Dance is not dead: History Maintained

By on January 17, 2009

As a nation, we all are guilty of turning away from traditions and solid values that once built us, gave us purpose, kept our island culture special. Saturday’s performance by the Ringheye Morris dancers demonstrated just how important it is to maintain our cultural heritage and seek out the pride that can be held in historical performing arts.
In the confines of the Heritage Centre, surrounded by the Knutsford tapestry, the Ringheye Morris dancers led by Squire Jim Kidd assembled in readiness for their exhibition. The side, mainly women, stood about in a calm and casual manner completely at ease and obviously proud of their persuasion in front of an eager audience.

After a historical zeitgeist read by the Squire, the onlookers began twitching in theirs seats as the dancers assembled in preparation for the first is a series energetic displays. As they began, the noticeable sound of their hard soled shoes making heavy contact with the ground drove the rhythm of the dance and provided the backdrop to an engaging performance of pride and openness.

It was clear that visitors to the centre were mesmerised by the routine, more people came from the street to investigate the commotion but were unaware of the source until the presentation of dance was revealed. Only a few culturally blind individuals turned and left in a fit of laughter but most stayed to watch the performance and ultimately participate.

We spoke with visitors to the events for comments about the Morris men and women. One person mooted “its a little odd but it’s tradition isn’t it?” another remarked:  “I’m not sure about the uniform though I think my husband would laugh if he saw me in that, but you know, its dying out and some things need protecting,”

Those who turned tail and ran served only to illustrate the divide between  sociological acceptance of what is supposedly normal and the actual changing tide in attitudes towards Britain’s cultural heritage. The Morris Ring speaking with the BBC earlier this month commented that “Extinction of Morris Dancing within twenty years was a real possibility”. The conclusion drawn was that weakening engagement with a younger audience on grounds of embarrassment will see the tradition melt away, with a revival being a near impossibility.

Routes for Revivalism: It was clear that after only ten minutes of dancing that most of the team were experiencing the telltale signs of physical exercise and positive fatigue.  There is an obvious health benefit here, as with step classes and other rhythm centric fitness activities, Morris Dancing offers the very same routine based, aerobic workout. Dance moved into fitness studios across the world in the early eighties and tea dances have proved that a traditional movement that has kept our grandparents active and trim.

Morris dancing involves a high degree of coordination, timing and fitness so should there not be progress towards modernising Morris Dancing and bringing it directly into the health and fitness centres in the UK?  The thought of making  Morris dancing “sexy” would be naturally be considered as repellent to the Morris dancing stalwarts but by making it accessible, attractive and broadcasting the grounds for fitness and social development surely Morris Dancing traditions can live on. Lets face it, Line Dancing travelled from the United States, perhaps we can export “Modern Morris” back over the pond.

Dancers and musicians always welcome: The Ringheye Morris Dancers practice every Wednesday evening at the Victory Hall in Mobberley during autumn, winter and early spring. Please see the website for more information .

Knutsford Heritage Centre
www.knutsfordheritage.co.uk

Ringheye Morris Dancers of Mobberley
www.ringheye.org.uk

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