Dolhin Morris East Kent Morris

John Sweeney's Morris Dance Notes


John Sweeney's Morris Tutorials

John's Morris Background

More of John's Morris Background

Dances Written by John (with the help of Dolphin and East Kent Morris):
Dances Re-choreographed by John (with the help of East Kent Morris):
Teaching Notes: John Montage

John's Morris Background

I started dancing in Nottingham at the age of 16. My parents were Irish and I went to some barn dances and ceilidhs. I went to Ballroom lessons because the local girls' school needed some boys as partners and I was instructed by my mother to go. The lessons included The March of the Mods, the Veleta, the Eightsome Reel and the Gay Gordons, as well as the waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. I found that I enjoyed dancing!

At Cambridge University, in the second year, my room-mate was a Morris dancer, but I never saw him doing it and had no interest in it whatsoever.

Back in Nottingham I was a regular attendee at the Nottingham Traditional Music Club (NTMC). One evening all my friends got up and danced a Morris dance in a space about six foot by three foot; they were recruiting for the
Dolphin Morris Men. I had no idea that my friends danced the Morris! On September 23rd 1971 I went along to my first Morris practice, but it turned out to be the AGM. They spent most of the evening discussing baldrics, but wouldn't tell me what a baldric was! I went back the next week and started my lifetime of Morris dancing. I was born in 1949, so that's quite a lot of Morris dancing!

The Foreman at the time was Ian Stewart. Ian was an excellent teacher with a great love of the Morris. We used to go on the NTMC coach trip to Oxford every Whit Monday and watch the Bampton dancers in their natural habitat, then on to Headington in the evening to see Headington dance. Ian studied these traditional sides intently and taught us all what he had learnt.

I was just starting my forty years with IBM and they kept sending me away so that I missed the Morris practices. By now I was so hooked that when I was in London, on seven-week training courses, I practised with Herga and, occasionally, with Hammersmith, then danced out with them both on their Belgian tour in 1972 (or was it 1973?).

You can see the Dolphin Morris Men dancing in those early days on YouTube (sorry, no sound on these videos).



In the mid 1970s IBM had me working in Birmingham, so I took the opportunity to go and practice with Green Man's Morris. Here I learnt the wonders of Lichfield! I was so inspired that I wanted to teach Dolphin what I had learnt. Dolphin has the concept of the "Tradition Foreman"; while the Foreman retains overall control, he delegates the teaching of a particular tradition to whoever wants to teach it. This works really well as it gives the dancers variety in the teachers, and gives the individual Tradition Foremen the incentive to study and develop a set of dances, thus improving both their dancing and teaching skills. I became Tradition Foreman for Lichfield and started teaching dance for the first time.

The Ilmington Dances

In the late 1970s I had the fantastic luck to be at
Sidmouth International Folk Festival when Roy Dommett was giving talks and teaching Ilmington Morris Dances. His version was very different from earlier sources, with spins in every figure. I thought it was wonderful and became Dolphin's Tradition Foreman for Ilmington as well. In 1978 I decided that it would be nice to have a Leapfrog dance in the Ilmington style and wrote my first dance:

The Frog Dance

Click
here for the instructions.

The three-beat Ilmington slows can be a challenge to fit to eight-bar tunes, but if you add a leapfrog at the end then it becomes a four-beat move and works with the music.

We practiced the dance a couple of times. Then, one Thursday evening, a visiting, experienced Morris dancer joined us for a practice. I called for a set for The Frog Dance and he joined in. I explained that we were just going to run though it quickly for those who knew it. He said that he had danced it before and it would all come back to him once we got started. We danced it with him in the set and afterwards he said, "Yes, I remember that dance." Interesting, since, at that time, it had never been danced outside our practice hall! I was delighted that I had written a dance that blended so well into the tradition that an experienced dancer believed that it was a traditional dance.

Old John Nick

In November 1979, Ian Stewart had a dream. It was something about me dancing with the devil I think! When he woke up he wrote down the tune that he had dreamt: Old John Nick. We used it for an Ilmington Sidestep dance:

Figures: Standard Ilmington Figures - Handkerchiefs
Chorus: Long Sidestep (7-Step) to the Right, Sidestep Left, Feet-Together-Jump; Half Hey

Rather than a Feet-Together-Jump there, and in all the figures, we actually did what I believe Roy had taught me: spring off one foot, land on both. That gives a slighty different and distinctive style to the Ilmington dances.

