“Maypole. Here is an intriguing extract from Belinda Quigley’s May I Have The Pleasure? Dance Books Ltd, London 1993. Can’t say I agree with her interpretation – I think maypole is quintessentially English, even if it isn’t an old tradition; half the folk dances around are not much more than 200 years old. I guarantee it will make you smile.
” One sentence about that maypole. There is an English maypole, tall like a telegraph pole, and decorated at its top with a bower of flowers and short ribbons. It was set up in spring time, or remained permanently on the village green, and it was danced around. The short stumpy little thing with long ribbons, set up in a draughty school playground, where children plait the ribbons to a thumping piano or to a pre-war 78 record, and where Freddy never gets it right, but we don’t like to leave him out – is a phony. It was adapted by John Ruskin, when he was a lecturer at Whitelands Training College, from some of the dances of southern Europe, and suitably modifies for his young, Victorian lady students to learn and to teach. I wonder if those young ladies really know what they were dancing round? Or Ruskin himself, for that matter, in those pre-Freudian days.”
Sure I never thought about it that way when I danced round a maypole! Maybe I’m just naïve, but I don’t think much about my vanquished enemies when I’m dancing over the swords in the Ghillie Callum either.”
And, in a following email contribution:
“In the 1980s I spoke to a Mrs Debenham who was a founding member of the Old English Folk Dance Club of Sydney in the 1930s. She had a fascinating log book of the club complete with programmes, newspaper clippings and photographs. The club danced a range of Morris and English Country Dances; one of the patrons being Dorothea MacKellar, also of interest are notes of a folk festival held in the Sydney Town Hall. I borrowed the journal and photocopied it, returning it to her within a few days as it was very dear to her – unfortunately it later disappeared. Presumably she has passed on now and the journal lost, however I can supply you with a copy if you are interested.
“My grandmother, Mona Gilmore was born in Cobar in 1910 and spent most of her childhood in Lithgow (NSW). She recalled her mother, a florist, threading fresh flowers onto garlands for Morris dancing. She did not recall much about the dancing – it was through the streets and she thought they might have worn clogs. There were many mining families in Lithgow who came from Lancashire, as her family had, and people still did wear clogs there as everyday footwear, so it would appear to be consistent with the Northwest Morris tradition.”
(Mona went on to become involved in the first Sydney production of Reedy River and was a good friend of Chris Kempster; she was also involved with the Australian Writers’ Guild with relative, Dame Mary Gilmore; she remained a strong supporter of Australian cultural endeavors throughout her life.)
Heather also went on to explain how she had been researching Step Dancing. This is an important part of our tradition and, to my knowledge, little has been done on the subject despite several references being made to it in major early books.
Heather Clarke: “I am most interested to hear what you have discovered. I decided to start researching Australian dance history when I realised most colonial dance groups seemed to be be focusing on the period 1880-1920 and ignoring large sections of our culture, particularly anything regarded as “ethnic” such as Morris or Highland dancing . Mostly I have concentrated on step dancing and even received at grant, 12 years ago now, from the AFT – as you note, money is hard to come by in this area. The main area I am working on is the early colonial era 1788 to 1850; after this time the quality of social dancing went into decline [not my words but the generally accepted view of dance historians: in the mainstream culture, people started to walk through quadrilles and did not bother to dance].
It’s great that you are doing this work, hopefully it will broaden perceptions of our dance traditions. I find others are not interested in my work – it is difficult even to give presentations at the NFF where you would hope they would want to promote such things – we have given up on applying anymore!”
I have been involved in playing fiddle for Longford Morris since 2001, and have had to learn the business from scratch. It’s a lot more demanding than it looks. Longford Morris recently appeared at the National Folk Festival to great acclaim.
You requested jokes. Here is one I’ve been told.
“What do you call a Morris dancer with only one leg?
In 2002 I collected material on the Morris in SA and, with Kim Brown who did the graphics (and with help from others), put on an exhibit in the Migration Museum Public Access Gallery in Adelaide.
“I’m the contact for Hedgemonkey Morris (SA) – I read with interest about the research being done on Morris in Australia which you are coordinating. I have just come across a little snippet from the 1920s detailing Morris being performed at Adelaide Town Hall.”
(not sighted but of particular interest. wf)