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An Oddly English Thing
Morris Dancers in Peterborough.

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There are quite a few morris dancing organizations in the US (and apparently some in Australia) - it's especially popular among neopagans, since the dances do seem to be survivals of some very old folk customs. There's one dance in particular, in which the dancers carry large sets of antlers. I've seen it performed, and it is very obviously a ritualized enactment of the mating battles of deer or elk, intended as "sympathetic magic" to ensure the fertility of the herds; it's strongly reminiscent of the Neolithic cave paintings of deer in rut next to depictions of hunters pursuing plentiful herds.

Edited at 2012-04-22 08:05 am (UTC)

My hometown in Vermont (USA) has a troupe that has participated in every Fourth of July parade that I can remember. They usually keep it to the more basic dances so they can keep up with the parade though.

Morris isn't very old, by European standards, and definitely not pre-Christian. Seems to have been an early renaissance dance, probably related to the moresca which had somewhat of a fad across Europe. Some stuff got retconned in during the revival period.

There's a lot of stuff that isn't actually "pre-Christian", but incorporates folkways that do go back to very early European practices, or at least they have the feel of something older. (For example, the lyrics to "Deck The Halls"; they are perfectly pagan, without any Christian imagery at all, with their mention of feasting and story-telling at "Yule"... but the song is a Victorian pastiche.) Anyway, morris dancing is fun to watch ;-)

It gets simultaneously far sillier, and far more sinister too...


Did you feel more fertile afterwards? :D

For my part I couldn't help but hear the words to one of our English Civil War songs in the melody. It is however an interesting art form.

I think that technically this would be called a rapper group, which is a subset of Morris dancing -- that's what the sticks are about. But my knowledge of Morris culture is limited, so don't take my unsupported word for it.

There's an active Morris side in Knoxville, TN which always puts on a show at the Knoxville contradance weekend, and Morris is one of the forms covered by the Country Dance and Song Society umbrella organization.

Yesterday I Morris Danced at the New England Folk Festival, my team one of dozens.

There are several broad branches of dancing which loosely gets grouped under Morris Dancing these days -- Cotswolds Morris, Border Morris, Rapper, Longsword, Molly, and a few others.

The team in the video is definitely a Cotswolds Morris tradition -- based on the dances in the Cotswolds in England. Dancers in white shirts and pants, neatly lined up in rows, etc. Very typical Cotswold Morris. Cotswolds Morris has both stick dances and hanky dances, and tends to be what people think of when they think of "morris dancing". The Cotswolds are an area of rolling hills and sheep.

Rapper dance looks very different, and comes from the coal-mining regions of North-East England. The dances typically involve 5 dancers, usually dressed in black, linked by two-handled, flexible "rapper swords" into a loop. (The swords themselves were tools used to scrape sweat, dirt, and coal dust off of the coal ponies working the mines, so they were common implements around the area the dances originated). The dances usually involve intricate footwork and movements which look like they should tie the swords and dancers into knots. Periodically, the dancers will often stop and show the audience an intricate interlaced pattern formed by the swords. Here's a video of Candyrapper, a teen rapper team in the Boston area:

Ah, thank you! The Knoxville group (my primary exposure to Morris) does both stick/hanky and rapper dance, which is probably why I got confused.

Man, those guys* are awesome!


* Linguistic note: I grew up in the Detroit area. "Guys" is a gender-neutral term.

I distinctly remember having a discussion in elementary school where we, the students, decided, collectively, that when we used it, "Guy" was a gender-neutral term.

Here's another teen rapper team, SnickerSnack, which videos up on the web: http://youtu.be/K0B1O_cskSY
This year at NEFFA (the festival I referred to) they danced the same hour we did, although this video isn't from NEFFA. The dance is rough because they were dancing to recorded music which had technical issues. But in the back, on the right, are three members of my team, Heartwood Morris, dressed in kit looking like they are waiting to dance. I wasn't at that event, so I don't know the full story, but I think it's neat they are caught on YouTube.

The proper name for a Morris dancer's stick is a "penis."

I am not even slightly kidding.

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