The time has come when we lay down our slings, our mandolins, our clogs and our hats. The darker winter nights, howling gales and driving rain start to make dancing out a challenge almost more than a pleasure – indeed, they can make getting to these events or even a practice night an adventure. We really only undertake one event at this time of year – our Christmas dance out. It’s often the most well-attended event of the year for the dancers and musicians alike as we enjoy a (usually) rare opportunity of dancing in the centre of Bath. To make sure of a suitably captive audience, we also undertake this at the busiest time of year for the city in the stromash (sorry, human maelstrom) that is the Bath Christmas Market. Carving a place on the pavement with sufficient space for our sets can be a challenge. We not only have to create the space, but make sure that a stray buggy-pushing Yummy Mummy doesn’t charge through the clear space in the middle of the set just as the music hits that vital moment when the dancers launch forth, desperately trying to remember the chorus for this particular dance. We also traditionally dance for a couple of charities – one local and one national – splitting the take between them. The audience is, to do them credit in the middle of the Christmas financial frenzy, very generous and we can usually manage a respectable sum. This year the chosen charity is one which has a local and national presence, Headway. It is in honour of the husband of one of our dancers – a dancer and musician himself – who went through the ordeal and trauma of major brain surgery earlier this year. His recovery has been steady since the operation, although there’s a long way to go. Luckily, he still has his ability to play music, and he loves coming along to the performances of both Mr Wilkins’ Shilling and his own side to play along, or even just watch. His wife, in the middle of all the drama and stress, also managed to be the mainstay of the organisation of the Day of Dance for the Morris Federation in September.
After the dance out we will lay down our tools and uniform over the ‘festive period’ as we prepare for, recover from or just plain survive Christmas and the New Year. The first practice in January we catch up on the gossip and try to remember how to dance before we hold our Try Out evening on 16th January (8pm in our new home at the Batheaston Catholic Church Hall, Brow Hill Villas). This has been known by several names over the years – New Starters, Beginners, etc. Now we’re trying to market it more as a Give it a Go session rather than an encouragement to come along and you’re committed forever. I have noticed several sides advertising their recruiting sessions online through Facebook and Twitter, and I will follow their example (when I get a little more organised and perhaps after Christmas). Some sides are seriously struggling for dancers – such as our friends and neighbours, Priston Jubilee Morris – and may fold if they don’t get new blood in to help them out. We aren’t getting any younger as a side, and more things are aching, complaining and needling us through the year and the practices. There’s also the question of families – whether it is the older generation getting older and needing more time, or the younger generation(s) getting younger and baby-sitting duties call. We’ve struggled at points this year with having enough dancers committing to the few dance outs we’ve accepted – and we’ve turned down or cancelled even more of them. We’d like to have new dancers with new enthusiasm and more options for sets at performances.
I’m sounding horribly defeatist, but I don’t want to be. Like any other ‘hobby’, morris takes time and commitment. I love it for the fact it gives me a chance to meet a very different group of people to those I meet at work – and the Day of Dance this year was great fun and it was such a pleasure to see so many people – dancers and audiences – enjoying themselves in the late summer sun. Yes, it can be a bind coming to practices, but they also provide a routine. The dancing keeps you more supple and fitter than if you were sitting watching telly all night. It gives you a chance to get out to places you would otherwise never think of visiting if it weren’t for the dancing – Sidmouth, Swanage, Downton, Upper Vobster. I started morris at the encouragement of my then-boss (and also then then-Squire), Stevie. I was intending to resurrect my childhood by Scottish Country Dancing (a very formal affair in England), but I’m glad I tried something else. Ignore the reputation morris has for being a niche, middle-class pastime and give it a go. I promise you it will be different! I mean, how often do you get to dance with dragons, horses and phoenixes?