January 21, 1974
7 Francis Ave.,
Cambridge, Mass. 02136
I apologize for sending you this typewritten letter which, even worse, has been duplicated. It runs to 14 pages by my longhand and after writing three letters at a slow pace, I gave in, feeling that the content would yet overcome the banality of the form of communication. Selah.
I am writing you, a fellow Morris man, to propose we form a regular team or side, join in the work, and share in the benefit- as part of our ongoing life.
I’ve thought up, down and sideways about this- and after 3 months of— “self-enforced reflection”(?) —and a sense of facing up to some larger responsibility (need to respect other men, their outlook, Morris traditions, our regard for each other, good times in the past, etc.) —I feel the sureness of spirit which I craved, and kept waiting for. I’m writing also to Dick, Sam, Ed, Howie L., George, Andy P., Donny P., John Dexter, Fred, Kit, Howie Seidel (Just for info), Jon B., Jon Morse., Chris Andrus, Andy, Hank, Dudley, and a few others. Please understand that this is only an initial attempt to put forth a few ideas about stimulating Morris in New England; thus I’m not trying to blanket everyone, nor even to reach everyone in New England. Need help on men you feel would have an interest.
If I set out my feelings and hopes..I’ll then wait and see what sort of responses come back. I’m a bit wary of the written word when it comes to Morris and I’d much prefer some process of get-togethers- hope that will come about. Anyway, here’s to start the ball rolling toward something that is regular, vital, and sustaining (as, good ale).
My reactions- built on my own life and past experience (N.Y.CDS and the Village Morris Men, then Boston, Pinewoods, and the past two, chock-full English summers) will all become modified- as a real team or club is an (inevitable) catalyst for the feelings and hopes of all the men involved. So it’s only a start. No special order to what follows- perhaps some parts will touch at familiar, deeper levels.
I crave deeply to be, simply, a happy, secure member of a team., which is a primary group… which meets again and again..and again..and does the same old dances..with the same magic music., same musician., and in familiar settings.
(How often, in England, I felt this quiet assurance of belonging and familiar “place”… assured participation.)
In all of this, as men know, we shear off a hell of a lot ofl modern self-consciousness and tension. We hang easy, – as the dances and our place become so well known (like an old glove or running shoes)..that there’s a deep relaxation.
Something more powerful that any one of us (thank God) hangs in the air..sometimes…not always…elusively. (About Dance: it is, happily, impossible to translate its penetrating and central-subtle aspects with words or photos).
There is some process- alchemy -of a sort of growing well-worn and fitted together, in a veteran Morris or Rapper set. Taking the English prototype- (and acknowledging the range and variation of clubs), the ambient spirit feels— unfettered —just hacking around, drinking ale, eyeing the fool (and anyone else worth eyeing), horsing, socializing, feeling that special identity when moving down the street in your Morris kit— a balanced sort of personal-impersonal ease/awareness… enjoying how basically ridiculous people and life are— yet the next moment- in Dearest Dickie or Jockie Brackley— something serious, sober, compelling -flashes through the men, as the team senses (without “thinking”) they are dancing.. .and this will/could be a very fine Dearest Dickie…. (Sort of existential? This is the only dance, since it is .the moment of dancing and one is poured into it, ..yet…some part of our elusive mind floating off…freed…around the edge of the crowd and sky, of sight, of consciousness.)
Then there is the whole essential meaning of this intimate “surround” —the straggling ring of onlookers, the fool, weaving, foot-noting, perhaps a hobby horse, the pub (or/-), girls and wives, childhood and old age…. an interest in some spirit rising, a supportive “participation,” friends, hangers-on, dogs, lorries, prams, community, —and behind it, the social ethos which, invisibly but potently, sanctions (and nurtures) the dance in action and meaning.
In the U.S., the Country Dance Society has been just great for me and for all the people I know..opening up Country Dance and Morris and all the great friendships, spirit, times. The early pioneers/Society brought Morris to the U.S. and sustained it all these years. Morris owes a great deal to the Society’s support and thrust. We honor this, just as we do with Cecil Sharp —first toast at the Ring Meetings and at most Ales.
