Morris Dancing

Border Morris - Roots and Revival
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from American Morris Newsletter Vol 23, No 2, Summer 2000

At the "Border Morris - Roots and Revival" presentation, there was a discussion during which it became apparent that John Kirkpatrick's feelings about women morris dancers had been misinterpreted. When I wrote him about setting up an interview, to take place while we were at the Sidmouth Festival he responded enthusiastically, partly because he wanted the opportunity to set the record straight. He went on to write the following which we all agreed to print, rather than discuss during the interview. -Editors

July 16th, 1999

Dear Jocelyn & Peter,

... In the discussions that followed the talks (there was one on historical stuff by Gordon Ashman, and one on what had been collected in the 20th century by Roy Dommett) I was taken to task for being sexist in what I'd said. I felt greatly burnt (?) and annoyed about that, and would be pleased to have the chance to put on record what I really think. In case I forget [during our interview]:

1) I ran, spontaneously, the first ever workshop for women's morris at Sidmouth Festival. It was in a pub garden, mid 1970s.

2) The relationship between the Bedlams and Martha Rhoden's was, as far as I know, unique when it started, and continues to be greatly cherished by all concerned as a happy, healthy, mutually supportive way to carry on.

3) 1 said that I thought that men should dance like men and that women should dance like women. Some of the women present jumped down my throat because they interpreted that to mean that I thought women danced in a weaker way than men, and that I was intending (?) that women should be kept in their place and just dance pretty handkerchief dances.

What I did, and do, believe is that each sex has something unique to them that they can present in their dancing. Obviously male and female bodies are different, and some movements suit one sex more than the other. Each has qualities that the other doesn't have. A good comparison is with singing - the unique combination of women's voices in the Bulgarian tradition, for example, creates something utterly powerful and hair-raising, and is the sole result of that same-sex singing, which is something you would just not experience in a choir of mixed voices. Equally, a male voice choir has its own magic, whether it's from Wales or Georgia.

I believe you can get the same power and thrill in same-sex dancing - each sex has something unique they bring to dancing, and for one to dance like the other is to deny a massive opportunity to celebrate our differences and explore the creative avenues that lie before us. For me to say that I think women should dance like women is intended as a shared excitement at the infinite possibilities that that allows. Men's morris dancing is much more inhibited by a history of mainly male participation and an agenda of restrictive practices that still pervades the Morris Ring. Women's morris dancing can, and has, liberated itself from that weight of history and go forward uninhibited (sic). For women to dance exactly like men is as much a denial of our nature as for men to dance like women. We are just different - not unequal, just different - and every traditional dance culture in the world supports that by having dances each sex does on its own, as well as others that they do together.

The basic building blocks of morris dancing can create any number of different architectures, and the more fully and completely each sex can glorify itself through an exploration of its own unique qualities, the more wonderful and fulfilling the results will be.

Blimey! Pause for breath.

Hope that makes sense, and is readable!