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Everybody Dance Now
January 13, 2009 2:16 AM   Subscribe

Charlie Corcoran, Bagman of the Morris Ring, believes that Morris dancing (previously) may be on the "brink of extinction". This is what the world would miss. Not everyone is that troubled by the news, however - as assistant librarian at the English Folk Dance and Song Society Elaine Bradtke argues, there are more obscure types of English folk dancing, including (but probably not limited to) Long Sword dancing (a serious-looking dance), Molly dancing (not a very serious dance at all), Rapper dancing (the Welsh miner kind, not the hip-hop kind), Step clog (which needs no introduction), and the English ceilidh (aka barn dancing).
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (46 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Get that Charlie Corcoran on the phone. I've got payoffs that need delivering to the squire and the constable to cover their looking the other way while we do our nasty thing on the village green this Saturday, and I need Charlie to make the drop.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:25 AM on January 13, 2009


I don't know, it looked pretty well alive in Brighton on New Year's Day...that's only one team, also.
posted by jaduncan at 2:29 AM on January 13, 2009


If the noises above my head are any indication, my upstairs neighbors are keeping it alive and well, though they seem to have somehow combined it with bowling.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:36 AM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am glad that someone has satisfied my "wait wait don't tell me" borne curiosity!
posted by flaterik at 2:41 AM on January 13, 2009


I am not being snarky
posted by flaterik at 2:43 AM on January 13, 2009


Northumbrian dance pages at FARNE have more on rapper and clog and social dancing (before marriage too I believe, those saucy Geordies).
posted by Abiezer at 2:43 AM on January 13, 2009


Er, what? I happened upon a full blown Morris dancing festival this past August up in Fleetwood. We finished our drinks quickly and left, but we weren't the only people in the place. I think it's alive and well in a certain segment of the population. Not sure about Morris dancing in particular getting a boost, but I think the growth of groups like CAMRA and historical reenactment societies says there's a resurgent interest in that "country village" sort of Englishness. Particularly if you can slap an ironic/silly tag on it - like Terry Pratchett-influenced black morris dancers.

Isn't long sword dancing being killed off by health and safety concerns? I seem to remember something about a festival or dance demonstration being cancelled because the local council wasn't happy with the concept of men dancing around with swords.
posted by Grrlscout at 3:05 AM on January 13, 2009


No post on traditional dance from the UK can be complete without mentioning Bill Tidy's The Cloggies, an Everyday Story of Clog-Dancing Folk.
posted by mattoxic at 3:28 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Like flaterik, I had a WWDTM moment when I read this. Also: English ceilidh? This sounds like "Moroccan Waltz" to me.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:29 AM on January 13, 2009


Those stick and sword dances looked rather, um, Freudian to me.
posted by orange swan at 3:42 AM on January 13, 2009


It's all about the Brent dancing these days.
posted by rory at 3:56 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


No love for the Bacup Nutters? Yes, that is blackface they are wearing.

Actually, now I think of it, it sort of sounds like the bastard child of bacon and a Reese's peanut-butter cup, mixed with just a soupçon of these.

And given that heritage, it's not surprising they're unpopular.
posted by kcds at 4:01 AM on January 13, 2009


I used to know a guy at university, a mature student, and a bit of folkie, who used to do Morris Dancing. He reckoned that nobody but nobody drank like Morris dancers did. One of the reasons he gave it up. On a Sunday, during the season, they used to tour a number of pubs dancing at each, getting free drinks at every one, and by the end they could hardly stand upright, let alone dance.

Obligatory Fosters Ad.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:18 AM on January 13, 2009


Charlie Corcoran, Bagman of the Morris Ring, believes that Morris dancing.....

