Morris dancing. Where to begin? When I describe this English folk dance to some friends, acquaintances and absolute strangers, I am often met with puzzled looks. It is an ancient English traditional dance, typically performed by a set of 6 dancers carrying white handkerchiefs or sticks, wearing pads of bells on their shins and dressed in white with colorful regalia (accompanied by music, of course). Shakespeare considered it to be old, and its origins are lost in the mists of time. Traditionally done in the spring, Morris is a ritual to awaken the earth and crops after a cold, dark winter. It brings joy, good luck and many blessings. It is a true passion of mine, and I am so happy to be able to share it with you and the PEM community on Thursday evening, December 17 during our PEM/PM Wassail event!
I didn’t choose to become a Morris dancer—it chose me! Morris was introduced to America in the early 20th century, and then experienced a revival in the 60’s and 70’s. Today, there are teams, also known as sides, all over the country; many concentrated in New England. I’ve been Morris dancing probably since I was 3 or 4 years old, although not really seriously until I was about 18. My parents are musicians and dancers, and I grew up taking part in the folk dance and music traditions of many cultures. Notably, through a terrific, local nonprofit organization, The Folk Arts Center of New England, and at a beautiful dance camp in the middle of the woods in Plymouth, MA—Pinewoods. Here, I was exposed to the different traditions of Morris (each village in the Cotswold region of England has its own specific style) ranging from Ducklington to Bampton, Sherborn, Bledington and more, and met many fellow dancers who have since become spectacular friends.
Here are a few things I love about Morris dancing:
1) Soaring through the air (many dances involve high leaps)
2) Experiencing the jubilation that Morris can bring to people watching in the audience
3) Engaging in an energetic conversation between the musician and the set of dancers—both driving each other forward
4) Participating in the fantastic Morris dance community
5) Savoring an incredibly refreshing ale(s) post-dance
I have performed Morris all over the U.S. from San Francisco, to Washington, D.C., to upstate and downtown New York, Vermont, Maine and more…in Canada, and in England (including in front of a pub on top of a mountain that is at the highest point in the country). Morris dancing is typically during a Morris Ale—a term used to describe a weekend festival filled with dancing, singing, savoring fine foods and beverages, and enjoying great camaraderie. Currently, I am on two teams, the Newtowne Morris Men in Boston (we practice every Monday night) and the American Travelling Morrice (spelled differently from Morris but means the same thing), made up of dancers from all over the world. We gather twice a year—once for a meeting in February, and then in August to camp and dance for a week in a different location each year. I am actually in charge of organizing our tour on the Cape and Islands in Summer 2016. Anyone know of a private area on Cape Cod that could serve as a camping ground for us and comfortably hold about 30 men? Please let me know. Thanks.
I have met some amazing people through Morris and have made lifelong friends. Part of the joy of the Morris goes beyond the actual dance—it is in the open, welcoming, vibrant, enthusiastic and warm community. Words truly cannot describe how happy being a part of this makes me feel. I feel there are a lot of similarities between the Morris community and the PEM community, and that is one reason why working at PEM is attractive to me.
I invite you to join us on Thursday evening, December 17, and to experience the good luck watching Morris dancing will bring to you. (Guaranteed for one year.)
Also, let me know if you would like to learn how to do it! I may know a few teams in the area…
Be sure to come to PEM/PM: Wassail! to see Elliot and the Newtowne Morris Men perform and celebrate the Yuletide! More information about the event on our website here or checkout our Facebook event page.