Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Youth! Recruitment! Morris! The Folkie Cult!

The wonderful documentary about the Maple Morris weekend for young Morris dancers has set me off thinking about a bunch of things.

I posted the link to the documentary on Facebook yesterday, and I post it here again.

This is a 25-minute film that presents itself as a response to a BBC report early this year that no young people are taking up Morris and that it will die out as a result. Scholars said the same thing about shapenote music in the 1930s (since only the elderly still sang it). Come to think of it, people said the same thing about shapenote music in the 19th century, but most of those people had competing tunebooks of their own to sell.

The film documents a weekend in which college-age (and slightly older) Morris dancers from different teams gather to work on dances and do some public performing. I highly recommend taking a half hour and watching this film, even -- no especially -- if you are not a Morris dancer or don't really know about Morris dancing. What I realize I love most about this film is that it shows the interconnections between the dance itself and everything that surrounds it: The people, the singing, the getting out in public, the kitting up, the drinking, the joy. It also makes clear how very hard the dancers work. These are experienced dancers who are picking up some new traditions, which they then dance with power and grace. The actual dancing in the film is shown in small snippets, but this should give you a sense of what the dance is like.

Two of the people featured in the film (Adam and Justin) were the instructors for the Morris Intensive class I took at Pinewoods last summer, and the filmmaker (Stefan) was supposed to be an instructor as well but he was ill and could not attend. Rafe and Corinne were in the class with me. Rose was on crew at the camp. The rest of the folks I don't know, but they seem like great fun. At the end of the film, don't you wish you knew them? Watching this makes me want to dance so badly I can feel it as an ache. Is that just me, or does it make you feel that at all?

Along the lines of the BBC report, I have heard a lot of discussion about how the Morris revival in the US centers around a particular generation -- one that is about 10 years behind the generation in England -- and that it doesn't seem to hold much appeal to younger people. I think this is true to some extent, but there are significant exceptions, and my question is what makes for those exceptions (and I also think that the interest skipped a generation, as I think it has for contra dancing as well). At the beginning of this film, note how excited the dancers are about getting together for the weekend -- and to do what? To work hard, on dancing. To be with other people who enjoy the dance as much as they do. What switch has been turned on here? Why do most people look on this stuff and think of it as something weird -- or, more likely, something invisible and outlying and insignificant -- while for others it yields the delights that are so very evident in this film (and that I have often tried to describe in this journal)?

Note how the singing is key here, for the folks in the movie, just as it is for me. Why is that? I of course have my thoughts about this -- about how powerful it can be when music and song and dance exist as a separate thing from the music industry and modern commercial culture. Powerful as this stuff is, it remains culturally marginal. How do you open the window on this?

So my thoughts here are not just how do you get "the young folk" to take up the dance. I mean, they will or they won't and it will continue or it won't -- nothing needs to exist simply for its own sake. But what can get people in general to see and appreciate this subworld? Recruiting younger dancers is, I think, a subcategory of getting more people to understand the world in which what gets dismissively called "folk" culture is vibrant and living (that is, unfossilized) and anything but quaint.
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