Without reading any further or following any links, I'm just going to assume this post concerns a team of swing-dancing, jive-talking bank robbers. I shall now live happily ever after.
posted by mannequito at 4:25 AM on January 13, 2009


The British Isles are second to no people on earth in the excellence of their prose, poetry and playwriting, which is the glory of world culture. But excepting those of the Irish, their folk dances are a disgrace and should maintained in private, behind closed doors, if at all.
posted by Faze at 4:35 AM on January 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


As far as I can tell, Morris Dancers are a local species of pest here in New England, USA. Well-meaning, overly cheerful people with bells all over themselves and hankies waving gaily are hard to avoid around the Spring Equinox in the village greens herebouts. Makes one wish for the influx of Black Flies to chase them back indoors where they can do less harm. Children grin and giggle and want to grow up just like these wierdos. They are a plague, I tell you.
posted by Hobgoblin at 4:36 AM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


What?...no love for another traditional English Dance?
posted by timsteil at 4:39 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


If Morris dancing is on the way out, they're probably just not marketing it the right way. Hipsters have been getting into all sorts of things organic, rootsy, folksy and commercially uncool for the past decade now (undoubtedly as a reaction against the sort of things the uninitiated would imagine would be "cool" -- the skinny jeans-and-striped tops "angular"/"new-wave"/"indie"/"electro"/"glam" thing -- being about as with-it as the leather-jackets-and-Ray-Bans 1950s rock'n'roll cool-dude look sported by breakfast cereal mascots).

Look at all the dudes with woodsman beards and rustic-themed Threadless T-shirts riding their fixed-gear bikes down Brick Lane or playing songs about birds and horses on their ukuleles and MacBooks in dive bars, or the exploding popularity of folky indie bands (Fleet Foxes, the entire NYC antifolk scene, Lightspeed Champion, not to mention bands with folky elements like CocoRosie or Animal Collective) and folk festivals like Green Man and End Of The Road. Folk is in, and the weirder and more ostensibly naff, the better. If they can't sell Morris dancing to a new generation of urban hipsters in these conditions, then they're doing something wrong.

Apparently the Womens' Institute, a British institution typically associated with a somewhat fusty, lavender-scented conservatism, did something of the sort by opening entirely new chapters in hipster precincts like Dalston and Shoreditch. These were immediately full of subversive riot-grrl crafters, piggybacking neatly on the crafting/knitting aspect of the DIY thread of post-punk. Perhaps the Morris Ring should try something similar and open a chapter in Bethnal Green or New Cross, advertising it with hand-drawn flyers handed out at ukulele jam sessions or arts nights? A morris troupe in Shoreditch would certainly not be the most traditional, but then again, if Morris is to be a living culture, it can't be maintained as a museum.

Having said that, I imagine that Molly dancing could well be the next Gypsy-Punk.
posted by acb at 4:46 AM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Previously here.
posted by mhoye at 4:59 AM on January 13, 2009


US residents have no leg, belled or otherwise, to stand on when calling morris silly, given that our great republic invented tractor square dancing.

Also there should be a mention of the other morris in here somewhere.
posted by nonane at 5:08 AM on January 13, 2009


Your favorite obscure English folk dance sucks.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:29 AM on January 13, 2009


What?...no love for another traditional English Dance?

I would have bet a McRib that you were talking about this.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:31 AM on January 13, 2009


I think it is fine for adults who freely choose to participate but making kids do it is child abuse. It's even worse than making them wear cub scout shorts in my book. The book by the way is huge. It is full of all kinds of things parents can do wrong that we will later hold over them until they are in a retirement home and we feel too bad to bring it up and may even regret ever having brought it up. But there it is. In the book. Chapter 1.
posted by srboisvert at 5:44 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am glad that someone has satisfied my "wait wait don't tell me" borne curiosity!

Listening to 'Wait Wait Don't Tell Me' make fun of Morris Dancers last Saturday was like watching the 2nd geekiest kid in gym class make fun of the most geekiest kid.
posted by mediareport at 5:59 AM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every Canada Day, I attend a small parade in a nearby hamlet. The highlight for me is always the Morris dancers, a collection of grey-haired gentlemen dressed all in white, with bells on their ankles and red ribbons on their arms.