Now, having been brought so far, I sense it is time for the Morris to grow on its own; to begin experimenting with developing a folk base. Not as a “cute” imitation of old village life, but in ways which seem genuine and consistent to our present lives. If there has been a wide revival and vitality in Folk Music, why not in Morris? It does seem to be happening in England., with close to 200 teams and a healthy growth rate. The English have suggested we are a typical case of “cultural lag” —men there are wont to point out they left the House (EFDSS) 30-odd years ago. Of course in another right se[n]se they’ve never left it— it must surely be evident I’m not proposing some kind of antithesis.
In roughest outline, my vision is over a 10 year period — 1974-1984. The first five years would see the fledging out of three teams: a base team— an active, strong club— based in the Cambridge/Boston area, and two other clubs in New England, started and growing in strength, dancing regularly, building up repertoire. One team might be in Southern Vermont-Brattleboro area, and one in Southern Maine or lower New Hampshire. One might be in Rhode Island or Eastern Conn. area. These three “seed” clubs could then promote or sponsor one new club in their area during the 2nd Five-Year period (1979-1984). With certain elements adding to momentum (but not ignoring the need to develop each club as sturdy, surviving, self-rewarding) a minimum of 6 permanent clubs will exist, touring, spreading local awareness of Morris, meeting together for a “Day of Dancing” or festivals, joining with folk music, theatre (as in Revels), and other congenial aspects of our society, increasing, by their very existence, the reality, the opportunities and the pleasure in dancing.
Think of 3 clubs— each, having a style, meeting for a tour around Fitzwilliam! Think of an eventual version of the Travelling Morrice on a week’s tour in the Berkshires, camping in orchards in tents, carrying, if necessary, their own home-brewed barrels, picking their spots.
6 clubs in 10 years
How audacious. Who plans like that nowadays?
I say we do it, and we can do it.
Actually, all but a handful of the 190-odd English clubs are revival clubs and started under much the same conditions as we have here…the Morris tradition was all but lost there— and the vitality of the present movement suggests it meets something contemporary (as well as something timeless) in their modern society.
A key point in a club is its autonomy —it is it’s own show, and it has a strong “sense of place” -of geographical identity… maybe this would be a good feeling to encourage in America, these days.
As a real club develops..so do the opportunities for casual, adventurous dancing. I enclose some random schedules. It often strikes me that teams seem to serve as a social link or bridge— dancing in hospitals, homes for aged/infirm, schools, weddings, church bazaars, sports events, festivals, musical events, private homes and gardens, plazas and the market place.
We would have so many Invitations once we were an actual team and dancing regularly, once we had a sense of place, of group, and the start of a history.
A real team generates a style; also it has a social life attached. Pubs are of course a marvelous invention…their typical milieu/scene accommodates a range of ages and background— a great deal of social mixing, ventilation, pleasurable argument, self- expression and (not least) silent communion [g]oes on. It has elements of “lubrication,” of safety valve, of governor, of grapevine, and so on.
Will America find some form of pub-like situation or style? Many variants exist- coffee houses, some bars/taverns, some homes and other experimental forms. One thing is sure- new social forms do evolve (f’r’instance look at the Laundromat- some are real life-centers) and the Morris may give real support to these warm community places to eat, drink, talk, dance, sing, knit, stare into space, read, play music, meet and mix casually (or minimumly) with a variety of people.
Well, you know all this, but I wanted to convey my faith that our team can pioneer a bit in loosening up our stratified, rather frantic society. It can offer relaxed moments, -unpressed and joyful- and other words like “informal, spontaneous, awe, broad humor, surprise, impudence, booing villains, cheering heroes, grace, reserve, dignity, mystery, a bond of strongly-felt effort, fresh savoring of the surround, strong male movement, girls, drink, sky, the pipe, friends and crowd..the gratifying sharing in repetition of simple traditional forms..the welding and the flux of music-sound-color-movement-rhythm-pattern-inner meaning and release.”
What are we living down the length of our days for?
The existence of another, separate club as a group with its own loyalty and style has a tonic effect on all. Men who were in England know this. Even now, John Dexter is working up the beginnings of a team around Binghamton.
Pinewoods Morris Men, as an association, has been a fine way to preserve and strengthen the Morris and the bond among the men, and to popularize Morris among both men and women in Morris classes and workshops in N.Y. and Boston. Now I think we are ready for a new stage in which the proper local spirit, identity and team history find a strong focus.
