Judging by the legs that this story gained, I suspect you’d have had to have been living under a rock in the first week of January not to have heard the story (given that it appears in nearly every news source in the UK) that apparently morris dancing will be extinct within 20 years (including one in The Sun featuring a photo of my learned colleagues Andy & Colin, and I). Admittedly, the first I heard of it was by telephone halfway up a mountain in Sweden (where I was trying my hardest not to become extinct), but that counts as story-exposure, so it supports my theory.
The brouhaha all started when the meeja picked up on a press release put out by The Morris Ring – the association of mens’ morris dancing clubs in the UK. As listed above, news services (after an initial delay, it seems – had to wait for a slow news week…) went into something of a frenzy, and this sent commentary among the morris community into a similar frenzy as well.
In point of fact, I don’t think there is quite the crisis mentioned – in short, if any organisation was to not do any recruiting for 20 years it would die out, so provided morris can nurture the steady trickle of new participants it normally enjoys there’s no need to go hitting the panic button. The story was a good way to generate discussion though, and it’s some of that which I find slightly bothering.
Many of the articles seem to be written by reporters who feel they have to conform to hackneyed old cliches – that morris dancers are all beer-bellied, bald, bearded Real Ale types, and that morris dancing is an embarrassing disorganised shamble about in flowery hats and bells. And then there’s a tedious conveyor belt of English people who say that morris dancing should die out, because it’s irritating and, again, embarrassing.
As Jeffrey pointed out in his beer blog, one of the reasons why morris dancing has survived so long – as many folk traditions have – is because it’s just good fun. Because something’s years old doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be stony-faced and reverent. I’ll concede that many of the morris dancers out there don’t look as if they’re enjoying it so much, but then half of the are probably concentrating so they don’t arse up their steps, or are maybe caught up in the physical exertion required because they’re not as fit as they’d like to be.
I’m not trying to deny that lots of morris men have beer bellies, however it’s one of those crap statistics similar to what we used to face in Rovers (that being, the 18-26 year old section of Scouts in Australia). Rovers were forever fighting a PR battle against the idea that they spent all their time drinking booze… In Australia if you sample any group of 18+ year olds you’ll more than likely find that some of them enjoy relaxing with a beer – the fact that they’re Rovers is kind of peripheral. It’s all about Venn Diagrams, man. But yeah, similarly – stand about any place where lots of people walk by, and observe how many blokes have beer bellies. Or beards. It’d be fair to say that there’s many many many more bearded, bellied blokes who AREN’T morris dancers than are. Rugby players are renowned as big beer drinkers, as are cricket players, engineering students, and Australians (although statistically Czech people consume more per capita). Are we to somehow extrapolate that morris men should fall into all of these categories/activities also?
More interestingly however (I think) is this perception that morris dancing’s a pathetic floral shambles put on by old men. I don’t know what these people have been watching, however to make these conclusions about the state of morris dancing would be like me claiming that football (or, soccer, if you will) is boring and skill-less after watching a Northend Thistle match.
Or, to put it all a slightly less anecdotal way, can anyone point out to me what’s embarrassing, floral, or old-manny about this?
Or perhaps – help me if you will – point out where the beer bellies and beards are?
I’m looking, but I can’t see the evidence of lethargic, unfit shambolicness…
In fact, I DARE anyone to tell the Hammersmith Morris Men that what they’re doing isn’t organised, manly, or entertaining.
OK, here’s one WITH some old blokes in it… am I being biased, or is it still watchable, entertaining, and reasonably precise?
Seriously, anyone who has any doubts about the skill, precision, energy or fun of morris dancing should spend a few minutes checking out what’s on offer from teams like Ripley Morris Men, Icknield Way Morris Men, Pecsaetan Morris, Moulton Morris Men, Pig Dyke Molly, Thrales Rapper, Dogrose Morris, The World Famous Hammersmith Morris Men… there’s many more! Quite a lot of people have even reported enjoying watching we, the Westminster Morris Men.
In case I haven’t made my point yet, morris dancing is energetic, skilled, precise, appreciated by the public, good exercise, sociable, entertaining, vigorous, and not entirely repulsive to young people. If you look hard enough you’ll find morris men who conform to the outdated stereotypes, however also remember that statistically most people have more than the average number of legs.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in finding out more about morris dancing – either to watch, have a go, or just to learn about, feel free to contact either us at Westminster Morris, use The Morris Side Finder to track down your nearest team (UK only), or if you’re in Australia try The Australian Morris Ring, or if you’re in the USA there’s plenty of teams there too.