Hooray, hooray, the first of may!
April 29, 2006 11:32 AM   Subscribe

The Morris dance is common to all inhabited worlds in the multiverse. It is danced under blue skies to celebrate the quickening of the soil and under bare stars because it's springtime and with any luck the carbon dioxide will unfreeze again. It is danced innocently by raggedy-bearded young mathematicians to an inexpert accordion rendering of "Mrs Widgery's Lodger" and ruthlessly by such as the Ninja Morris Men of New Ankh, who can do strange and terrible things with a simple handkerchief and a bell.
(from page one of Terry Pratchett's "Reaper Man")
posted by nonane (34 comments total)
My favorite Morris dances are "The Walk" and "The Bird" as performed by This Morris.
posted by papakwanz at 11:34 AM on April 29, 2006

Morris dancers, for those of you who don't know, are cute people who dress up in little white suits with green sashes and pork-pie hats with feathers. They tie sleighbells to their feet and they strap long white hankies to their wrists. In any event, there's nothing really alarming about Morris dancers; they're actually quite harmless.

Except that from time to time they will arm themselves with some kind of cudgel or bludgeon or some kind of blunt instrument. And they will gather in a knot or a mob known as a clot, or a team. And they'll gather in kind of a mystic circle and, to the accompaniment of accordion and violin, they will rhythmically and ritualistically hit each other again and again and again, with these sticks.

This is supposed to be some form of British fertility ritual, or some form of entertainment, or something. Anyway, this next song has the sort of knuckle dragging Neanderthal beat that Morris dancers really love to dance to.

[Stan Rogers]
posted by parki at 11:50 AM on April 29, 2006

Ah...that clears that mystery up. For a monent, I thought it was a reference to Mark Morris.
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:55 AM on April 29, 2006

In my neck of the woods we clebrate the "qucikening of the soil" by bringin our gas powered lawn mowers in for a tuneup prior to our fertility ritual of cutting the grass on a weekly basis.
posted by Postroad at 12:31 PM on April 29, 2006

I'm glad someone else posted that Stan Rogers quote; It's the first thing that popped into mind when I read this post.
posted by vernondalhart at 12:54 PM on April 29, 2006

Morris dancers are all phenomenal drinkers as well (With a lot of cross-over with the real-ale crowd, natch).
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on April 29, 2006

I've always rather fancied Morris dancing myself. Here's a bunch local to me who have a bit of a different take on it - no "little white suits with green sashes and pork-pie hats with feathers".
posted by kumonoi at 1:16 PM on April 29, 2006

"out door fucking starts today!" that's how the quote goes, right?
posted by Grod at 1:39 PM on April 29, 2006

I wrote a blog post just last week about a troupe I saw perform at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC. I'll not self link, but you can find the post via my profile. The gist of the post was that, while I am, myself, guilty of goofiness on many an occasion, Morris dancing is, I believe, the very absolute height of goofiness.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:42 PM on April 29, 2006

'A Devonshire gentleman, Walter Wooton, defied sessions and assize orders and the opinions of the 'best affected sort' in his neighbourhood. 'Be of good comfort', he told the villagers of Harberton, '…he doubted not but to procure them their church ale, their Whitsun Lord and Lady, their fool and his horns and all again'. (1606) Sir Edward Parham of Poyntington in south Somerset was alleged to have promoted a church ale with bull baiting, and to have joined in the Morris dancing, 'to get the love and affection of the common people'. Parhams defence was the conventional one that country festivals nourished 'love and familiarity amongst neighbours'…(1606)

p63.(Revel, Riot and Rebellion, David Underdown, Oxford 1985)

posted by nthdegx at 1:43 PM on April 29, 2006

I've Morris danced. Not since I was 8, I'll grant you, but I've done it all the same. I'd be fascinated to know whether I'm unique to MetaFilter in this respect. Somehow I doubt it.
posted by nthdegx at 1:44 PM on April 29, 2006

Isn't Rimmer into Morris dancing?

