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Morris Dancing at the Faversham Hop

On April 20, 2009

As I was saying…

Early this winter there was a lively debate in The Guardian over whether morris dancing was soon to disappear; even fans of the art often spoke of it with a touch of humor. Those who weren’t fans fell over themselves making fun of these mostly working class people who can embody Monty Python sketches of dancers with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads. Almost as soon as the traditional folk dance troupes had been sent off stage, a renaissance was said to be gathering in the wings thanks largely to a comedy/documentary winding its way round England.

While I’m not sure morris dancing will be the next big thing in hip Los Angeles clubs, it (along with smelly balls and free beer) was one of the highlights of the Faversham Hop Festival.

Throughout the streets of Faversham small crowds of people would be knotted around dancers in colorful garb (not a head hankie in sight) who had obviously worked long hours perfecting their steps. Admittedly most of the dancers were older and many had more women than men…

Older Morris Dancers with women

Older Morris Dancers with women

but they were more than enough groups to stop traffic in every artery of the festival.

On one side street we even found a young group of dancers that gave the lie to everything the morris dancers doom sayers had to say. Not only were these dancers young men (with the exception of a slightly older woman in costume who passed the hat for them after each set), they even had morris dancer groupies – well, if not groupies then girlfriends who found their mens’ avocation to be as sexy as playing in a hair band. Of course, some of that may have had to do with their fertility dance which found a very specific use for the thick, hard wooden poles which are a standard morris dancing accessory…

None too subtle phallic symbols

None too subtle phallic symbols

These young men also performed with blackened faces which some take to be racist; however, to me they weren’t in “blackface” but rather in make-up that recalled being down in a mine or up a chimney – not unlike the grimy face of Dick Van Dyke as the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins – and certainly in keeping with their costumes.

Morris Dancer with hop decorated drum

Morris Dancer with hop decorated drum

Now I don’t expect a morris dancing craze to sweep the world, although it wouldn’t be any odder than 80 year old my mother doing the macarena along with the television or a bar full of over forties trying to learn how to country line dance. It’s only strange if you’re not doing it.

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