the dancers aren't carrying short sticks or hankies.  One of them has a walking stick, but I can't tell if he's the only one carrying a stick.

In other ways, the costume reminds me more of what I'd expect from longsword dancers.

Note the guy on one side in full tatter costume on one side.  A little like old photos of English mummers.

There's a wonderful photo here - http://gal.dkhodonin.eu/fasank2010/slides/DSC_0206.html - which I'm unable to copy over.  Look at the wonderful costumes (especially the decoration style of the trousers), and also the unusual (to my eye) shape of the swords they're using.  I can see how the handle has been adapted for dancing.  The style of the dance (on the limited evidence of one photo) looks very like English longsword - which isn't totally surprising as any circular sword dance will naturally evolve pretty similar basic figures.  I wonder if the dancers also perform hankie dances, given that they've all got a pair of decorated hankies tucked into their belts.

watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
Anonymous Morris had their first public performance today at 'Dinosaurs Not Allowed', a showcase event for young people's morris in Weymouth.  (the event had had a couple of sides cancel, so they were delighted to have us as a new side)

Our repertoire of three dances (one only learned the day before yesterday) was put to heavy use in  a number of dance slots throughout the day.

Our dancing actually improved throughout the day  - when you've had a total of six hours practice, you're pretty well bound to improve with another two hours of dancing.

We haven't got our full kit yet, but we all managed to find a red top and black skirt/trousers and looked definitely like a team.

The sun shone, the company was good, and we all enjoyed ourselves.

We've also, slightly to our surprise been invited to another three events...



watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
 I want one of those standees!



For the full article, see here.

After all, don't you want to know about Belles of London who dance Cotswold Morris in corsets, and Hammersmith Morris - who are so popular that they have more dancers applying to join than they can cope with?



The site has an even better picture of the lassies in corsets - just in case you needed an incentive...  (It's actually to do with a movement to get morris involved in the Olympic ceremonies)

And while we're looking at handsome young morris dancers, the ladies among you may enjoy Earlsdon Morris, who dance North West Morris.



You can read more about them here. (and more pictures too)

watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
I had a good time at  Discworld!

The morris workshops went well.  In fact, they went so well that we did several extra practice sessions at the request of the dancers and they put on a polished performance in front of several hundred people to loud applause.

I now feel a lot more confident about teaching the two Border Morris dances that we'll be teaching to Anonymous Morris for their first session.

I also got to teach longsword dancing to the assassins who performed it with plastic daggers (as we hadn't got any proper dance swords).  I managed to successfully modify the dance to work with the shorter weapons (you have to cut out figures where people step over the swords, and slightly modify the nut as the daggers are too short to lock together well.  Modifying the nut actually led to a nice follow-on figure where all the daggers were pulled out together and flourished.  (longsword dancing is an English traditional dance from the Northumberland/Durham area and is usually done by around half a dozen dancers in a circle holding their wooden swords in a circle)

This clip isn't my dancers, but gives you a rough idea of what longsword dancing is like  (it uses fairly simple figures, but then I didn't have time to teach my group the more complex options).  The 'nut' is when they join all the swords together in a five or six pointed star.




The longsword team got a great audience reaction as well.  (they hadn't had quite as much practice time as their first workshop was a day later, but I was still very pleased by the result)

I didn't tell either workshop that I'd never previously danced the dances I was teaching them...  (Watched them, researched them, plotted them out on paper, danced single positions on the lounge floor - but never had the chance to perform them with a set of dancers)

I did other things as well, and they were fun, but the final morris performance was undoubtedly the high spot for me (and some of the dancers told me the morris dancing had been the best part of their weekend as well - they were a great group and really gelled together)

If anyone wants me to run workshops on North West Morris/Border Morris /Longsword/Rapper dancing at any convention, just ask!  (I need an excuse to buy my own set of longswords and rapper swords...)

(I don't yet feel competent to teach Cotswold morris - the footwork is more complex - but I'd love an excuse to have to go away and learn...)

watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
We're making progress on Anonymous Morris.  Got pages with dances on, with full details of two dances and the music for them.  Alex B has been working on the web site and it's much easier on the eye now.  We've added data on the roles that need to be filled, and posters for people to download.

Band practice this evening - I can almost play the tunes at speed now...

Next task for me is to complete my notes for 'Dancing Oolert'.

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Judith Proctor

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