Esperance Morris Book vol 1 - online book

A Manual Of Morris Dances Folk-songs And Singing Games With Sheet Music And Instructions

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Solo.—Do you know what sports are in season ?
Silvio.—I hear there are some afoot.
Solo.—Where are your bells, then your rings, your ribbands friend, and your clean nap­kins; your nosegay in your hat pinned up?
From "Women Pleased" Fletcher.
I HAVE had so many enquiries with regard to the best costumes for dancing the morris dance, that a chapter on that subject will not be out of place. The morris dance was originally a men's dance, and there are still survivals in country districts of the costumes worn in the old days. We have generally adopted that worn by the Bidford men in Shakespeare's country, and this is very nearly illustrated by the coloured picture in this book. But it may be taken for granted that the more colour that can be introduced into the dress the better, as in old days there was a rivalry amongst the women as to who could send her man out to dance the morris decked in the brightest colours. The best adaptation of the dress for to-day is, I think, as follows : White knee breeches, grey-blue thick stockings (which can still be had in country districts), and fairly thick shoes. A set of bells should be worn strapped round the upper part of the shin, the bells being sewn on different coloured braids. The shirt should be frilled, and the braces should be decked with bright coloured ribbon, on which rosettes are sewn, as in the picture. The hat should also be decorated with plaited coloured ribbons, and the sleeves of the shirt tied with black or coloured ribbons as in the picture. I do not think the tall hats by any means a necessity, though they are certainly worn at the present day by the Bidford men. A close-fitting cap with lapels over the ears is sometimes worn, and I do not think the ordinary slouch hat, gaily decorated with ribbons, is out of place. For boys, the same costume can be worn, the set of bells, ribbons, etc., merely being made of suitable size in proportion. I have a set of the original bells in my possession, which reach further down the leg than those in the picture, and the bells are sewn on to a piece of canvas which is covered with inch long pieces of coloured cloth, made after the fashion of the hearthrug, which most of us have at some time or other had presented to us by an old soldier or sailor.
For Girls and Women.
As there is no traditional dress for women morris dancers, I will describe that which has been made popular by the Esperance girls, and the first idea of which was given to me by friends at Haslemere. The girls should be dressed in bright-coloured cotton frocks. The bodices should be tight fitting, and the skirts gathered or pleated on to them, only, however, allowing enough fulness to hang comfortably when dancing. The skirts should well clear the ankles, and the dancers should be encouraged to have very little starch in frocks or petticoats. The stockings, as the men's, should be blue-grey, and the shoes stout and easy, and, where possible, ornamented with plain steel buckles. Muslin aprons and fichus, white collars and cuffs may be added to make variety. I think there should be as much difference as possible in the colours of the dresses and little changes of make, so long as simple lines are observed, because, as the idea is a
village festival on a village green at holiday time, of course no two people would be dressed alike, and I do not myself like the dresses which I have seen at different per­formances where the children were all dressed rigidly alike, however pretty the costume was, so that any variation in the dress of men or women is, I think, an advantage. One man, for instance, might have his shirt gaily decorated with loops of coloured ribbon, even when the others keep to be-ribboned braces. The dress of the fool also makes a good variety, and may be worn by one of the dancers of either sex. We have generally adopted a straight-down dress of a bright orange brown, scalloped round the edges, with a bell at the end of each scallop, and a cap all in one with it, fitting tight over the head, with holes for the ears, and two horns made of the same stuff padded with cotton wool, and a bell at the end of each. The fool's dress may also be made of a tunic of dark spotted print with a frill of some bright spotted material, and a cap very much the shape of a small tea-cosey, covered all over with odds and ends of ribbon, artificial flowers, and bits of feather. The fool always carries a short stick, at one end of which is a cow's tail, and at the other end a bladder, which is blown out, and with which he flicks and whacks the dancers as the spirit of fun takes him. The girls should wear a cottage sun bonnet, made of print, either of the same colour as the dress, or of a colour which harmonises with the dress. I have found a very pretty effect for a fair girl in an apple green dress with a pink sun bonnet, a pale blue dress with a deep violet sun bonnet, a bright blue dress with a white sun bonnet, and so on, and for dark girls nothing looks so charming as a good scarlet or crimson dress and bonnet with white fichu arrangement. The girls should wear a strip of elastic round the ankles on which bells are sewn.
For the Children.
The girl children should be dressed in bright coloured cotton frocks, made, if for a special occasion, with tight-fitting, rather long bodices, short puffed sleeves, and skirt pleated or gathered on to the bodice, and little tight-fitting caps, generally called Dutch bonnets, and which every village mother knows how to make. The ordinary coloured print frocks in which the children go to school will, however, quite serve, and I think if the mothers were warned beforehand, in most instances they would make a point of buying pretty colours, and then very little expense would be entailed in dressing the children, as the little bonnets can be added for a few pence, and they, at any rate, should always be made of the very brightest coloured sateen. I use violet, orange, emerald green, indigo blue, scarlet, etc.. and they give a delightful touch of colour when the frocks are, perhaps, a little faded from being washed. I do not like the effect of white pinafores over the dresses, nor are white dresses effective either indoors or out. The little girls also wear bells round the ankles. Each dancer—men, women, and children—carries a stick and two white handkerchiefs, which are used in the various evolutions of the dance. The boy children should be dressed as the men are, tall hats can be had from a shop at Eton, the address of which is given at the end of the book.
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