Friday, 6 September 2013

Folk Dancing - A Warning

So it’s been a while and among the stuff that’s been happening was a curious encounter with Morris dancers. 

Now I had never held particularly strong views on Morris dancers, unlike some.  I was happy enough that they’re about on bank holidays keeping the old folkways alive and making small children cry.  It pleased me that there is a serious schism in the Morris dancing world between those who see it their duty to keep the moves pure and exact to those written down a hundred and a bit years ago and those who believe that Morris dancing is a fluid living thing that moves with the times.  Bit like those interminable arguments about grammar.  And while I like folk music, a lot, I have never been tempted to get involved with all those sticks, bells and hankies.

My attitude has hardened.  Let me elucidate.

The time, a few months back, a Saturday.

The place, the pleasant if alarmingly well-off Thames side town of Abingdon.  To be precise, a pub at lunch-time. 

We were meeting people and had scouted out places for lunch and this seemed pleasant with a cobbled courtyard and extensive and not too, for Abingdon, expensive a menu.  But when we returned, we found it filled with Morris dancers.

It seemed that there was some get-together going on and so every Morris dancer in the South had descended on Abingdon, and then onto this pub for lunch.  Well, we weren’t in a hurry and were hungry and hey, they were only Morris dancers.  It would be fun.

Now it turns out that there are two things we did not know about Morris dancers.  The first is that – like toddlers – they are constantly restless, always moving and, unless gently persuaded otherwise, liable to start hitting each other with sticks.  They also have no volume control.  If two Morris dancers meet for the first time in a year, they do not shake hands or hug and talk wryly about time passing or the snows of yesterday.  No.  What they do is stand at either end of a pub lounge and shout to each other with that dispiriting heartiness. that middle class and middle aged men with beards and pot bellies like to indulge in.

The other thing concerns the thing we all do know about Morris dancers.  They wear bells on their trousers.  But what only becomes apparent if you are in a pub full of Morris dancers who never stop wandering around the place, is that these bells are loud.  Very loud.  Very very loud.  If you would care to think of a loud thing, they are louder.  The practical upshot of which was that every time one walked past our table, all conversation was completely drowned out.  And as aforementioned, walking around is what Morris dancers like best after dancing, hitting each other and shouting.

At first I was inclined to be charitable.  They’re having fun, it’s better than loud sports commentary or those fruit machines that unexpectedly explode into noise just as someone is finishing their story, even Morris dancers may take their luncheon.  Then I noticed that the bells were not, as I had supposed, sewn onto their trousers but were in fact attached to a sort of mini cricket pad which was attached to the leg with Velcro.  In other words, it would have been a matter of a moment for the dancers to remove their bells and so make do with shouting at each other.  But no.  The bells had to stay on despite the genuinely surprising noise level they produced.  My charity died as swiftly as it does when I see a chugger approaching.

Still, like the Ring Cycle, it had to end some day and they departed to return to their primary task of boring adults and scaring children, leaving us in what can only be described as suffering from serious bellshock.

And that is why I will never again gaze upon a Morris dancer with kindness in my eye.

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