There may be one difficulty arising out of the combining of Morris and Country Dance via the Society’s weekly sessions, Pinewoods, etc. ..it tends to rule out those men who might come into Morris but are not attracted to English Country Dancing. This is especially so in the U.S. where males learn at an early age (and still do) that dancing is “sissy.” In England, of course, part of the problem had been forced induction into “Oranges and Lemons”, etc., when in school at young and awkward ages. Douglas Kennedy has spoken out so strongly and rightly against premature imposition of (patterned) traditional dance upon children…and he meant Harris, too..and I agree. The right way to “infect” the young and upcoming is to have a first-rate adult team visible and in a, right relation of support and appreciation by the locals…
[handwritten interpolation – and in a “controlled” induction of a few teen-age boys like Headington, or a boy’s team like Bampton]
That aside, my stronger and positive feeling is that the Morris could do much to meet the widespread cravings that dwell in many of us these days…unvoiced yet demanding.
Why do I feel so right. so peacefully weary after a good tour like Fitzwilliam, or in the English villages and towns? I get taken out of myself…under the sky, the lazy grace of 6 men galleying out under the Fiddler’s far-seeing eye, the sure beat of the music, the Fool weaving a thickening bond between the circle and dancers (they are no distant “audience.”). .we are all hypnotized and moving..the dancers are our proxies.
Some of us who have been together long or on a steady team (as the old Boston group, or our NYC VMM, or the Tavelling Morrice and Ancient Men tours) know that easy feeling of gathering to go out.
Clubs take a time to grow…because committment is built, a little bit from each man, and it’s real. If certain things are found to be important, you find time to do them.
These themes are of value to me. They are clumsy, too vague and corny in these words but I’m going to say them anyway:
-human community— manageable size, primary group, working, sharing, building together
-rooted—- in some ancient past, a craving for un-interrupted-ness, a faithfulness
-power of the dance— serious, evocative at different lvels:
ritual, social, personal
-deep physical body response— a tonus, in sync, responsivity to music,
rhythms, sky, men.
-thirsty for those moments of relief from self-consciousness; pulled away to
a different plane or dimension of “unstudied self”
-Easing framework for release of competition, challenge, aggression,
skill display, fooling
-mutuality with on-lookers..some invisible things..can’t say how it
grows but potent once it comes
-deep sense of place- consecration of ground…faithful return to places
familiar and “long-danced.”
-strong autonomy of team in its plans, activities, style.
Well, I have a notion that oftentimes good things begin with no more than someone’s vision or hunch. I expect no avalanche of growth; rather, a slow real building of teams— groups rooted in place and common pleasure, each with its own character— like Bedford, Offley, Thaxted, Chipping Campden, Beaux, and East Suffolk -just to mention a wide range of styles, clubs.
As to teaching and learning dances— they are, on the whole, soaked up far more effectively- retained better -in the club setup. Chief among the obvious reasons is the primary committment and felt membership of the men.
Relations with the Folk Dance Societies and other groups: friendly, supportive, autonomous. Morris clubs write their own ticket— they are not for hire or command; they cannot be subordinated. Their core is the preservation and display of their traditional, ritual dance.
I feel they are very close to the Mummers- to mumming/ guising, as well as to traditional folk song. But they make their connections to these and other deep-reaching elements- weddings, births, funerals, “earth day,” old £olks’ lives, brewers and breweries, farms, the Home, Animals, Church service/ bazaars, Ring Meetings, Police, the Market, the stage — all in their own ways and own style.
In a few years we could be really ready to invite English teams over for a tour. English teams make continental tours- they are popular and highly successful, and there is reciprocity under the “twinned cities” program. The Travelling Morrice has toured in Scandinavia. The Westminster Men had a fine time recently, touring Japan.
Visibility-open entry: The Morris is rightly ‘indifferent’ to the rest of men’s lives: can men dance? Can they drink? (well, even cider will do)—otherwise, let them be prelates or purse-snatchers. Thus, there are fine opportunities in a team for cross-age, cross-occupation mix: gardener, botanist, architect, short-order cook, policeman, poet, auto mechanic. The bulk of teams in England draw much strength from their sense of permanence/social order: it takes a good period of time (and relationship) for most men to master the Morris and have it [be]come part of themselves; thus there is always an older echelon of “Ancient Men” and a learning “fringe” of “little Men.” Range is, roughly, 19-60. The strongest core often seems to be 25-40 yrs. give or take some. In England, of course, university teams are not just students, but include alumni and faculty, etc. Univ. teams are a small minority of the total English teams; where they are mostly students, they lack (of course) the stability, reality, maturity, etc. that the wide-age-range, local-based, (majority) of teams have.