Contrafusion

I also took a couple of stick-clashing choruses from other traditions and created Ilmington dances:

Bobby & Joan

This takes the over-the-head stick clashing from Fieldtown's Bobby & Joan, plus the rather more dynamic ending from the Ilmington Shepherd's Hey:

Figures: Standard Ilmington Figures - One Long Stick
Chorus: My ancient notes say that all turns during the stick-clashing were clockwise; I am not sure that is the optimal way to do it.

Black Joker

According to The Black Book, under Bledington, "The Black Joke(r) is a stick dance composed post-war and danced variably by different clubs". I must have picked it up at feast somewhere; I liked the stick-clashing so decided to make an Ilmington version:

Figures: Standard Ilmington Figures - One Long Stick
The stepping for the figures and the hey is four double-steps, two single-steps turning, two single steps facing, three Capers, land with Feet-Together on the last beat. During the Capers strike:
Butts on the Backhand, Tips on the Forehand, Butts on the Backhand, Tips on the Forehand.

Chorus:You can see one version of this danced by
Westminster. Do the eight strikes with the tips as shown in the video: The four clashes on the Capers are done at every opportunity, including in the Once To Yourself, facing down half way through the Foot Up & Down, at the end of the Half Heys, half way through the Rounds (remaking the set so that you can do it), and facing up at the end of the dance.

For reasons I don't remember, my notes say to use a modified version of the Bucknell Old Black Joe tune:

Contrafusion

The Minster Lovell Dances

In 1994, Dolphin Morris was sometimes short of men, so we thought it might be a good idea to have some four-man dances. Back in 1972, when I started learning to play the concertina, one of the Morris Men had given me a photocopied document of about forty pages, containing a few hundred hand-written Morris tunes. Under Fieldtown I found a tune called "The Toast". It didn't have a dance, so I wrote one! These new dances were in the Fieldtown style, but I wanted to differentiate them from Fieldtown. A number of dances attributed to Fieldtown are actually from Minster Lovell, so I decided to call our four-man dances Minster Lovell.

The Toast

This is the Minster Lovell dance that has been danced the most, first by Dolphin Morris, and, more recently by East Kent Morris as in this video:



Click
here for the instructions. Note: it has changed a little over the years; this is as East Kent Morris danced in 2022.

Contrafusion

At the same time as I wrote The Toast I wrote a couple of other dances that weren't used as much.

Ladies' Pleasure

This was revived and updated by East Kent Morris in 2021. Click
here for the instructions.

The name was also confirmed as Ladies' Pleasure rather than Ladies of Pleasure!

The tune is the one used for the Bledington jig of the same name.

The Wild Rose

This is a four-person version of The Rose and uses the same tune. Click
here for the instructions. This has probably not been danced since 1994,

The Jagged Old Woman

In 2015 East Kent Morris was low on numbers, so we re-choreographed The Old Woman Tossed Up from Fieldtown as a four-person dance. We used this quite a bit in 2015, but it had not yet been revived as of 2022 as we had lots of dancers in the new mixed side. Click
here for the instructions.

Fieldtown: The Old Woman Tossed Up



We had already rechoreographed the Fieldtown The Old Woman Tossed Up as a circular dance for six dancers. We start in a normal set, but once the Third Corners have done their first crossing they stay wide so that we are all in a circle. From then on everything is done in that circle.

Figures: Corner Dance Chorus:
We do three very wide Open Sidesteps - hence the nickname for the dance is "Zig-Zag" - then Feet Together Jump facing your Corner; dance past by the right shoulder with two double-steps; Galley Right to face your Corner.

Slows
All six of us, in a circle, do two Slows simultaneously into the middle, then four Capers back to place - twice.

Sequence
  • Once to Yourself
  • Foot Up & Down
  • Zig-Zag x3
  • Slows: Half Capers (Beetle Crushers/Testing the Ice)
  • Zig-Zag x3
  • Half Rounds
  • Zig-Zag x3
  • Slows: Uprights (RTBs)
  • Zig-Zag x3
  • Circular Hey
  • More of John's Morris Background

    In 2003 I moved to Kent. Once I had settled in I started looking for a Morris side to join. I practised with Woodchurch briefly, but their laid-back approach to technique, with no Foreman, didn't suit me. I danced with Headcorn for a time, but once we started dancing out I realised that, at the most, I would only get every second dance since they took turns at dancing with their ladies' side. That was not enough dancing for me! Finally I joined East Kent Men's Morris and have been with them ever since. EKMM was formally shut down at the 2015 AGM due to low numbers of dancing men; but the side rose again the same evening in the pub as a mixed side: East Kent Mixed Morris. It took us a year or so to recruit and rebuild the side, so in the interim I joined
    The Wantsum Morris Men and still dance with them whenever I can.

