Saturday, 23 March 2013

Wayzgoose Border Morris Tour of the Borders

Wayzgoose are the Border Morris side most local to me, hailing from fair Otley, they are one of the sides that dance up the sun with Briggate Morris on the Chevin at May day. I have a special fondness for them as I have made good friends with a few of the side and of course, they dance very well!

One of their recent undertakings has been to organise a tour of dancing: taking traditional Border Morris dances back to the named locations. I have always found the idea of specific dances for a location interesting, especially if it seems to incorporate geographical curiosities and idiosyncrasies into the actual steps of the dance.

One of Briggate's North West dances, Chevin Shindig, is the first we perform when dancing up the sun on the Chevin hill over Otley, and usually the first we perform at any dance out. The figures are performed by sets of three, the chorus includes circling anticlockwise around each dancer in turn, who simultaneously circle themselves clockwise.

I like to associate the spiraling motions of the dance with the sun we hope to rise, aptly for a May day dance it seems to be signifying the turning of the year, and of course the lovely cup and ring rock that sits atop the Chevin. 

We dance a fair few dances which have names evoking specific locations in and around Leeds, Horsforth Fours, Kirkstall Garland, Chandos Five all relate to places where the dances were created. While these dances were created relatively recently for our side, most of the dances Wayzgoose will be performing on their tour have a more authentic pedigree, some being collected in the 19th century and potentially being forms of much earlier dances. The side have learnt 7 new dances since Christmas in order to perform on the tour, no small effort on their part.

I had a quick chat with Stewart Ellinson from Wayzgoose about the tour earlier today, here is some of our discussion;

Layla -  How old are the dances you will be dancing?

Stewart - We don't really know how old the dances are. Some were collected in the earlier part of the 20th century whilst others are mentioned in the 19th. Unlike Cotswold Morris, there seems to have been very little active collecting of Border dances during the period when they might have been properly remembered, and people like Cecil Sharp thought that they were corrupted versions of earlier, purer dances.

 L -Do the dances themselves have any symbolic references to the geographical features of the locations they represent?

 S- They don't have any particular relationship to their locations in structural terms - the dances that survive are quite fragmentary and there may have been others in earlier times. What we do know is that actually, border dances seem to have been done around Christmas by farm workers and in that sense the tradition is similar to Molly dancing and "plough stotting" from East Yorkshire. It was a way of the unemployed making a few extra quid in the winter (which might explain the blacking up). As an aside, I think it was a similar reason that the whole Cotswold revival started: Cecil Sharpe was somewhere for Christmas and he saw (I think) the Headington quarry men dancing - they didn't do it normally, but thought they'd try a few dances for boxing day as cash was short.

 L - What do you think is the importance of taking the dances back to their original locations?

 S - Why are we doing it? IMHO, these are the things that underlie what we do more widely. Some of the dances that we are doing are very simple and are almost never seen "out". Things like Bromsberrow Heath and Upton Snodsbury are simply line reels and sticking, so very few sides actually bother to dance them out. I think we need to know and do these things firstly as they are the basis of everything else we do and secondly because they need / should / deserve to have an existence, and not be simply lines on a page. As far as I know, Bromsberrow Heath dance hasn't been done in Bromsberrow Heath village for ten years. It needs to be, and we need to go and do it so that we can truly call ourselves Border dancers.


View The Border dance locations in a larger map

L- Yes! Very much in agreement, this seems like an honorable cause to me.

 S- For the side, I think we need to have a project every year, so we don't get stale. This year it's this, next year I want to do 20 different dances, one at each of the 20 different pubs in Otley. There's also talk of us going to the Green Man festival, which would take us into the world of "Rawk" festivals. Otherwise, we do the same things with minor variations, year in, year out. I've also always wanted to take the side to Glastonbury. The problem with doing folk festivals is that you're gigging to the converted, this would be a different animal. However, to do that we need a bigger, punchier band, so expanding the music side is also a priority at the moment.

L- Mm, after seeing photos of the Wild Hunt dancing at Stonehenge and Avebury - that is the holy grail of dancing in my eyes!

S - I'm not so convinced about taking the side to ancient monuments, because that's making a bogus connection between the ancient past and Victorian folk culture, I just like the idea of taking the side to a new audience and seeing how we work with people who aren't just here for the folk.

 L - But people have a modern, contemporary connection to ancient monuments that is independent of any Victorian influence, I like to think that any experience of ancient monuments is what you make it, as well as the historical connection being a factor. Take dancing the sun up, it doesn't matter to me how long Briggate have been doing it there, whether the act is a Victorian idea of what a pagan tradition might be, or indeed if it is a truly ancient thing, it's the symbolism of the act itself now from an entirely fresh perspective.

 S - I'd agree it's what you make it, but I'm skeptical about a pseudo-pagan movement that romanticises the past and attaches collective meanings to things that were, for the makers, very diverse. We're doing it in the now, for the now but from the past.

L - I think some people might say Morris dancing is a pseudo-pagan movement that romanticises the past though!

 S - Ab-so-lute-ly, It's all made up by people in the 20th century and it's pagan if you want it to be. If you buy me a beer, it's pagan, if you buy me another one, it's folk culture. It's anything you want it to be because it's our construction of the past.

Should you be in the Malvern Hills area and fancy watching some excellent Border dancing, the tour details are as follows:

 Saturday 30th march 2013

Upton upon severn 10.00 - 10.30 

The Waterfront Bromsberrow heath 11.00- 11.30 

The Post office Evesham 12.15 -12.45 

The Market Place Pershore 1.00-2.30 

The Angel Inn and Posting House Peopleton 2.45- 3.30 

The Crown Inn White ladies Aston 3.45-4.00 

St. John the Baptist church Upton Snodsbury 4.15 till we drop The Oak,
Worcester Road, Upton Snodsbury

Sunday 31st march 2013

 Dilwyn 12.00-1.00 The Crown, Dilwyn, HR4 8HL

 Brimfield1.30-2.00 The Roebuck, Brimfield, Ludlow, SY8 4NE

 Much Wenlock 3.00-4.00? The square (probably!)

You can also get more information and updates via the Wayzgoose tour Facebook event page.

Big thanks to Stewart for taking the time to answer my questions and good luck to the side for their weekend of dancing!