The question arises: why do people Morris Dance? The reasons for the tradition are well documented – welcome in the spring and facilitate fertility of the earth and the creatures living here. The history of Morris dancing becomes somewhat obscure prior to the time of Shakespeare, though there are certainly indications of much earlier activity. In more agrarian times, fertility rites might have had greater urgency and relevance to survival, but one can speculate that Morris dancers of old were also inspired by those things which move the modern Morris men and women to engage in activity that seems at once ridiculous and exhausting.
I ask several Morris dancers this question – why do they Morris dance – what’s in it for them? Curiously, the word “tradition” didn’t even factor into an answer until my sixth or seventh victim (though I happen to know that all Morris dancers are knowledgeable and respectful of the tradition). Camaraderie was a frequent word – describing not only the relationships of the team, but of fellow Morris dancers around the country, and indeed around the world. “I love to dance” was a common answer, and appreciation of the music ranked high as well. Several referenced the importance of the figures – the patterns and repetition . And of course, it’s just plain fun to dress up and be silly, then go to pubs for a few rounds of brew and song.
I’m not sure if anyone has ever measured the caloric expenditure of Morris Dancers, but I doubt there’s any machine at a fitness center that is more effective. Then there is the precision of the figures – the sound from those sticks hitting each other tells you that they are not kidding around. You need to have a lot of confidence not only in your own movement, but that of your teammates as well. This is a lot of work, and of course it takes a lot of practice, which in turn represents considerable dedication.
I believe that’s where the magic comes in. Hard work, focus, and perseverance – the good earth can appreciate that – add a shot of pure joy (music) and you indeed have the ingredients for fertile ground.
Locally, our Morris folk (some of whom have been dancing for 30 years) have dared to deviate somewhat from the exact traditional practices that were handed down to them as being correct, and I found no dancer who was particularly doctrinaire in their thinking about it. This is a good thing. There is a delicate balance between preserving the technical details of a tradition and preserving the spirit. Of course, a little spirited debate on this subject is welcome, and you can make your comments here!
The Town of Nelson has a strong connection with Cape Breton music, largely due to the influence of Nelson fiddler Harvey
Tolman. On Monday nights at the contra dance Harvey’s repertoire is rich with Cape Breton tunes rendered in the traditional style. Roger Treat, another Monday night regular, also focuses on Cape Breton music; both fiddlers have spent quite a bit of time in Cape Breton, drinking straight from the well. Over the years the legendary fiddler Jerry Holland has become a good friend of Nelson audiences, and it might be safe to say that Nelson enjoys something of a reputation among Cape Breton players, who recognize and appreciate an educated audience.
We are very excited to be presenting Kimberley Fraser, one of the foremost of the new generation of Cape Breton fiddlers. Like the Morris Dancers, Kimberley is solid in her traditional roots, but she is not afraid to take it to new places. News Flash: Kimberly will be joined by the fabulous Mark Simos! You can hear some of Kimberley’s playing from her website, and you can order tickets to her May 16th concert in the Nelson Town Hall right here.