Wakefield Morris Dancers - FAQ

Whatís It All About and Could I Do It?

This section is really an FAQ page that tries to sort out what Morris Dancers do, why they do it, and what is looked for in new members of a team. Since it comes as part of the Wakefield Morris history web site it is focussed on North-West Morris but much applies to other traditions. So thatís the heading bit now for the rest of the stuff. So read on McDuff.

What style of Morris does Wakefield Morris dance? The North-West processional style, which is defintely NOT clog dancing although the dancers do wear clogs.

What is North West Morris? Itís a traditional dance style found in the North of England. Probably an evolution of the village green Morris, the Cotswold style, into a processional form for well dressings and rush bearings it eventually centred on the industrial towns of Lancashire and developed a display format. Disregarded by the middle class collectors of the early 19th century as it did not fit in with their idea of the rustic idyll and was too open to women.

Why do teams dance? Because it is fun and the team is good social grouping. Sorry if you were looking for some pagan ritual root or fertility linkage there. There are however some within the dance world who can be persuaded to wax lyrical about ley lines and spirit forces so if that's your bag seek them out.

Could I become a team member? Wakefield Morris is open to both men and women. You can join as a dancer or a musician or both if you have the talent. The minimum age to join is 18 years old. However 14 year olds can join provided they have the support of a parent who will accompany them to practice and dance outs. There is no maximum age limit. (This was true as at 2010)

Why are there age restrictions? Because the team cannot act in loco parentis for minors.

What will it cost me? There is an annual subscription which is payable in October. New members only pay the subscription after six months with the team and if this date falls half way through a year a half subscription is charged. If the team goes to visit another Morris side for a weekend there is usually a charge for food and transport at the event. When replacement kit is needed this is funded by the team and individual dancers depending on the state of the team funds. Compared to golf club membership and green fees or gym fees a dance side makes a cost beneficial way to get exercise and make social contacts.(This was true as at 2010)

What does the subscription pay for? The hire of the practice hall and kit for the team. However the subscription income is supplemented by appearance fees and collections.

When does the team practice? Every Monday night from September through May. Practice starts at 8.00pm. From May to August the team aims to dance out on Monday nights at local pubs, usually in company with other local(ish) teams. In August the team takes a break Ė itís just too hot, and also most of folk are on their holidays.

Do I need to be a dedicated folk enthusiast? No. In fact not knowing anything about folk can be a plus point. Itís all new and you have no pre conceptions about the Morris.

How long does it take to become a dancer? That depends on you. If you start in September and get to practices regularly you should be dancing out by May the following year. However if you have the determination you could take less time.

Are new dancers only accepted in September? No. You can come along at any time. Obviously in the run up to the dancing season, May through July, the team concentrates on bringing the performance standard up to a high level. But still makes time for learners.

Do dancers have to attend every practice? No. Everyone has home lives and commitments outside the team. Obviously the more practice you get the better you become and you also maintain a level of fitness together with keeping up with the gossip. In some cases dancers have taken long sabbatical breaks for education or maternity and return to the team when they feel able to.

How is the team organised? The team has a group of officers who act as points of contact with outside organisations. Currently the team leader is the main organiser and administrator for the team. The secretary handles the correspondence and keeps track of team booking sheets. The treasurer handles the money side of things. The dance master runs the practice nights and teaches the dances. Within the team an open democratic system runs for all decisions on events to attend, dances to be performed as part of the repertoire, and all other matters.

How often does the team dance out? When ever a team of dancers and a musician, agree that an event should be attended. Generally the team try and spread the dance programme out so that there is a mix local and distant events evenly through the programme. This usually ends up with the team dancing somewhere on most weekends during June and July.

Where does the team dance out? Anywhere they are invited plus at places they like dancing. This varies from local pubs and galas through to trips away to dance with other sides around the country and at Folk Festivals. Dancers going to the weekend away events usually end up camping, but at some events the organisers provide accommodation. The more genteel members of the team take B&B as an option.

Does a team member have to dance out? In theory no but in reality there seems little point in learning the dances if you donít. How often you dance out and what events you dance at is up to you. If you prefer to be in your own bed or do not enjoy camping then local events are for you. If you enjoy travelling around and meeting new people then the Folk Festivals and visits to other teams are for you.

Do I have to be physically fit? It helps. The dance style is energetic and as a team Wakefield were noted for their speed and accuracy when dancing. Regular attendance at practice helps to build up stamina. However it's not running marathons so if you can cope with a five mile walk in the country then thatís about the right level of fitness.

Where do you get your outfits? As a policy the first set of kit a dancer gets comes free of charge to the dancer. Some items are made by the team others are tailored or made for them. The clogs are made by one or other of the few remaining clog makers in the country. For many the preferred clog maker is Trefor Owen.

What instruments are acceptable in your band? Anything that can be carried by one person and does not need mains electricity. This can cover melodeons, accordions, fiddles, guitars, woodwind and brass. We do draw the line at drums since our rhythm section is the team itself.

Do I need to be an expert musician? Not to be a dancer. To be a musician some talent is obviously a benefit. Our band of musicians are always willing to coach and help anyone with an enthusiasm to learn.

I'm already dancing with another side, can I still join Wakefield? No problem since being a "Morris Tart" i.e. member of multiple teams is all the rage. However joining simply to steal the team dances for A.N.Other NW side would be regarded as a pretty shoddy move. However several team members past and present have successfully danced with other teams across a range of traditions, so if you have the time and the energy and can balance the conflicting pull when two really great dance out invites clash then why not?

Still got a question? Send me an E-mail.

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