Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

The Joy the Joy of Six of Twelve

An anthropologist might observe a society for years and years and still be surprised by some previously-unseen cultural event. There is no discernible schedule of recurrence for this event, nor any formal training and teaching. And yet all the members of the community seem to know the tradition, and to come forward to participate when the tradition comes around. But where do they learn it? How do they know when it is time? It is a cultural mystery, or perhaps the bar of membership in the community.

This is what it means to dance Joy of Six.

Joy of Six is a Morris dance form in which each member of the set dances the dance in a different Morris tradition. There are several dances for which there is a version in a variety of Morris dance traditions. You might have a Joy of Six Trunkles, or a Joy of Six Jockey to the Fair. Each tradition has its own particular style of figures and stepping and hanky movements. One tradition might include figures in which the tempo slows down. Another tradition might dance the dance as a stick dance rather than a hanky dance. The Joy of Six tradition is, shall we say, non-traditional. This is not the contradiction it might seem from the outside. The anthropologist can never really understand the observed community, not without going native.

On Sunday night around 2:30 am at the end of this year's Midwest Morris Ale, during the all-night pickup dancing, I danced a double set of Joy of Six Black Joke. I didn't just dance a Joy of Six Black Joke -- I got the set together and headed it up. With a minimum of fuss and dithering. Were I to die today I'd rest happy in this accomplishment.

During the previous dance I cornered a musician to tell of my plans. I mentioned my idea to a couple of friends, who immediately volunteered a tradition they could dance. And so, as soon as the previous dance ended, I walked right to the front of the dancing space with a Morris stick. I held it in the air and shouted out: BLACK JOKE JOY OF SIX! I'M DANCING BLEDINGTON. BRIAN IS DANCING ASCOT. Michael was already in place and ready to play (Bledington version, by predetermination, with pauses in the chorus). Denise got into the set and announced her tradition, and Mel got into the set and announced his, and some others jumped right in announcing their traditions and suddenly we had a full set. And then a second set right behind! Hooray!

It turns out that we didn't really dance a Joy of 12, though. Andy danced Bledington in the second set, and two dancers in that second set danced the same tradition as each other. But 10 is Joy aplenty.

Not everybody appreciates Joy of Six, because it usually descends into chaos. My only previous experience, however -- five or six years ago -- was not unbearably chaotic. Instead the dance gradually came together with each figure, as the dancers worked with the music and each other into some semblance of contrapuntal order. And it was the most fun imaginable, so much fun that I've been waiting in a sort of cicadian hibernation for the opportunity to dance such a dance again.

Oh my gosh was this fun. For one thing, I was opposite Brian B. from Ann Arbor, and that's a pervasive joy under any circumstances. Corey from Ann Arbor told me later that the dance worked because Brian and I were heading up the set and working together and dancing our versions of the dance with complete confidence and assurance, giving the dance a skeleton structure to house the chaos. It also happened to work out that halfway through the chorus I in the first set and Andy in the second set were positioned just at that moment to clash our sticks together a la Bledington, providing a periodic handshake of surprise conjunction. I called each figure and each chorus loud and strong (ROUNDS FOR ME!). With each figure, the dancers got easier about working with each other, stepping around each other during the hey as if this were choreographed on purpose. We laughed and leaped for all we were worth. The people around us who were not dancing were nearly as amused as the dancers. This was well worth the difficult push of the long drive home on such little sleep the next day, to have had this experience. I went to bed about half an hour later with a smile on my face and when I woke up in the morning I was still happy.
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