"None of you like morris dancing! Would that break your
hearts, every once in a while, the four of us getting our knees in the
air -- the jingle of bells, the clonk of wood on wood? But no, every
time I suggest it you all pretend to be ill."

posted by Afroblanco at 1:58 PM on April 29, 2006

I first encountered Morris dancing when I went to college in New England. It's a surviving tradition in this region, at least. If I can add a link to your great collection above, nonane: The American Folklife Center has a mellow little webcast called "Bringing in the May" that details more of the history and symbolism of the tradition as practiced in both Europe and America.
posted by Miko at 1:59 PM on April 29, 2006

Crikey... reading these sites brings back a few memories. We did some sword dancing as well: wooden swords. The highlight of the dance was dancing in a circle and interlocking the swords. I was the one to then hold the interlocked swords above my head in a star shape, as in the photo captioned Flamborough Sword dancers on the Sword dancing Wikipedia entry. We did Maypole dancing too. Of course we had no knowledge of the traditional meanings of these things at school, and were it not for the fact that my teacher at that age was a batshit insane curious old lady we'd not have done any of it - it was just her thing. Generally I don't think we enjoyed the dancing too much but we did get a kick out of holding swords over our heads, and some of the more complex Maypole dances made some pretty cool patterns.
posted by nthdegx at 2:03 PM on April 29, 2006

Here are some terrific old maypole dancing postcards. A lot of them seem to have been taken at the start or end of the dance, with the dancers with unravelled ribbons. The site refers to "winding" of the maypole and you can see in a couple of the postcards that the ribbons are wound around the pole, with shorter lengths coming out at a flatter angle. What you can't see from the photos is that this creates a barber's pole sort of pattern (but with more colours) - at least it should - that depends on even regularity of all of the dancers' steps.

I seem to recall another dance, perhaps we called it the spider's web, which produced a more elaborate intercrossed pattern in a sort of tent shape about the pole, but its possible that this isn't a traditional dance at all. I doubt my particular teacher of the time had the inegnuity to invent it, however.

I think we thought maypole dancing was less weird than morris dancing. Had we known we were essentially just dancing around a giant COCK in the one, and ensuring our (future) sexual prowess in the other, we'd probably have thought differently.
posted by nthdegx at 2:17 PM on April 29, 2006

I also Morris danced, also up to about age 8.

I don't think it twisted me.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 3:06 PM on April 29, 2006

Isn't Rimmer into Morris dancing?

Indeed he is.

And while i don't have an opinion one way or another about Morris dancing, i must thank nonane for choosing to reference Pratchett. The Discworld universe is one of my very favorites.

[Red Dwarf and Discworld in the same breath, man i really am a nerd]
posted by quin at 3:13 PM on April 29, 2006

When I got to that Discworld book, I had no fucking idea what he was talking about.
posted by smackfu at 3:17 PM on April 29, 2006

I work with a guy who will be Morris dancing for the May Day celebrations in Oxford. I can confirm the link between Morris dancing and drinking of beer. Me, I just think it's a ridiculous pastime.
posted by salmacis at 3:25 PM on April 29, 2006

The drinking of beer is not a ridiculous pastime.
posted by MrMustard at 3:29 PM on April 29, 2006

/waiting for allegations of sexual morrisment
posted by ninazer0 at 4:18 PM on April 29, 2006

One cynic's take on Morris dancing:
Morris dancing is a form of traditional English folk dancing found principally in the southern counties of England, a horrific spectacle involving grown men dancing a bizarre ritual square dance wearing dark trousers, white shirts, stupid hats, ribbons on the arms, and bells on their toes. It is reserved for ghastly hippy festivals and country town pedestrian precints on public holidays. Participants are generally secondary-school teachers, university lecturers, computer programmers, other such dweebs, and child molesters. They usually sport beards and ugly wives, and insist on painting their childrens' faces at "fayres". Be glad you have never witnessed them first-hand.
From a 1991 thread on rec.humor that started off with a reasonably funny joke containing Morris dancers in the punchline.
posted by Creosote at 4:31 PM on April 29, 2006

Oh, and here's a contribution: NSFW Morris dancers! (The perpetrators, Black Pig Border Morris, are credited as sources in Stephen Booth's mystery novel Blind to the Bones, which has a major subplot involving border Morris.)
posted by Creosote at 4:46 PM on April 29, 2006

Well done, nonane. It's always nice to see Pratchett here on the Blue.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:58 PM on April 29, 2006

In the United States, the Maypole tradition was stamped out in Puritan times and only revived during the Victorian era, quite intentionally, as part of the promotion/celebration of Anglo culture that occurred in response to the great waves of immigration during the industrial age.

