White Rats Morris (of San Francisco) is notorious in Morris circles worldwide because, for special occasions, they sew their bells directly to their skin (as described on this webpage). "Yes it hurts" is one of their mottoes. For years I knew of this side only through reputation and their web page, but even then I saw that this was a team that got out and danced in the community, expanding the audience that encounters Morris dancing. I liked that, and I was intrigued.
Several years ago a prominent Rat (h by name) became a regular at the Midwest Ale, because the Midwest Ale is known for its bangup allnight pickup dancing. h lives for pickup dancing. h was always a little cagey when you asked him about the Rats (he served as Squire for a while), as he would preface any answer with an assurance that they are serious about their dancing. You could see why he might feel it necessary to say this. All I knew was that h was a fine dancer so during a visit to San Francisco last year I dropped in on a practice and enjoyed myself. The team does take the dancing -- and the tradition -- very seriously indeed, and they write many original clever dances.
This year the Midwest Ale was blessed with three members of White Rats. I thought it was very funny that the team with such a wild legendary reputation was represented by a trio I would describe as the sanest people in attendance. They were fun and charming and wonderful dancers (who regretted terribly that they didn't have a fourth with them -- "We would have kicked ass!" they said to me, and I know this is true). They were in a cabin, interestingly, with the Toronto Women's Sword Team. Two teams of more differing gestalt you couldn't find, and yet these teams bonded from the onset. The Rats gave the Toronto women special temporary tattoos of Morris bells which the ladies wore on their upper arms with great pride all weekend.
On Sunday evening after dinner I was walking innocently along when Rats Meg and Kevin grabbed me and said, "Steven will learn the dance." A woman who dances with Cats on Fire Morris wanted to learn a particular "buffoon" dance the Rats do, which requires four dancers. I was game, and my team's alpha musician Bob Walser happened to be nearby so he helped out with the music and I learned a funny dance of a style I never would otherwise perform. The dance didn't take long to teach.
Sunday night pickup dancing is the goofiest of all, because it is the third night of the Ale and the dancers are both wildly exhilarated and beyond exhaustion. What often happens at pickup dancing is that if an entire team is there and has an unusual or interesting dance they will sometimes get up and dance it between the general dances. Meg came to me and asked if I would dance what I'd earlier learned (the dance called Geezers, or Old Bagpipes). You betcha! So we snuck in quickly after another dance ended and performed for the assembled crowd, to much enjoyment all around.
And I, proudly, got to legitimately claim that I danced not just with but as a White Rat.
I'm considering going with the piercing next time.