More about Morris Dancing

Morris dancing was used by the aristocracy in the past to entertain their courts.
Similar dances were and still are performed in many parts of Europe. We don’t know exactly how the dances were performed in early times.

There are many historical references to morris dancing which can be found in records from important old buildings. In the Zouche Chapel in York Minster there is a small late 15th century painted window depicting a morris dancer. 16th century accounts from Barden Tower in Wharfedale refer to expenses for the morris dancers' bells and ribbons.

Many of the versions of the Cotswold dances you will see today are based on how they were performed by dancers seen by a teacher called Cecil Sharp about a hundred years ago. At that time the dances were performed by young men from the village. Each village had its own dances.
The dances were energetic, athletic and graceful with some including mock fighting.
They were usually performed at special ceremonies and holidays. Today morris dancers perform much more frequently for fun.

Cecil Sharp was concerned that these old dances were in danger of dying out and that there would be no one left to pass on the knowledge of how to dance them.
Sharp made notes on how they were danced and how the music was played.
He, and other people who helped him, started classes to teach others throughout the country. Today there are teams throughout the country, commonly known as sides, who enjoy performing morris dances for special occasions or events. Over time changes have been made to some of the dances to suit particular dance sides.

Today most morris sides meet once a week to practise and to learn new dances.
Morris sides usually have one person who knows the dances well and is able to teach the style and pass on the tradition. It usually takes a few months before new dancers are ready to perform with their morris side in public. You will also come across new dances which have been made up very recently.

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Tips for teaching Cotswold morris

If you wish to learn to dance Cotswold morris it is a good idea to start with a few dances from one village tradition, getting to know the style and the characteristics of that tradition before trying another tradition with a different style and different figures. The Adderbury tradition is one of the easier ones and a good one to begin with.

There is no real substitute for learning morris dancing from an expert dancer. The page of links to web sites includes details of organisations that can help you locate someone with suitable experience.

Structure of the Dances
The dances are usually made up of 2 parts. The first part is made up of common figures which usually occur in the same order in all the dances from that particular village. The second part is called the distinctive figure. The distinctive figure is different for every dance and is danced in between the common figures. At the end of the distinctive figure the number one dancer will "call" the name of the next common figure as a reminder (or as an instruction).

Once you've learnt one dance from a particular village tradition, it's then easier to learn another dance from the same village. The style is the same and the common figures are the same. You just need to learn the distinctive figure for each dance. This is the part of the dance which distinguishes it from other dances from the same village.

There are 2 basic morris steps.
The first is a single step: left hop, right hop / left hop, right hop / etc.
The second basic step is a double step: left, right, left, hop / right, left, right, hop / and so on.
There are many other steps involving leaps, capers and some quite complex footwork which morris dancers progress to once they’ve mastered some of the basic stepping.

Single step
Starting with both feet together step forward on the left foot, hop on the left foot whilst lifting and extending the right leg forward without bending the knee. Then step on the right foot, hop on the right whilst lifting and extending the left leg forward without bending the knee, and so on.

Double step
Starting with both feet together step forward on the left foot, step forward on the right, step forward on the left foot, hop on the left foot whilst lifting and extending the right leg forward without bending the knee. Step forward on the right foot, step forward on the left, step forward on the right foot, hop on the right foot whilst lifting and extending the left leg forward without bending the knee, and so on.

Hand and arm Movements
Very many of the dances involve hand movements, usually with handkerchiefs being waved, flourished or swung up and down in particular patterns depending on the particular village tradition. A small number of dances use hand clapping.
In some Cotswold Morris dances the dancers use sticks to hit out a rhythm on their partner’s stick and also on the ground.

The dancers should be spaced so that if they extend their arms sideways their fingers should just touch their partner’s. If they face across the set so that they are facing their partner and extend their arms sideways they should touch finger tips with the dancers above or below them.
The musician faces the dancers and is looking down the set.

Introducing the dance
Most of the dances begin with a very short introduction with the musician playing part of the A music to help the dancers get into the spirit of the dance. This is called once to yourself. At the end of this introduction they dance a little preparatory step on the spot. Sometimes the introductory part of the dance is a walk round when all the dancers walk round in a circle facing clockwise. They often sing a silly song while they walk round. Another way of introducing the dance is for the dancers to sing on the spot followed by a foot up or sometimes, as in Lads a Bunchum, the introduction is both a walk round and a foot up.