Who will deny that we need to think and plan now for development of Morris musicians- who are serious about a committment to develop with the team they are playing for?
Or that we need to look ahead and work toward the development of Morris leaders like Arthur and Cajy, who can take leadership in teaching and dancing, and raise men’s sights; their desire for improvement?
The relation of a Morris team to its musician(s) is, as they say, a very special thing. I think I’m too clumsy to take it apart in words. But I know it’s there and I know it’s precious. These musicians are very often dancers, yet a few outstanding ones never dance. Again and again, as I danced with teams in England I was struck with the peculiar potency, the common, close team membership, the shared history of small adventures and jokes, the joyful growling and complaining, the underlying affection.
Standards of dancing is too complicated for me to try to tackle here, -and maybe I shy away from it, anyway. Only let me say that beyond trying to model on a variety of superior dancers there is an important place for certain Ancient Men in each team who may, themselves, not be superior dancers yet have a teacher’s talent in getting across basic points which bring the whole team into better harmony and level of dance. It is one aspect which delights me: the Morris allows for occasional high style and flair, but all that is so much chaff unless it’s done against the bedrock of a basic, common, evolved and comfortable group style. But there is, of course, a great deal more to say on all this, and said better by others.
In England, the Morris is closer to the folk-song, ale house, market place crowd than it is to Dance Societies, in my view. The latter have assigned themselves the role: Official custodian of traditions…and there’s also a bit of the Dancing Master… whereas, the former (Morris) tend to be- more off-the-cuff, improvisational, less systematized, more ribald, unpredictable, sometimes lugubrious, odd, quaint, even mysteriously potent, esoteric, baffling, ale-swilling, girl-watching, self-parodying, close-knit well, in short, evidencing a healthy derision for the nicely conventional vision.. ..and a frank provocateur at deeper levels of human spirit and response yet it all comes off with some sense of proportion and taste.
Once a real club-team identity is established, there are many avenues and tie-ins possible. A local social base-place is needed, and some combination of dance, refreshment, men and girls, singing and playing, and what-all in a reliable, steady, recurrence can produce a permanent support —out of the ambience of the larger group th-.it is drawn in. Could be a house, hall, shop, studio, workshop, tent-marquee, …it’s the people and their spirit that create an essential humanity and life.
(footnote: But Morris is not a stage show -and-loses its bold and close contact when drawn away from the crowd’s touch and the people’s level— and I mean that both physically and symbolically. To watch John Allen (that fine fool from St. Andrews) select a girl from the crowd for Maid of the Mill -it’s a delight for one and all- she has been 6, 16 and 60.)
Oh, now, isn’t there something odd about this whole presentation? I sure felt it was a curious, kind of bumbling effort on my part, as I was reading up to this point. I realized it’s either stupid or rash, likely both. I think it’s nervy or cheeky in this way- I believe we can tamper with American society. Yes, I do. In one way, that’s what it’s about.
So many pressures and trends feel un-human to our insides- bigness, mass-scale, standardizing, marketing personality, “speed-up”, cult of efficiency, (what about a factory for Morris sticks), a ‘sick’ competitiveness, self-conscious isolation, erosion of public trust, a vanishing of the supportive “mutuality” of genuine community, getting out of touch with our bodies, out of touch with nature and her rhythms, un-easy seduction by too-easy power (30 amps backup for the guitar), hooked on “scientific rationality,” (so that we doubt and lose touch with the significant role of myth and belief), hounded, battered and dulled by commercialization of language and art forms (the American neon superlative tense; the red stoplights ever larger, signs endlessly repeated, our legacy of slowly-built language-associations invaded and debased), the seeming preoccupation with violence and the degrading of humans by other humans…
Well, that sad list, or a variant, is familiar to all… but aside from that grunjy prospect, there are a lot of neat things in us waiting to get out, and we have our own private visions— partaking of the subtle, the discriminating, the gentle, a right, wild joy, a quiet sense of order, some sense of a just place in a larger scheme, of natural rhythm, of a good bond in small (manageable) human communities, small graces, a keen wistfulness, the right fullness of grief, a compassionate and humorous regard for our little old stumbling, human enterprise.
