Friday, April 25, 2008

Morris on!

There's something very comforting about coming back to things you did as a child, especially if you get to bring a new person with you. I spent my childhood weekends tagging along with my parents at Morris ales in a miniature version of their kit, then my teenage years dancing myself. At one point my immediate family composed about half the team.

I went to college in Philadelphia, a town with a regrettable lack of Morris teams that let women dance. Every year at Bryn Mawr's May Day celebration, the local men's team would perform. Their kids would wander around, wearing tiny bells on their ankles just like I used to do. Someday, I hoped, I could dance again? And have Morris babies with little bells on their ankles?

Months before I graduated, some lovely people decided to pull a team together for May Day. Oh the joy! The bells! The handkerchiefs!

Today twelve of us are on our way to the New England folk festival for two and a half days of music and dance. At the helm of the trip is Jeff, the boy I get to keep forever (and the other parent of any future Morris babies). He's untrained but certainly one of the more enthusiastic members of the team. There's something very right about doing Morris with him.

Yesterday I was pinning together my old hair ribbons for his vest, feeling a bit medieval. There's a wonderful passage in The Return of the Native about the lamentable effect of female improvements upon folk tradition, in this case mummers' plays:

The piece was the well-known play of Saint George, and all who were behind the scenes assisted in the preparations, including the women of each household. Without the co-operation of sisters and sweethearts the dresses were likely to be a failure; but on the other hand, this class of assistance was not without its drawbacks. The girls could never be brought to respect tradition in designing and decorating the armour; they insisted on attaching loops and bows of silk and velvet in any situation pleasing to their taste. . . .

It might be that Joe, who fought on the side of Christendom, had a sweetheart, and that Jim, who fought on the side of the Moslem, had one likewise. During the making of the costumes it would come to the knowledge of Joe's sweetheart that Jim's was putting brilliant silk scallops at the bottom of her lover's surcoat, in addition to the ribbons of the visor, the bars of which, being invariably formed of coloured strips about half an inch wide hanging before the face, were mostly of that material. Joe's sweetheart straight-way placed brilliant silk on the scallops of the hem in question, and, going a little further, added ribbon tufts to the shoulder pieces. Jim's, not to be outdone, would affix bows and rosettes everywhere. . . .

The guisers themselves, though inwardly regretting this confusion of persons, could not afford to offend those by whose assistance they so largely profited, and the innovations were allowed to stand.

Luckily Morris is supposed to look silly, so I can do no harm here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i love return of the native! i keep telling larry we should name our first baby (whenever she arrives) tamsin...