I've known for awhile that they are in pretty desperate need of new recruits, but I just don't know...it seems like the kind of thing my kids would be pretty embarrassed to see their father doing. Maybe once they've grown up and left the area (that or joining a highland band and playing the bagpipes).
posted by stinkycheese at 6:00 AM on January 13, 2009


He reckoned that nobody but nobody drank like Morris dancers did.

Oh yeah. Couple of friends of ours - one's a Morris dancer, one's a sword dancer - when they hang out with their respective teams? Lock up your liquor! Actually, don't bother - a couple of the guys on my friend's Morris team brew their own excellent beer. And mead.
posted by rtha at 6:03 AM on January 13, 2009


Oh, and there's a couple of neat little moves at about 5:50 and 6:20 into that rapper dance video. And rapper dancing in general looks like something it'd be really fun to do in a crowded pub.
posted by mediareport at 6:06 AM on January 13, 2009


I would have bet a McRib that you were talking about this.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:31 AM on January 13 [+] [!]


I thought they were Canadians...
posted by timsteil at 6:10 AM on January 13, 2009


What?! Seems to me this stuff (Clinic - Tomorrow) is back (Kanye West - Cant Tell Me Nothing v.2) with a vengeance (Headman - On and on)...
posted by progosk at 6:10 AM on January 13, 2009


There are always Morris dancers at the Folger Library's Shakespeare's birthday party events. And I always laugh at them (self link).
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:20 AM on January 13, 2009


According to this post, the reports on Morris dancing's death are greatly exaggerated. There are a ton of links on the original post, but I am too lazy to copy them all.


The Beeb, perhaps in search of alarming headlines, tells me that “Morris dancing could be ‘extinct’ within 20 years because young people are too embarrassed to take part.”

This warning is quoted unexamined from The Morris Ring, which describes itself as the National1 Association of Men’s Morris and Sword Dance Clubs. I note in passing that all of the dancers on the website landing page are male, beardless and wearing white2.

I was curious about the Morris Ring’s emphasis on men’s Morris and Sword dance. The site doesn’t mention women dancers at all, but I know there are some. So I went a-googling. Turns out there are two other prominent Morris dancing societies in England, the The Morris Federation and Open Morris, both of whom welcome male, female and mixed teams.

Neither organization appears to have been contacted by the BBC about the article.

Then the things got strange, as they so often do on the internet.

I ran across an article in the Independent on Goth Morris. That led me to a couple more neat articles on Goths and Pagans and what they’re up to with sticks and hankies.

There are groups all over England doing really interesting things with Morris dancing. Look for groups that do “Border” or “Goth” Morris, black their faces, and wear top hats or bowlers and tattercoats.

Some, like Boggart’s Breakfast in Sheffield or Stone the Crows, are non-religious, mixed-sex groups that are just in it for the fun. Others, such as Hunter’s Moon Morris use Pagan imagery in their outfits. And some, like the Witchmen and Medusa Gothic, appear to have traveled all the way full circle back to single-sex groups performing Morris as a ritual.

posted by nooneyouknow at 6:37 AM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Morris Dancers (ca. 1480) click images to enlarge.
posted by stbalbach at 6:57 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Charlie Corcoran, Bagman of the Morris Ring, believes that Morris dancing (previously) may be on the "brink of extinction".

And I only had to sacrifice eight chickens and a cat. Result.
posted by mandal at 7:11 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


orange swan wrote:
"Those stick and sword dances looked rather, um, Freudian to me."

The various forms of morris have their roots in pagan festivals and rituals so, yep, it's pretty much all about sex and violence. It all looks a bit silly when practised by elderly men in tights, but I've seen a few young troups really going for it with speed, streangth and energy - genuinely impressive stuff.
posted by metaBugs at 7:52 AM on January 13, 2009


There's a group of people occasionally (fortnightly, I believe) use a pub nearby (whose wares I have tasted) for sword dancing practice. And, as a great lover of English folk, let me tell you that it looks and sounds fucking awful.
posted by Dysk at 8:01 AM on January 13, 2009


Well, it's all good fun and games until... OH GOD! OH JESUS CHRIST!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:22 AM on January 13, 2009


Right. Pull the other 'un then. 'S got bells on.
posted by Samizdata at 9:02 AM on January 13, 2009


Morris dancing could be "extinct" within 20 years because young people are too embarrassed to take part, a UK Morris association said today.

