Well, that was fun! We’ve just had our first pub dance out of the year. We were invited along by Somerset Morris, who had been temporarily kicked out of their practice hall due to the general election (it’s other alter ego is as a polling station). Our host pub was the Bird in Hand in Saltford, a great family pub down by the River Avon. We’ve only had one dance out so far this year, at the JMO Day of Dance in Bristol – we’re not one of the sides willing to get up at the crack of dawn to dance in May Day. This night gave us a chance to reacquaint ourselves with the vagaries of outdoor dancing instead of in our nice comfy practice hall.
As is normal, we had part of the car park cordoned off for us – which didn’t stop the usual customer deciding that the cones weren’t meant for him and he could park in the space at the top that had so conveniently been left when the rest of the car park was almost full. Luckily, one of Somerset Morris got to him before he’d even switched off the engine, and he moved the car off our dancing surface. Now, we’re used to dancing on all sorts of surfaces that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes surrounded by varied hazards. This car park appeared relatively benign. Until we started dancing.
A wall at the top of the slope had a set of steps down on to the tarmac delimiting one side of the space. Cars lined the other side, so not much room off the arena allowed for overspill. Not usually a problem as most of our dances, being North West processional in style, are danced in a rectangular shape which fit nicely into the shape provided. That is until we got to the final figure of one dance – Butterly Brick – where we all line up across the dance area… In which case our line ended up wider than the dance space available and Dr Mrs Wilkins ended up dancing on the bottom tread of the steps. Well we are adaptable, but we don’t usually practice for these sorts of circumstances.
Wearing clogs we need a hard surface to dance on. The best is usually based on wood of some sort – we once had a particuarly bouncy surface at Beckington on a makeshift stage based on railway sleepers with plywood on top – as it has some give in it. More often than not we dance on tarmac, concrete or some other paving surface. Acutally dulls the sound of the clogs slightly, and we often end up with aching feet by the end as there is very little shock-absorbancy in the wood on tarmac combination. So this car park is well within our usual limitations.
What we don’t usually specify is exactly what counts at flat. The tarmac was flat – it hadn’t got any potholes, gravel or even the frequently danced-around manhole cover – so that was fine. What we don’t define is what angle of slope is acceptable. I mean, we don’t go out with an inclinometer to check it’s acceptable. We usually find out as we’re dancing. The first couple of dances are fine and we have enough puff to laugh about going uphill. Towards the end of the evening we do tend to find ranting backwards uphill a little more troublesome.
So, if you see a morris dancer kneeling on the ground peering at a spirit level, then it’s probably Mrs Wilkins checking the angle of the slope is within acceptable limits.