Morris For Me … The Novice’s Tale

On my frequent trips to Cornwall, I always remember to take my bodyboard with me. I’m not particularly good at it – not like some of the locals, who seem to cut through the water with all the ease and grace of dolphins – but I do manage to catch my fair share of waves. In truth, it’s not that difficult. You wait until there’s a decent size wave coming at you, you turn to face the shore, and then, at the optimum moment, you jump onto your board and kick for all you’re worth. More often than not, the sheer momentum of the water will propel you along. And in that moment you will have found bliss.

            I had an idea that morris dancing would be… kind of the same?! – Spoiler: It isn’t. But more on that in a moment.

            It was never my intention to become a morris dancer. I have morris-dancers-in-law. But me? God no! Shudder at the thought! I grew up in inner-city Liverpool. Dancing was what you did in The Krazy House or Cream on a Saturday night. And if you saw a gang of men armed with sticks you ran the other way. Morris dancing? That’s a country thing, surely!

            So time passed.

            And yes, I’ve always liked folk music; listening to my Dad’s old Spinners records as a kid. Then, as a teenager and into my twenties, I got into the ever so slightly heavier sound of The Levellers via my soon-to-be wife. The likes of Spiers and Boden (Bellowhead) followed. Later my father-in-law introduced me to Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band. But no, morris dancing was not for me.

            And yes, I’ve always liked dancing, be it in the aforementioned clubs, at Ceilidh dances, at wedding discos, birthday parties, or simply in my own kitchen listening to the radio. But no, morris dancing was not for me.

            As I got older, and with my 40’s looming on the sadly no-longer-distant horizon, it occurred to me that I wasn’t as fit as I used to be and I should probably take up a sport of some description; or at least go jogging. At any rate, something regular and vigorous to keep me moving. But no, not morris dancing.

            Did I mention that I’m a real ale drinker? I’ve been known to travel miles for a decent IPA in a good pub, or an interesting stout at a busy beer festival. But morris dancing…?

            Last summer a chap I know through work, who happens to be a morris dancer with Mersey Morris Men, mentioned in passing that they would be dancing at my local pub in a few weeks’ time, if I happened to be around. By chance, I was free and – never one to miss a good excuse to go the pub – I went along to see the MMM.

            I’ve seen morris dancers on a number of occasions and, though I’ve always been impressed with their skills and enjoyed a good show, it never crossed my mind to get involved myself. That fateful evening, however, I was talked into taking part in their audience participation dance. I won’t kid myself that I was anything other than terrible, but I DID enjoy it.

            A lightbulb flickered dimly in my brain. Good music? Yes. The dancing, the exercise, the beer, the women (OK maybe not the women. To misquote Douglas Adams: It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression “As pretty as a morris dancer”.). Didn’t I want all this?

            I had been handed a leaflet from one of the dancers that night, so I knew there was an open evening planned for the start of September. I’m not exactly a social person and I don’t mind admitting that I find meeting new people a bit scary, but I made the effort – if it turned out it wasn’t for me after all, I could always just not go back again.

            When it came to the dancing I had the vague impression that, like the Atlantic breakers I mentioned earlier, I could simply go with the flow. Point me in the right general direction and let the momentum of the other dancers carry me along.

            Morris does not work like this.

            Every dance seemed different and overwhelming. I had information overload. What should my hands be doing? Where are my feet going? Half gips, cross-overs, double stepping, heys, twisty-backs! Ilmington, Adderbury, Bledington. Maybe this wasn’t for me after all…

            But no…

Morris dancing WAS for me.

            In the pub, at the end of the night, tired and a bit confused, I also realised something else; I’d not had this much fun in ages! I suppose that like a lot of things that are tricky to master, it feels good when you do get it right. I doubt I’ll ever be a great dancer like those dolphins of the morris dancing world (to crowbar in an analogy), but maybe one day I’ll be competent. That evening, I was a way off even that. But through some excellent tuition from all concerned, I learned enough little things in that first evening’s practice to muddle through a few dances and spark in me a desire to be a morris dancer proper. Caught up in the dance I had found a moment of bliss

            My only regret so far is that it took me so long to realise that I needed The Morris in my life. If only I’d done it sooner!