Why this not in zoo? Why they not protect in game preserve?
posted by terranova at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2009


As late as the mid-80s, I know some primary schools in rural areas used to have country dancing on the curriculum. Every child would be forced (yah, forced) to dance in circles, in lines, in whirls and so on to different kinds of traditional songs. Theses weren't one-off lessons, but took place every week, so proficiency was expected. Falling on your ass or having to hold hands with the sweaty kid were just some of the highlights. Worst was to come if your mother came to help out during the dancing, and the other kids picked on you for the rest of the week.

I want to suggest this is the real cause of the decline: we're not embarrassed and we're not ignorant of our roots; we're just too traumatised.
posted by Sova at 11:18 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been doing this same dance for years except I call it the Scrabble Victory Dance. It is performed solo after a long and merciless conquest in Scrabble over my girlfriend.
posted by cazoo at 11:55 AM on January 13, 2009


As late as the mid-80s, I know some primary schools in rural areas used to have country dancing on the curriculum.

We were consistently made to do dances to popcorn, the chicken dance, the hustle, and various other songs in elementary school. I think even into junior high.

To me, the oddest was "super freak". It's not like we couldn't hear the lyrics...

Having folk dancing on the curriculum makes a lot of sense compared to that weirdness.
posted by flaterik at 12:16 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


As late as the mid-80s, I know some primary schools in rural areas used to have country dancing on the curriculum.

Ah, flashback! The horror! The horror! Being forced to hold hands with... girls!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:48 PM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


If Morris dancing is on the way out, they're probably just not marketing it the right way. Hipsters have been getting into all sorts of things organic, rootsy, folksy and commercially uncool for the past decade now (undoubtedly as a reaction against the sort of things the uninitiated would imagine would be "cool" -- the skinny jeans-and-striped tops "angular"/"new-wave"/"indie"/"electro"/"glam" thing -- being about as with-it as the leather-jackets-and-Ray-Bans 1950s rock'n'roll cool-dude look sported by breakfast cereal mascots).

Ha! I can attest to this potential. About ten years ago, me and a friend of mine were downtown having lunch when a troupe of Morris dancers appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and began dancing in the square. Nearby, a group of goth kids watched the show. When the dancers were finished, the goth kids approached them. One of the kids - a tall guy with jet black hair and a Manson T-shirt with the words "I AM THE GOD OF FUCK" emblazoned on the back - began talking to the eldest Morris dancer.

"Look at this," I said to my friend. "Isn't this typical? A group of people shared their traditional dance with us, and along come a group of kids to make fun of them. Honestly, this is just-"

Suddenly, the goth kids lined up square to the Morris dancers. The Morris dancers began to dance, and the goth kids mirrored each move. Slowly at first, and then faster but with grim determination, the goth kids learned the Morris dance. My friend and I sat there, burgers and fries in our laps, enthralled. It was the first and last time I second-guessed a Manson fan.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:57 PM on January 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


There is a subsubculture of goth known as "Apocalyptic Folk" (think Current 93, Angels of Light, or perhaps even Nick Cave). Perhaps that would be a good fit for Morris dancing?
posted by acb at 1:17 PM on January 13, 2009


Sova, Flaterik and Fearfulsymmetry have just ruined decades of hard work burying away those memories. I was that sweaty kid. I was the one who had somehow never seen the chicken dance before, wondering what on earth was going on.

The last time I attempted country dancing, at a wedding, was because the someone threatened to hit me if I didn't join in. I made the wrong choice.
posted by BinaryApe at 1:37 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


MORRISDANCERWALLA!
posted by Eideteker at 11:05 AM on January 14, 2009


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