New Dance Collator
New Dance Collator
Just about everything about the Morris has changed since Sharp first saw the Headington Quarry Morris Men. A once declining custom, limited to sides of working men performing their own local dances a few times a year, has become an international movement, with enthusiasts from all walks of life picking and choosing dances from different traditions, and travellling to meet other sides and perform throughout the year. The context has changed, as have the costumes, the instruments, and even the style of the dancing.
The thing that is easy to forget is that the repertoire has changed too. Some dances that we take for granted, like Balance the Straw, Fieldtown, are of comparatively recent origin, although they are well within the style and spirit of what we accept as “traditional”. In all of the various aspects of the Morris, sides are creating new dances, adapting old ones, and sometimes even inventing whole new “traditions” — by which I mean groups of related dances in a distinct and consistent style.
As the New Dance Collator, my role is to try to keep a record of interesting new material like this. The records can then be available for anyone wanting to study or research the modern Morris, whether academically or as a hobby. The Morris Ring may find the information useful when dealing with queries from the media, or documentary makers who may wrongly believe that we are only preserving something that is static and historical, rather than a living part of our culture. Finally, sides that are looking for inspiration when developing their repertoire may discover that something suitable already exists.
What is a “new dance”? At first sight, the clue is in the name: it has to be a (Morris) dance that is new.
What is “new”? Any dance or figure that has been composed recently and does not appear in the existing recognised resources such as the Black Book. Any traditional dance that has been substantially altered. Any traditional dance that is now regularly danced to an alternative tune which gives it a substantially different character from the original.
However, I cannot keep records of tiny changes of detail or emphasis that would normally be characterised as “side style”. Also, unusual local customs — straw bears, rush carts, mumming, guising and so on — where dancing also happens, fall outside my remit. I’m only here to collate the new dances.
What is a (Morris) dance? I will include dances from all of the recognised English and Welsh border, dance traditions, including, but not limited to, Border, Cotswold, Longsword, Molly, North West, and Rapper. I will also include dances from related traditions like Lichfield — which may be similar to Cotswold, but has a distinct identity. Also, the Morris Ring has some member teams which perform non-native traditions such as Appalachian or Cajun. Most people would agree that these are not “Morris” as such, but if a team is in the Morris Ring then I will treat them equally, which means that if they submit material to me, I will be happy to include it in my collation.
It is in the nature of folkies that they are eclectic, and some of you will also be involved in Irish, Scottish or French dancing, square dancing, Playford, and so on. My initial feeling is that it is for enthusiasts of these styles to record their own dances if they wish, but the same rule will apply: if your club is in The Morris Ring and you wish to submit material of this kind from the club’s repertoire, I will include it.
What should you submit?
- Notes or diagrams which are sufficiently clear to enable someone who does not know the dance already to work out how it goes. For a new Headington chorus, this may simply be 4 bars of stepping. In other cases, it may be a figure by figure description of an entire dance.
- Details of the music that fits the dance, ideally with the musical notation (or ABC notation) if it is an unusual or new tune.
- Details of who composed the dance and/or the tune, as applicable. I have no way of checking or verifying this, so I must rely on you to be fair. I cannot be drawn into disputes about who wrote or performed a dance or tune first because I wasn’t there.
- Confirmation of whether you are happy for other teams to perform your dance. If you are not, I will respect that and I will emphasise it in my notes.
My own background is limited to Cotswold. This means that while I have a fighting chance of deciphering obscure notes about new Cotswold dances and I can edit them for clarity, I will have to rely on people from the other traditions to ensure that anything they submit is clear. I can of course email you or ring you if I need to check, but ideally it should be as clear as possible when you submit it.
I held this role a few years ago and at that time I fairly passively collated a small number of dances. This time around, I have more time and resources available. As things stand, I already have properly ordered records of around 100 new dances on my list. The bigger this archive gets, the more useful it will be for everyone, so please, if you have any new dances, contact me. When we've a good idea of the scale of the resource we can plan its dissemination. Meanwhile I will respond individually to requests for information.
Mike Wilkinson, Dolphin Morris, Mikefule [at] aol.com, 07900 574836.