Esperance Morris Book vol 2 - online book

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

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T HE welcome given to the first volume of the " EspeYance Morris Book," and the rapid growth of the movement for the revival of our English folk dance, has made the preparation of this second volume a delightful task. The story of the origin of the revival of the morris dance, and the unique part taken in that revival by the members of the Esperance Club, needs no re-telling to-day. It is, perhaps, not so generally known that until after the official sanction of the Morris dance by the Board of Education and its inclusion in the school curriculum, the instructors sent out by the Esperance Club were the only ones who had been directly taught by country dancers, and that they—and they only—had up till that time carried the dances throughout the length and breadth of England.
As time goes on I am more and more convinced that if the movement for the restoration of English folk dance to its natural inheritors, the folk, is to continue to be a success, every care must be taken to preserve the simple and joyous spirit with which its first interpreters are identified. These dances, danced in the open, .were expressive of the most primitive emotions. In the days when they were part of the national life they were danced at lamb ales, midsummer fairs, Whitsuntide festivals, and as part of mummers' plays. In all this there are indications that in days prior to the Christian era they were part of ancient religious ceremonial. I lately paid another visit to Abingdon from which place three dances in Vol. I were collected, and noted that the horns carried in the dance (see frontispiece in Vol. I) were tipped with gold. This indicates the sacred or sacrificial beast, and is another proof of the religious origin of the dances. The dances collected at Abingdon end in a circle, and one of the Headington dances, Bean-setting, begins with a circle. This probably indicates that these dances were part of a ceremonial connected with the worship of the sun.
At Kirtlington, in Oxfordshire, there still lingers a curious tradition about the morris dance. " The Lady," who with the " Lord " headed the procession, was called for at her home at eleven in the morning, and remained with the dancers until nine at night. During that time she must not be touched. If she were accidentally
jostled by the crowd, the one who touched her had to pay a fine. In later days a lamb decked with ribbon was carried round with the dancers. Have we here the last remains of a ceremony in which the sacred vestal virgin was sacrificed after the day's ceremony? Have we here the beginning of the substitution of the lamb for the human sacrifice? I do not think it is too far­fetched a theory. When one has been in these remote old-world villages and talked to the old, old folk in whose memory, even when too old to dance, there still lingers the tradition of the dance and the customs associated with it one realizes more and more how important it is to keep the atmosphere of this revival as it used to be. Some of the traditional dancers can neither read nor write, they are simple, unlettered folk, and so no learning, no scholarly training, no technical skill in music or in ordinary dancing is necessary either to learn or to teach these natural peasant dances. I wonder sometimes how the attitude of mind and the sayings of some of the present-day exponents of the dances would appear to these simple and sincere peasant minds. But they would be utterly beyond their comprehension. Certain it is that if the learning and teaching of these dances is to be to either teacher or pupil an added burden, merely an extra school task, it had been better that these dances had never been re-discovered.
On the contrary, there should be in these dances something which sets free the spirit, something which so adds to the joy of life, so energizes and vitalizes, that every other part of the school work will be more easily and better done.
Then perhaps will be lifted a little of the burden which civilization and commercialism has laid on the backs of the children of our cities, and some of the heaviness of the life in our deserted villages. In order to preserve the characteristic steps and general form of the dances great care has been taken not only to note the dances from traditional dancers, but also to compare the steps of several men who were members of a traditional "side." Mr. William Kimber, who originally taught the Esperance Club and the members of the South-Western Polytechnic, was not in the original Headington side, but joined it as an occasional dancer after its revival,
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