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Dancing
Sunday 31st May 2020 12:30 pm

I tried morris dancing as part of I've Never Seen Star Wars. As I documented at the time, I thought it would be easy, so I wouldn't enjoy it. But it was just the right amount of hard and so I did.

The way it works, in normal years, is that we practise from September to April, then from May to July we dance out one evening at week at a local pub, along with another morris side. We also dance at weekends at festivals - generally one a month from April and September (and sometimes in October and January!). Inevitably we'll end up dancing on the hottest day of the year - least year that was the day it was in the high 30sC and by the time we danced in the evening it had gone down to 31C.

What I didn't know until I started is about all the different types of morris dancing. The one that most people in this country know about, and would describe if you said morris dancing, is with people in white with sticks and hankies. They have a lot of bells going on. That's called Cotswold, because it was historically danced in the Cotswold region.

The type I dance is North West. You'll never guess what part of England it comes from... It was danced by mill workers. They wore clogs in the mills, so we wear clogs to dance. You do not have cold feet in clogs... They are great, though, because they make lots of noise. We do have sticks, but we don't tend to do a lot of hitting other sticks. Our sticks have bells and ribbons, and we also have bells on the clogs. But no bells on us.

In my first dance out season I was watching a border morris team. That's from the England/Wales border. They traditionally didn't want to be recognised, so they painted their faces. They also dance with long sticks that they clash. Watching them hit sticks I thought I'd quite fancy the stick hitting part. But less so the face painting part because I have sensitive skin and everything makes it itch. So finding something to paint my face with would be more effort. You also find at morris events a load of border morris people around the sinks painting their faces.

What made me decide that North West was the type for me was one day when we were discussing the surface we'd just danced on. It was nice and flat, but not great for the sound - it absorbed a lot. People discussed how they like to make noise with their clogs and I could get behind that idea. It was reinforced a few months later when we danced on a wooden stage. We had twelve of us doing a dance that involves a bit of stamping. Since it was loud, we all obviously stamped as loud as we could. When we came off all the dancers said how great it had been; all the musicians complained they couldn't hear a thing.

Recently, my neighbours have had the pleasure of enjoying the noise from my clogs (minus the bells). On our practise nights we've been dancing and imagining the other people dancing around us. Which is really hard. Sometimes you have to go around other people until you get to a certain spot. When there are no people there it's a lot harder to work out how many you've gone round.

I am missing dancing properly, although I am not missing dancing in the weather - there's a very narrow window in which it's the right weather to dance in. No wind, no rain, not too hot.


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