Morris Dancing Is A Youth Issue
Last Sunday, in a quaint village outside of Manchester, I ate from a 50p bag of lemon bonbons and watched as swarms of men in ribbons, flowery hats and bell-covered clogs banged drums and slapped sticks with each other. It was great to see such boozy harmonious team-work and coordinated clothing, if I had a penis, I would say I had finally found what I’m looking for.
The Saddleworth Rushcart is the best national morris dancing event (that I've been to). Sides from all over the UK come to the tiny town to perform for and engage with others who enjoy old-world male-camaraderie in a bucolic setting. Not long ago we were predicting the death of the dance, so I went along to meet young people involved.
Er, it turns out that old article was bullshit as an abundance of young men confidently dancing their clogs off in their glad-rags. Clearly they were undeterred by morris dancing’s ridiculed status and refused to feel emasculated by the obligatory fruity costumes. In fact, they had somehow transformed the stuffy vestiges of folk dancing into a kind of lad’s lad club, for lads to be laddish with each other (while doing pretty dance routines and gaily playing accordions).
The youth of morris dancing present at Saddlworth are the boys of Earlsdon morris, a predominantly 26-and-under side based near Coventry. They practice on Mondays (though regular attendance isn’t necessary) and frequent folk festivals all over the UK to display their art and indulge in some male bonding.
They don’t give a fuck if you think they look silly, by the way.
STUART, 15 YEARS OLD
Vice: Hey Stuart. How long have you been morris dancing?
Stuart: Three weeks.
Wow, newbie. And what was your inspiration?
My Mum is a morris dancer.
A female morris dancer? That’s kind of rare right?
Yes, but it’s changing. The Chinewrde [I checked, it isn’t a typo] morris side is 32 girls, no men allowed.
Do you practice with her at home?
Not exactly, but I did start by learning to polka at home.
So is dance a career direction you’d consider?
No, I want to do medicine.
Ambitious, your mum must love you. Does morris dancing appeals to the ladies as much as being a doctor does?
Yeah, I mean it’s a skill. It defines you.
Girls do like guys with skills. Have you got a girlfriend?
What kind of pop music are you into? Do you like Taio Cruz?
Not at all. Most of us Earlsdon boys are into Kerrang! stuff.
What’s your favourite song?
System of A Down, “Mr. Jade”.
And favourite TV Show?
How I Met Your Mother.
ROSS, 21 YEARS OLD
Vice: So Ross, how long have you been morris dancing?
Ross: For 16 years. My Dad is a morris drummer.
It must be in your blood. I hear you made your side’s hats? I tried one on and they’re alarmingly heavy, and certainly not the paper-mache creations I suspected them to be.
Yeah, they’re decorated bowler hats.
Are there kind of reputations for different sides, like rivalries between different posses?
Yes, I mean us Earlsdon guys are good friends with the Saddleworth lot. Because a lot of our team are young though, we kind of have a bad reputation for being cocky and drinking and getting into fights.
The media portray morris dancers as old men from the Cotswolds, but it’s not entirely true. We were at Glastonbury this year. The social side is massively underestimated.
I did know that beer was a big part of morris culture. You’re all into real ale right?
Sometimes real ale I guess, but us Earlsdon lot mainly drink lager.
How does the morris dancing thing go down with the opposite sex?
It’s definitely a conversation opener.
Have you got a girlfriend?
Who’s your number one celebrity crush?
Kaley Cuoco. She’s the pretty girl in loads of flimsy E4 shows.
What’s your favourite film?
City of God.
Exotic choice. Do you like Lil’ Wayne?
No, I’m more into dubstep. I have decks at home and I sometimes DJ. I also have my own band too, INLAY.
Tell me something people don’t know about morris dancing.
Most of these clogs are £150, because they have to be custom made. And they’ve got awful grip. Too many times I’ve struggled in pub urinals when I’m drunk anyway and they make it worse by making you slide all over the place.
SIMON, 24 YEARS OLD
Vice: Simon, you’re team boss right?