    I taught various traditions to EKMM and in 2013 I became Foreman after the previous Foreman retired. In 2015 I was looking through my old Adderbury notes for some more hankie dances and found The Lollipop Man and The Bell. We added these to our repertoire. Later, when we had more dancers I re-choreographed The Bell for eight dancers. In 2017, at Tenterden Folk Festival, I saw Long Man Morris Men dancing The Redoubt and like the idea. I used the concept to create Stuck in the Middle in the Adderbury style.



    Long Man Morris Men dancing The Redoubt

    The Adderbury Dances

    The Soldier's Cloak AKA Stuck in the Middle

    I took the circular clashing concept from The Redoubt, the stick-clashing from The Upton on Severn Stick Dance and tidied it up to make a new dance. Frances Hopkins suggested The Soldier's Cloak for the tune. The dancers started calling it Stuck in the Middle, and the name stuck.



    Click
    here for the instructions.

    Contrafusion

    The Bell

    This is an eight-person dance - two lines of four.

    Figures Chorus:
    Preparation: At the end of each figure, during the final two Capers, the four middle dancers (3, 4, 5, 6) fall back so that all the dancers are in one big circle and the others move in slightly; everyone finishes facing their opposite corner.
    All four corner dancers do the chorus
    All four middle dancers do the chorus (facing in diagonally, i.e. 3 facing 6 and 4 facing 5) - using the final Capers to remake the set.
    All the dancers join in the final chorus and stay in the middle for the two Single Steps and the two Capers.

    Headington

    Constant Billy

    At the same Tenterden session that I saw Long Man dance The Redoubt, I also saw a another side (Bunnies from Hell?) dance an interesting figure. Malcolm Triggs had been complaining that doing a Full Hey as the final figure was boring since the dance also had eight Half Heys. So I replaced the Full Hey with a Slice & Roll:

    Slice & Roll
    Each line of three dances diagonally forward to the left, with two Double Steps, along a shallow diagonal until all six dancers are in one line (1, 3, 5, 2, 4, 6). All dancers then use the two Single Steps to dance around a small circle to their right until they are facing their partner for a Feet-Together-Jump. Repeat, to the left again.

    Cantia

    In the Spring of 2019 East Kent Morris danced in Chilham, in the beautiful old
    square. The landlord of the White Horse said that no-one had ever written a dance for Chilham. Challenge accepted!

    After dinner at the campsite at the Vale of Evesham National Morris Weekend, on June 22nd 2019 we started throwing ideas around.

    Since the dance was to be named Chilham Square, my first thought was to do a Morris dance in a Square Dance formation. I have long been fascinated by the similarities between some of the 1650 dances and Morris dances. Many of the dances published by John Playford in his early books had three figures: We now know that the Siding was an Into Line Siding.

    Another common figure was Hands Four, which means Circle Left, Circle Right.

    A typical Morris Dance might have the figures: These are exactly the same as the common Playford figures!

    Add in a chorus with a few Heys and you have a dance that could have been either a Morris Dance or a Playford Country Dance, see Morrford for an example.

    When it comes to the 17th century stepping there is a lot of uncertainty, but Anne Daye, of the Historical Dance Society, has done a lot of research into the subject. Two of the stepping sequences that she teaches for these figures are, basically, using Morris terminology: The style, using bent knees and pointy feet, would have been very different, but the similarity to Morris stepping is very apparent.

    Anyway, the whole point of that digression was to justify using the old Playford concepts in a Morris Dance. The vast majority of Cotswold dances are Three Couples, Longways. But why not do a Square formation? The dance is about a square! There were numerous Square Dances in the 17th century books; Playford even called them "Square Dances".

    Chilham Square



    Detailed
    instructions,

    We had some spare time at the campsite so we started playing with some ideas. I choose simple Single Steps and Feet-Together-Jumps to keep that aspect of the dance simple, since we were going to be playing around with some complex figures.

    First Figure - Heading Up:
    But since we have a symmetrical set we can do it in all four directions, instead of just the two directions that Lichfield uses.

    Second Figure - Grand Square:
    An archetypal Square Dance figure which goes back to at least the first half of the 17th century, before Playford: Old Hunsdon House (1648)! Here is lots more about Grand Squares.

    Third Figure - Devil's Elbow:
    To contrast with the angular shapes of the Grand Square, I wanted a flowing, serpentine figure. We tried some Devilís Elbows with lots of interspersed Stars. A lovely figure used in many country dance genres, including Modern Western Square Dance where it is part of Spin Chain & Exchange the Gears!