“Life style” may be a slightly grandiose phrase for me, but I am unquestionably caught up in searching for, and thinking about living patterns that are, or seem to be, more human. Who now believes that a “great revolution” will produce this for us all? Maybe…just maybe…at the moment, I see the Morris as one healthy move in the human community. ..along with many other interesting developments that are happening all around. In short, I see Morris as a good positive element to hang in with— it appears to me to match up with a lot of good values.
Prospects: For instance, the following have indicated, interest in Morris and the development of a team: U. of Mass., U. of Maine (Farmington), U. of New Hampshire, Cornell, Goddard, Hampshire College, Marlboro, Windham, Bennington, Middlebury, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Putney. We have contacts at all but one of these. If we can make Morris a bit more visible (in traditional ways) other kinds of contacts via friends will generate response: Inns, civic groups, experimental touring, collaborating (as via Mumming) with other dramatic/music groups, folk clubs (we have sent for the New. Eng. list from the Lib. of Congress), hospitals, churches, ale/coffee houses, fairs and exhibits, sports occasions, weddings, holidays…we can learn much from the English on all this.
Economics: Any team will need to develop this topic. A good bagman, like John Stott of OUM, makes all the difference. It is essential to establish the idea of the bag and of collecting…the crowd is drawn in, and it’s more than ale money., both parties sense the social contract… the coins are symbols.
Would you like to feel just “at ease” with 30 dances and 4-5 traditions? Any time? Many of the English teams do. We could do. A team rather quickly shows what makes that possible.
The Fool: So difficult to trap down on paper. Impossible! Fools emerge…and cannot be predicted, planned or programmed. There are a few great fools, -and some indifferent ones —in England. Many teams are without a fool…better no fool than a…. Each team comes to know its mind in this, collectively, and the right feeling of sponsorship develops- —for the fool is no self-conscious “traditional” gimmick “added” to the team: rather, the team is the fool’s no man escapes that sovereignty, or the bladder. The crowd, all are the fool’s larger family, but the team are his own fractious children. If I were clever, like the fool, I’d not have run on like this..
However, take it from me, I’m going ahead on these ideas, anyway, with what help we can muster. The stakes are for me large and intriguing. My basic allegiance is in the Dance- in the Morris and its traditions. CDS (NYC, Boston, etc.) and the Pinewoods MM have kept Morris alive and vigorous…I found my way and grew into all this through them. But in these days, we seem to be able to just about maintain. With regard to the Morris, there is, regularly, a fine sense of rededication and validation in Pinewoods Camp, the Workshops, the Festivals, the weekly Boston and NYC teaching, occasional tours, Berea, and a few regional spots.* However, to my knowledge, there is not much growth and outreach in the Morris tradition- in the sense of real Morris clubs. I am confident that by experimenting (takes energy? time, etc.) we can begin to develop that growth. I’m ready to put energy, time, money into this vision … but, naturally, the plans and directions, the choices, options, style…will come from the club, as it forms.
I shall look forward to your reactions..by mail, and/or when we can hold an ale together, at some spot.
Roger’s handwritten notes on a copy given to me (Alan McArdle) dated 5/7/2003 and intended to be passed on to Wake Robin Morris
After 30 years – What to add? Or amend?
Perhaps some acknowledgement of the vast (and complex) revolution in gender roles – specifically women’s rights, prerogatives, opportunities – including the morris – as a basic expression of identity. (Of course, this letter was written to encourage men’s clubs but the themes transcend gender)
(Also from 1974:)
- The morris dances do not belong to us, the dancers, but to all the people. We dancers are but a temporary vehicle.
- We give the dances to any and all, freely, not contractually. Taking bag is different from being paid. You cannot hire ritual dancers.
- We dance on the common level not 3 feet above
- We dance in the open situation, usually under the sky, where any may pass, linger, pass on.
- The ritual morris is subordinate to none – it is complete in itself and need not be captured and “showcased” within some other “entertainment.”
- Ritual – carries with it a sober quality. The severity of injunction, a societal obligation/commitment quite apart from private/personal prerogative & pleasure.
 *Apparently Ed McGandy’s team has dissolved, due to his ill health, and he’s now moving to Cleveland.