Simon: Yes, I’m The Squire. I became Squire when I was 18, which made me the youngest ever recorded in the Morris Dancing Ring.
With great power comes great responsibility. What do your friends outside of morris dancing think about that accolade?
You must have been doing this a long time. Have you always enjoyed it?
I’ve had my ups and downs with morris. When you get to 18 and you can go for drinks with your side, that’s when it gets really good.
Is it possible to morris dance solo? Like in your living room of a Thursday evening?
You don’t really do it alone. That would be sad.
What’s your favourite song?
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Scar Tissue”.
What’s the best thing on TV?
Your favourite film?
Have you got a day job?
I’m a primary school teacher for special needs kids.
I heard you Earlsdon boys are mad, bad and dangerous to know within morris circles.
We’re known to be good at dancing but boisterous. It’s because we’re so full of testosterone.
How do you get into fights?
Usually when someone is rude to us when we dance in city centres or something. It’s because when you get someone taking the piss, they don’t expect it back.
So they’re alarmed when you retaliate?
TEODOR, 23 YEARS OLD
Vice: Teo, how long have you been Morris dancing?
Teo: One year.
And what do you do with yourself apart from that?
I’m a student and I play bassoon in the Birmingham Conservatoire.
I detect that you are not a native.
You’re right, I’m Romanian.
And now you’re a Romanian member of a roguish young folk dance troupe with a debauched reputation.
We’re mainly just criticised for our lateness to events.
Do you think morris culture is a little misogynistic?
Of course, but times are changing. This year was the first year a woman was allowed to perform in a morris band at the Saddleworth Rushcart. It’s still very traditional.
Paris Je T’aime.
Oh really? Which short?
The one about the mimes.
I like the one about the fat American woman right at the end. Best TV show?
Either the Antiques Roadshow or Q.I..
You’re so English. What music do you like to listen to?
Everything! Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Beach Boys, Beatles.
Tell me something about morris dancing that people don’t know.
It’s way more difficult than it looks. And also water is like kryptonite to a Morris dancer because of our clogs. When it rains during performances it can be super slippery.
Are these health and safety issues?
PETER A, 24 YEARS OLD
Vice: You’re one of the newcomers to Earlsdon Morris aren’t you Peter?
Peter: Yes, I’ve been doing it eight months.
What have you learned so far about morris culture?
That it’s the greatest way of getting drunk cheaply, as someone else always seems to be paying for the drinks.
Your side is especially known to like that aspect of morris culture in particular right? I’ve heard you’ve caused a ruckus at some of the folk festivals.
Well, we haven’t been banned from any exactly, but there are a few we haven’t been invited back to, if you see what I mean.
What’s the best thing on TV?
The American version of The Office. Steve Carell is hilarious.
What’s the greatest film of all time?
Maybe The Matrix. Or The Italian Job.
Have you ever used morris dancing as a mode of seduction?
I try never to bring it up in conversation.
Who is your ideal woman?
How has morris dancing changed you?
I get drunk more often. It’s pretty much a formalised pub-crawl over very long distances.
What music do you like?
I’m really into RnB. I like Chipmunk and Dizzee Rascal. I also listen to a lot of drum and bass.
PETE N, 26 YEARS OLD
Vice: Hey Pete. I’ve been warned you’re stroppy.
Pete: You’re accusing me of being stroppy already? I haven’t even spoken to you yet.
Sorry. Well can I talk to you about being Foreman? That’s like group choreographer right?
Yes, I’ve choreographed a few of our team’s dances. I’ve been morris dancing for 12 years now.
And your little brother Simon is the Squire. Any sibling rivalry there?
He resents me because I’m better looking.
Perhaps you could do battle with each other in a kind of morris dance combat show down.
No, I love him really. But don’t put that in the article.
Of course not. What’s your favourite song?
Oasis “Slide Away”.
What’s your day job?
I’m a male escort.
No, I actually work in a hotel.
Oh. What’s a good film?
Saving Private Ryan.
What's the best porn niche?
Asian porn. I mean...no...I’m joking.
WORDS: EMILY FOISTER
PICTURES: LUCY MARIA