    Chorus:
    We hadnít got any ideas about music yet. I asked Peter Stamp to play something on his whistle and he came out with Princess Royal. We did a bit of stick-banging and stick-throwing, then a big Clover Leaf since we had so much music in the B part.

    That was about as far as we got that evening, I think. I got home and documented what we had created so far, then started writing down more ideas for further figures. We had a couple of practice sessions in August 2019 and started working on it.

    I decided to call our new tradition Cantia; that was the name of East Kent the last time it was a kingdom in its own right - yes, quite a long time ago - around about the fifth century!

    For music, Frances Hopkins suggested "The Maid and the Palmer or From Night 'til Morn". This only has an eight-bar B music, so I shortened the chorus.

    Fourth Figure - Doubling Up:
    I always liked the Lichfield Doubling Up, but we didn't do any Lichfield dances that use it... yet.... All our figures were double-length figures, so it would work well as the second half of a figure, but how would be get into the correct formation? I tried having everyone dance into the middle with one big eight-stick, circular strike, then back out into the correct places for the Doubling Up. It almost worked, but some of the side didnít like it. That was the version in the first printed draft in October 2019.

    By the second printed draft, in December 2019, I had changed it to a Whole Gyp, during which the Sides went wide to end up behind the nearest Head person. That worked well, with a Left-Shoulder Whole Gyp back to place at the end of it.

    Fifth Figure - Lock Chain Swing:
    I though about a Grand Chain, but decided instead to try a variant: the Lock Chain Swing. In the Playford Square Dance Newcastle, the third figure starts, "Arms all with your we. and change places. Arms with the next and change places." (The instructions are directed to the men and "we." means women.) Although this is normally interpreted in completely different ways, to me this looks very much like: Arm Right once-and-a-half, with the next person Arm Left once-and-a-half. This sequence also exists in Appalachian Big Set (Kentucky Running Set) where it is known as a Lock Chain Swing. With forearm holds and sticks held wide, this looked great.

    We had a dance and it was coming together nicely! We practiced all through the winter and were looking forward to dancing Chilham Square out in May 2020. Then, on March 26th 2020: COVID Lockdown!

    In the autumn of 2021 we had lots of new recruits, so I needed to focus on teaching our basic repertoire; Cantia went on the back-burner. Once the recruits had made enough progress, we started bring the Cantia dances back into the practice sessions at the beginning of 2022. It was finally starting to look good!

    On Saturday May 21st were at Offcumduns Day of Dance in Deal; at one point we found the pier entrance area empty so we had a go, as you can see in the video above.

    June 1 2022: Three years later we finally danced Chilham Square in Chilham Square!

    Pluckley Square

    You can't have a "tradition" with only one dance. Three of our members lived in Pluckley, so I also started writing a hankie dance called Pluckley Square, using the same figures, but with very different choruses. I also introduced Slows, based on the Bucknell ones, but the ladies of the side decided we would jump up with our legs together!

    Detailed
    instructions,

    The public performance of this was also delayed by COVID; we didn't practise it as much and I think it was only performed once in public in 2022.

    Two for Joy

    So... COVID... better write a jig!



    Detailed
    instructions.

    The figures are all based on the Chilham Square figures: The choruses are based on the Pluckley Square choruses. I tried to persuade everyone that we should start Pluckley Square with short sticks and then all throw them away when we got to the Sidestep chorus, but I got out-voted!

    I was looking for a good tune and found "Two for Joy" written by Barry Parkes and played here by Mike Aylen. So the jig ended up being called "Two for Joy".

    This spawned a whole series of dances. Solo country dances were popular during the pandemic, so that people could dance them on Zoom. This is me dancing "Solo Shapes", basically the same dance, but done in a country dance style:



    And this is Karen and me dancing "Duo Shapes" - basically the same dance, but for two people:



    Instructions for both those dances are here.

    Platinum Plait

    I had always envisioned the jig as being suitable as a two-person jig, or a four person dance. When the side said that they would like a new dance to celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee I decided to try it out! This is basically "Two for Joy" slightly modified to suit four dancers.Paul Clayton suggested "James Cameron's March" for the tune.

    Detailed
    instructions.

    The Fieldtown Galley

    The Fieldtown Galley Tutorial is now on
    this page.

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    Karen and I dance lots of different styles. You can see some of them here.

    Lots more dancing material at my two Web sites:
    modernjive.com and contrafusion.co.uk.

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    Please send any comments, additions, corrections or ideas to John Sweeney at john@modernjive.com.


    Contrafusion