CULTURE: Does Morris dance deserve come back?

Old people in silly costumes jumping with sticks to weird music. That’s what most of new generation thinks about Morris dance. “It’s sad,” says Jane O’Connor from traditional dance group Plum Jerkum Border Morris.

“In Spain you wouldn’t be laughed at if you did Flamenco, in Ireland you certainly won’t be laughed at for doing step dancing. In England you see men doing Morris dance – it’s funny.”

That’s why annual the Inter Varsity Folk Dance Festival was welcomed to Coventry city centre at the end of February. For three days, Coventry sounded more like bells, screams and English national music.

Running continuously since 1951, the Inter Varsity Fold Dance Festival is being organized by a different university each week. This year it’s been hosted by Warwick Folk for the very first time. Dancers and musicians from around Coventry were promoting folk culture including traditional music and Morris dance.

“I’d like more people to get involved. Especially young people, because there’s this aging factor. It would be very good to see it done with more dynamic and energetic youthful passion,“ says David Steptoe from Berkshire Bedlam Morris dance group.

Morris dance might be based in very old European tradition, but it is typical British folk dance accompanied by traditional music based mostly on stepping and changing formations.

It is said to have its origins around the fifteenth century, when Morris dancers were mostly sponsored by churches and treated as professional entertainers, and has gradually developed over the time. Despite bans, some churches were still fundraising money to hire Morris dancers, and thanks to some court cases’ notes we can have a prove of that dance’s origins.

During World War I, Morris dance started dying back especially because the lack of young men, who were getting conscripted. However, it was restarted in the 1930s and again in the 1970s. So what you see today is a 1970s interpretation of actual Morris dance.

But, not many people appreciate the beauty of the dance and that it is important to promote that part of origins of English culture.

“We are the tradition. We are English tradition!” – says Gwen Peat from Plum Jerkum Border Morris.

And if Morris dance is a cradle of English culture and such significant factor, why is it not that popular anymore? And why is it often considered as a “national joke”? Why are young people not that interested in that?

“I think in this country, we don’t appreciate our tradition, and especially traditional dances,” says Jane O’Connor. “And that’s a shame because it’s fun, it’s sociable, it gets you fit! You jump, you scream, it’s just a fantastic release at the end of the week!”

And in fact it is hard not to get into that positive vibe, just be aware, traditional costumes and screams included.

Natalia Kaluza

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