Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,
Steven
unzeugmatic

Steven the Sluggard's Choreographer

Morris dancing is a traditional dance form, but new dances get written all the time. Each team dances a particular Morris "tradition" (actually in the US nearly all teams but mine dance several traditions), which means a particular style of movement and a particular set of steps. As a general rule, a new dance is perfectly acceptable, as long as it is written within a team's tradition. Sometimes a "new" dance is an existing dance that gets modified to a different tradition.

Presumably that makes no sense whatsoever to most of you.

The way this works for Ramsey's Braggarts Morris Men is that one or two members of the team will work out a dance and then the team, in a collective exercise, will refine the dance. Actually, we're always refining our dances, but usually not on purpose. Sometimes what inspires a new dance is that Bob will write a new tune, but I've never been sure whether his tunes are commissioned or whether they just appear. One of Bob's tunes is named for me: Squire Steven's Maggot (The Squire's Maggot is the name of the team newsletter I put together). The associated dance is "Peter and Sam", which are the names of the two children of one of the team founders.

What we have noticed, over the years, is that when a team member puts together a dance it is invariably too ambitious, in terms of the stamina required to dance it, and we need to simplify it. Even with the simplifying, we have recently come to the realization that all of the dances we have written for ourselves are "knackering" dances that include no rest at all for any of the dancers at any time -- most of the traditional dances have times when 2/3 of the dancers are resting, if only briefly. Remember that my team dances a high-leaping kill-yourself style that exhausts you even on stick dances. ("Your double-steps are higher than my team's fore capers" said an astonished observer at the Toronto Ale.) My theory is that the oldtime dancers simply knew what they were doing, or at least had already refined their dances to a manageable level of exhaustion by the time the folklorists came 'round to collect them.

Even the Braggarts are getting old and stiff at this point, though, so last night I got to thinking about writing a dance with the sole purpose of providing us with rest time. I had never before been seriously inspired to put together a dance (except for one called "Steven's Boyfriend", which is a six-man dance for five and which has never gone beyond the talk stage), but I am most inspired by limits (to paraphrase my friend Jim). So I had an idea and we tried it out -- a dance where we are mostly still for the chorus except for one big move, and for which each verse is danced by only one dancer. The tune is a familiar one, but I won't go into any more details because there are people who read this journal who might see this dance sometime and I don't want to spoil the joke. The challenge here, to be honest, is to make this more than a joke.

The boys humored me on this, despite some skepticism, and after we tried an outline of how this might work some people made some suggestions for places where things were a bit boring (it's the attempt to make things always interesting that leads to the knackering dances, but you can go too far in the other direction as well). We discussed how we might use the dance in danceouts. Maybe this dance will die aborning, like our attempts to choreograph "Mrs. Widgery's Lodger" (a Terry Pratchett reference, and a Bob tune), but maybe not -- there was definitely a sense that this dance had a bit of potential. If we work this out, I will be the official choreographer of a Morris dance!

Maybe I've found my niche: Morris dancing for the aged and infirm!
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