The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'morris dancing'
In the wake of the latest report of the imminent death of Morris dancing, an activity many people undoubtedly imagine to be the alpha and omega of odd English folk dances, the Graun has an article setting the record straight, by listing five even more peculiar-looking (and thus undoubtedly more imperilled) traditional folk dances, complete with YouTube video:
Despite the misleading name, longsword dancing does not involve the use of actual swords. Rather, each dancer holds a length of steel or wood by the handle in their right hand, and grips the point of their neighbour's "sword" in their left. Linked together, they form circles and dance over and under their makeshift swords, flowing through brisk and orderly figures and steps. The centrepiece of the dance is the star-shaped formation made by the circle-weaving and the locking of swords high in the air.From the video, longsword dancing resembles one of the dances in The Wicker Man, though is from Yorkshire, rather than the Scottish islands.
And then there's Molly dancing, which appears to be almost like a Victorian folky version of A Clockwork Orange. Could an updated Molly dancing be the next Gypsy-punk?
This type of dance was performed mainly by agricultural labourers in East Anglia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Disguised with blackened faces and sporting women's clothing, Molly dancers roamed the streets, dancing in exchange for money to supplement their meagre wages. They were often destructive, drunk and disreputable, and social reforms led to the custom dying out in the 1940s. In the 1980s and 90s, young people from the south-east rediscovered and reinvented the tradition from the few scraps of information that had been preserved.
England's largest Morris dancing body, the Morris Ring, has warned that Morris dancing could be extinct within 20 years. The problem is that young people apparently consider it to be a bit naff for some reason and stay well away from it, and the population of active Morris dancers in England is rapidly aging and dwindling.
Though I wonder whether they just haven't been marketing it in the right way. Take a walk around Hackney or Dalston, and you see hip young men with woodsman beards. (You know they're hip, rather than terminally uncool, because they're typically riding fixed-wheel bicycles, wearing vintage Japanese Nikes or mashing up video on their MacBooks in a dive bar or somesuch.) Meanwhile, folk music is huge among hipsters and bohemian types, with folk-inspired bands like Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes dominating what-they-used-to-call-"indie"-before-it-meant-commercial-rock playlists, bands covering centuries-old ballads, and variously folky festivals like End Of The Road and Green Man doing a roaring trade. The organic, rootsy and, yes, even slightly "naff" aspects of folk traditions are "in". (This is perhaps a reaction against the slickness and polish of commercialised, commodified cool, where the skinny-legged, electro-striped Vince Noir new-wave-indie-glam image has jumped the shark and joined the leather-jacket-and-Ray-Bans 1950s Rock'n'Roll Cool Dude look in the museum of eye-rollingly laughable kitsch; it's only a matter of time before we see breakfast cereal mascots donning the oversized black glasses, thin ties and Chuck Taylors of Indie Cool, but I digress.) Traditional crafts have also made a comeback. All these people writing songs about birds and horses for laptop and ukulele and embroidering their own messenger bags; surely some of them would be interested in Morris dancing, no?
Perhaps the mistake they're making is in expecting them to join existing, traditional Morris troupes (which are damned not by tradition but by the aforementioned aura of stagnancy that hangs over them)? Why not, instead, encourage the formation of new, hip Morris troupes, based in areas like Bethnal Green and New Cross, and advertising their presence at arts nights and ukulele jams? (Apparently the Women's Institute has done something similar and has chapters around Shoreditch and similar areas consisting of subversive riot-grrl crafters who probably wouldn't be seen dead in the more bourgeois environs of their more traditional chapters.) Then again, perhaps even that won't be necessary; if punk rockers can join Masonic lodges en masse, surely it's not too implausible to imagine hipsters joining Morris troupes, with varying degrees of irony.