At the end of the dance (on the last double step) it is usual for the dancers to face up (with a call "All up"), stepping on their left foot and raising their right foot without bending the knee, often raising their arms in the air. They then walk round and walk off.

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Learning and teaching Adderbury 'Lads-a-Bunchum'

Go to the Lads-a-Bunchum Dance Notation page to print a summary of the whole dance.
Open Lads-a-Bunchum music to print the music notation.

Formation – 6 dancers in 2 columns facing up

It helps when learning the dance to dance in the same position in the set if possible, but learn to dance in all positions once you are confident.

We recommend that you tackle the dance in bite size pieces. This may take several sessions.
Start by listening to the music and the song:
The song recorded here is the one that has been used for decades. If you don’t like the words why not make up your own? Making up your own words is quite traditional! Learning the song will help you to get part of the tune and the rhythm in your head. This will help you with the stepping.

Watch the video clips demonstrating the double stepping (left, right, left, hop; right left, right, hop and so on). Do watch the style of the hop. It’s more of a gentle kick forward than a usual hop. This is common to most Cotswold Morris dances. Then try the double step, dancing to the music on the CD-ROM or to the song which you can now sing.

Teachers might take a decision to only teach the single step (step, hop, step, hop) and use that throughout the dance. Single step is used throughout in some other Adderbury dances.

To learn the sticking watch the video of the sticking and listen to the music. Try clapping the bits where the sticks are hit before you practise the sticking. There is always a tendency in stick dances to listen to the rhythm of the sticking and not to the music with the consequence that the sticking gets faster.

You will need a stick measuring about 80 cms. long x 4 cms. diameter for each adult dancer.
For younger dancers we would recommend shorter sticks.
You will also need some spare sticks. The sticks should be straight and smooth with no knobbly bits. Sticks pruned from trees are suitable. Shop bought dowelling is not.

Holding sticks
It is important to hold the sticks in a relaxed fashion though sufficiently firmly to do the job. Try holding the sticks both when you’re presenting yours to your partner and also when you're striking with tense hands and rigid arms and you’ll see why. You will end up with bruises. It’s like jumping without any give in your knees and quite uncomfortable.
When you are sticking with your partner hold the stick with both hands, holding the bottom (butt) by your left hand and the middle by your right hand. Hold your stick out horizontally in front of you when it’s your partner’s turn to strike. Don’t rush the sticking. Keep in time with the music. Practise the sticking carefully so that no one ends up with bruised fingers!
Experienced dancers will slide their right hand higher up the stick when they present it to their partners. This gives more space between their hands and less chance of fingers being hit accidentally. Both dancers are responsible for avoiding fingers being hit. The dancers presenting their sticks must see that their hands are well spaced to receive the striking stick and the striker must use their eyes to get it right.

The common figures
Take time to assimilate before progressing to the figures.
Watch the video of the whole dance a few times before having a go.
You could learn just part of the dance e.g. walk round, foot up and chorus.
Younger pupils might leave out the hey at the end of the dance.
The figures are the same in most dances from Adderbury.

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Notes for musicians

In early times the music was often provided by one man who played a pipe and tabor or a fiddle. This illustration is of William Kempe who danced a solo jig from London to Norwich in 1600.

Today fiddles, melodeons and concertinas are frequently used. The music is in 2 parts. The first part (A music) is used for the common figures and the second part (B music) is used for the distinctive figure.

For Cotswold Morris it is usually best to dance to one musician, who needs to play with a clear and precise rhythm. It is important for dancers and the musician to get to know each other well because the musician and the dancers have to interact with each other. There are times when a dancer will perform a move, for example a jump, that takes slightly longer than the amount of time it has in the music, which means that the musician has to play slower or make a note longer. This also emphasises the movement to the audience. It can also be the case that the musician has to drive the dancers. If they are getting too slow the musician can help by pushing the music along.

The playing style includes lots of breathing spaces with very clear phrasing and precise placing of articulations to match the figures and stepping. Phrases often begin on an up-beat (anacrusis) which helps to give a "lift" to the music and the dancer.

Open the Lads-a-Bunchum music file to print the music notation for that dance.

Click here to go to the School curriculum notes

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