Schools, women's colleges, summer camps, and social service agencies began researching and re-developing Maypole traditions during this time, based on olld European models. They provided instruction as part of cultural and health-education programs. These were connected with May Day rituals like gathering flowers and making bouquets for family members. These latter-day Maypole traditions held strong until around the World War II era, having been adopted by emergent folk-culture societies and groups of progressives who saw it (erroneously) as an unbroken tradition which could be used, like other fol culture, to focus attention on the common classes. Today, Mayday dance traditions continue at some American women's colleges and progressive schools.

This new version of the holiday was scrubbed clean, and the performers were most often young girls. Any obvious traces of sexuality were expunged from the dances.
posted by Miko at 5:00 PM on April 29, 2006

In the United States, the Maypole tradition was stamped out in Puritan times

More on that in this post.
posted by homunculus at 5:28 PM on April 29, 2006

Hooray, hooray, the first of may!

AKA Beltane.
posted by homunculus at 5:32 PM on April 29, 2006

Morris Dancing is an evil, pagan practice that's just one step removed from this.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:48 PM on April 29, 2006

One step away from film making?
posted by nthdegx at 2:35 AM on April 30, 2006

Our high-school physics teacher was a Morris dancer. In retrospect, it should have been entirely predictable, for he was a rather small, unimposing, frumpy, shabby Wilf Lunn lookalike given to wearing faux-professorial-looking tweed jackets, who rode a bicycle to school and often forgot to remove the bicycle clips from his trousers.

Needless to say, any and all semblance of respect we might have had for the man was immediately, permanently and totally lost when he and his Morris-dancing friends were spotted practicing their art in a busy part of town on a Saturday morning.

I'm sure he was a paid-up, card-carrying CAMRA member too, but somehow he just did not have the air about him of a man who could "hold his liquor" - rather, we strongly suspected he would have been anyone's after half a shandy.

What made the whole episode all the more depressing was that his appointment was rather rushed, occasioned as it was by the sudden departure of our former physics teacher, a rather dashing and charismatic man with a wicked sense of humour, who apparently and quite suddenly left his wife and immediately decamped for Saudi Arabia to continue teaching physics and triple his salary.
posted by kcds at 8:17 AM on April 30, 2006

My favorite Morris dancing music has always been Morris On, which I got from the record company in London a few days after seeing the band on New Year's Eve 1973. (I told them I was a big-time record reviewer from the States, which was true... except for the big-time part.)

It’s performed by an early version of Ashley Hutching's Albion Country Band, which then included Dave Mattacks and Richard Thompson. Never having Morris danced, I have no idea if it is authentic music, but it sounds great.

p.s. According to the book True Brits, the horn dancers think the Morris dancers are wimps.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:49 AM on April 30, 2006

I live in a very (by Canadian standards) religious-right area of interior British Columbia.

A few miles away is a community that is even more religious. Blitheringly so.

And every year they have a Maypole festival in the local park. With their six-to-ten year-old children doing the dance.

And I've always had to repress the desire to shout out "It's a fertility dance! The Maypole is a big ol' penis! Your children are wrapping it in ribbons as part of foreplay!"

But I don't.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2006

And this morning, my partner's morris group met to dance at sunrise. Madness, I tell you.
posted by tomble at 5:17 PM on April 30, 2006

Oddly enough I've seen two lots of Morris Dancing in the past two days - the first was at CAMRA's Reading Beer and Cider Festival and the second was this morning as part of Oxford's May Day celebrations.

I was pulled in to a Morris Dancing troupe once by a (now-ex-) girlfriend as a last minute replacement the day before they performed at an international folk dancing festival in Glasgow. The thing with the hankies is harder than it looks.
posted by simonw at 6:14 AM on May 1, 2006

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