Oh, this is going to be another Morris dance story, with the same conclusion and same point as every Morris dance story I tell (dance energy, tradition, community, blah blah blah), so most of you can stop reading now. Go on, I don't mind.
Sunday was Halloween, which is the first and biggest dance-out of the Border Morris season. We danced in a couple of neighborhoods in St. Paul, gathering a small crowd of baffled onlookers everywhere we went, and then at 6pm we headed over to our main venue: Sargeant Street between Cretin and Finn, which sponsors a block party every Halloween.
The residents of this street block off the street at either end, and they do their houses up to a degree that rivals the biggest, gaudiest Christmas displays. Each year it's different. Some houses set up graveyards. There were two-story pumpkin displays. One house had a life-size diorama of the the Three Billy Goats Gruff in the front yard. Everyone who goes trick-or-treating in the Summit Avenue area of St. Paul makes sure they get to this block.
This is the perfect venue for Morris dancing, which is, in essence, ritual seasonal dancing. If you can find an annual celebration, you should go dance there. It only takes a year or two for people to expect you at the event. Your music and dancing becomes part of the texture of the event.
We do this every year, and it's a fine thing, so why was this year special? The weather! The weather last night was nicer than it had been for any of my nights in San Francisco the previous week. Even when there is warm sun on late October afternoons in Minnesota, sunset brings sudden serious chill. But not last night! It was comforting and pleasant just to be outside. Cold, wet, windy, and slushy is more typical of Halloween here (and don't even *mention* the famous "Halloween Snowstorm" of eight years ago).
The weather being what it was, folks out walking were inclined to stop and watch us. We were inclined to dance well.
We're a large group this year, maybe 15 dancers. Each dance requires between four and eight people, so we could trade off and keep going. When we are all together, the energy is amazing.
Me, I didn't dance. I played the bass drum (which is important in a big outdoor setting) and sang the musical accompaniment for the two "Molly" dances.
So much combined to create the evening's feel. One of our dancers couldn't dance because of some leg injury, so he showed up as one of those characters who sometimes accompany Morris teams (often in hag drag), whose role is to engage the audience, to provide a bridge between the dancers and the observers. This guy is a teacher, which could explain why he was able to get groups of jr-high-age observers to shout with us and, at one memorable moment, to take up sticks and dance.
One of our team members is a ninth-grader who lives in that neighborhood, and boy was he in his element. His sister came by, and his mother, and his girlfriend. He was over the moon with energy. One of the other musicians told me that David's dancing with us made it cool for a lot of these kids to stick around and watch us. I was skeptical, thinking that the opposite might be true (I think David is way cool, but I couldn't be sure that the qualities I admire in his character are equally admired by his cohort), but this guy knows David outside of Morris dance, and he said, no, where David goes so goeth the young folk (well, not quite in those words).
In many of the books I read when I was a kid, there were stories of community celebrations of holidays. Fourth of July, perhaps, but often, yes, Halloween. Last night was a real-life manifestation of these romanticized fictions (think: Halloween sequence in "Meet Me in St. Louis", which is faithful to Sally Bensen's original story on which it was based). I was jealous for the kids there, even as I was happy for me.
We danced for two hours, moving down the street every twenty minutes or so. There has never been a Border night like it. Squire and team founder Rick called us together about halfway into the evening, and with tears in his voice he said to forget everything he'd ever told us about where to put our bodies and just go with the dancing energy of the evening. Because this is why we dance. Because this is why we must dance.
I'm always looking to find a place in the world. A role to play that matters. Sometimes I find it.