Where to dance?

Well, time is advancing and the AGM is getting closer. Lots of planning going on, and the application forms will be going out with the next Morris Fed newsletter. When those start coming in, it will really start to feel real. In the mean time, there are still things to finalise, not least where we’re all going to dance.

As a Northwest side, wearing clogs, we have quite specific needs for a dance surface – flat and hard. Although we are quite adaptable and have danced in tiny spaces & strange-shaped places; on cobbles, flagstones, and roadways; we cannot dance on grass or soft carpets despite what we have been offered at times. On the other hand, the Morris styles that don’t wear clogs – such as Border and Cotswold – may perform on grass or other softer surfaces. But if you are trying to arrange dance spots for a range of Morris styles, you have to take account of all needs: surfaces, space, seating, audience etc. It’s been an interesting exercise.

Our Squire and I spent a damp, but ultimately useful day touring central Bath eyeing up opportunities. All the sites have to be passed by the Council to ensure they won’t clash with other events or roadworks etc. Some sites are bypassed, however fantastic they may seem, because the landowner is known to charge an extortionate fee for the use of the space. Which left us with about 26 sites to look at and assess. I never realised there were so many possibilities in the city, but we are lucky with quite wide pavements (due to a lot of pedestrianisation or pavement widening through the years), and good surfaces in general. We also have some quite famous spots to choose from – Morris in front of the Royal Crescent? One of our considerations.

Georgian Morris dancing?

Georgian Morris dancing?

The main down side to Bath are the hills. I know a lot of places have hills, but some of ours are quite steep and they divide the main part of the city centre from its fringes – the river cuts off the southern side. The reason the Royal Crescent was built where it was is because it was above the 18th century town centre, giving views to the south – but this also means that it is a fair climb out of the centre of town. This, unfortunately makes it one of our fringe sites, even though it would be a good opportunity to frighten the life out of the visitors heading for the Georgian splendour of the museum at No 1 Royal Crescent being confronted with a Border Morris side in full flow…

Dancing in the street is fine without pedestrians

Dancing in the street is fine without pedestrians

Some potential pitches are right in the heart of the city – in the middle of the street in fact. This poses other problems. Let’s face it, not everyone in Bath will be there to stop and watch us dancing, much as we might like them to. Some of the pedestrians will be locals just trying to wedge their way past the tourists, Festival-goers (the Bath Children’s Literature Festival starts the same day), 4×4 baby buggies and other shoppers to get on with their shopping list. So some pitches will come with a warning to ensure we allow space to the sides of the street for those poor shoppers just trying to get into WHSmith or buy a new pair of shoes. Hopefully they may stop and watch as well.

Of course Morris sides can make a lot of noise, in case you hadn’t noticed. Whilst we’re happily clumping around in clogs or jingling up the street in bells to dance to the sound of melodeons, trombones, drusms and various other instruments, not all the shopkeepers or householders will be quite so happy.  We are hoping to at least warn them in advance.  I’m quite sure the pub landlords won’t be too unhappy though.

Mendelssohn v Morris?

Mendelssohn v Morris?

Another consideration that cropped up in discussions was ensuring that there wasn’t a wedding that morning… The main dance area will be right outside Bath Abbey – we wouldn’t want the Wedding March drowned out by the Lass of Richmond Hill, or vice versa. It’s surprising how much music can carry, and the recent contretemps over amplified busking in this area causing the suspension of Evensong was the talk of the local newspaper. We have been assured that there are no weddings planned for that day – although it would be an appropriate day for a Morris wedding.

Keep an eye on the line in the paving stones

Keep an eye on the line in the paving stones

There are some places we just have to stand and look at wistfully and dream of dancing there. Not because they’re of particular heritage importance (which is an issue in a World Heritage Site), but because they’re of commercial importance. This is a particular issue where the land is controlled by a corporation not a council. The corporation has no requirement to make allowances for local artistic groups or community performers. They may intend to keep out the buskers by their policy, but they also end up barring everyone unless they can pay – a lot. So we can dance in some places as long as we, literally, toe the line. Paving changes mark a change in ownership and allows us to dance on one side, but not the other. So watch where you put those toes as it could be expensive.

Buskers are another question. Bath has a lot of buskers, and they are quite protective of their busking sites, how long they use them for, and on what days. Mrs Wilkins the Secretary has built up a good relationship with the ‘organiser’ of the buskers – there isn’t a formal organiser, just someone who keeps the rest of the buskers informed about things. When we’ve danced in the city in the last few years we’ve done it with the blessing and pre-arranged agreement of the buskers since we are taking up one of their revenue-generating spots for a period of time. As you can imagine, we are going to be taking over a lot of their prime spots for most of a Saturday during school holidays. We are being very nice to them to, hopefully, prevent arguments and misunderstandings. After all, they can’t really just nip round the corner from where we’re dancing as a busker singing Nessun Dorma or playing a Spanish guitar isn’t going to match up to the British Grenadiers very well.

It’s not until you start looking into these things that you realise how many details there are to think about: spaces, surfaces, permissions, buskers, weddings, Council Highways Department, shops and shoppers. So, when you look at the timetable and the place you’re dancing, there’s a lot of factors that have been considered before we arranged to use that site. And there will be a steward there to warn you when your toes get too close to that line.

Dancing outside the pub (Mr Wilkins' first public outing 27 years ago)

Dancing outside the pub (site of Mr Wilkins’ Shiling’s first public outing 27 years ago)

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