Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Midwest Morris Ale 2010: Return From Colorado

I don't think the best way to explain or convey the Midwest Morris Ale is scenic-chronological. (On Friday afternoon I drove high high up the steep mountain from Boulder, to Gold Hill, where foxes sit by the roadside and cougars lurk behind the trees. I checked in to the Ale and hugged my old friends and we sang and drank beer and after dinner we practiced our massed dances...) Nor do I think the best way is to take the Features Section/Weekly Reader approach. (Every Memorial Day weekend Morris teams from throughout the Midwest gather to dance and sing and drink beer; this year we hied ourselves heavenward to Colorado, replacing oxygen with magnificent scenery as the fuel for our lungs. Morris dancing is a form of ritual season dancing, with its roots in the Cotswold region of England...) I think the only way I can begin to explain what last weekend felt like is to remember the occasional glorious wonderful moments, moments of immediacy that exist only as a point in time but which require an entire universe of background to create.

Since this is Steven's compendium of moments, the will mostly involve Steven rather than pretending to provide a balanced overview of the entire Ale.

First of all, there were scores and scores of Morris dancers. Here is a partial view on Saturday morning, during a massed stand near Boulder, Morris dancers as far as the eye can see. How many different teams can you identify? I'm not dancing here, as I'm playing the drum on the side. What you've got to consider is how many people spent their vacation time and money to get together for this. And how many months and years of practice and kit discussion and organizational effort made for the existence of so many teams and so many dancers. All to be part of something that we have to spend our time explaining over and over and over again every single time we dance in public. Note as well how many younger dancers were there.

We split up into smaller groups to tour the area. Here is a picture of my team dancing at a shopping mall on Saturday afternoon. Well, flying really rather than dancing, or perhaps levitating. My head is cut off here, but you should recognize my braid. We had finished our scheduled tour with teams from Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Minneapolis and this was, technically, our pub stop (oh good ale, thou art my darling). But my team kept getting up to dance some more.

Over the course of the Ale, at the massed stands, each team performs two "show dances" for all the other dancers. I've got to say that every single dancer on every single team gave themselves wholly over to the dance, whatever the tradition. I've also got to say that I'm very proud of my team; we just nailed our dances in terms of group unity and great height, we had a great time, and we danced so hard we collapsed afterward. There is a tradition among the Morris dancers that when members of another team are doing high steps of some sort -- leapers or splitters or something that involves getting as high in the air as possible -- you yell "higher!", particularly if the dancer is already as high in the air as the dancer can go. A very odd thing happened during our Sunday show dance, which is that people started yelling "higher" during our figures that are not in-the-air figures -- for example, our half-gyp, which is a figure that's about horizontal, not vertical movement. They were not joking, either. Then I saw this picture and understood why -- our line is not so great here, but look at this picture while considering that this is not at all an in-the-air figure; we are just getting ourselves into place. This, to me, is the Braggarts way.

Many of the moments that leave me feeling a great sense of joy involve sitting and singing with the folks I'd been dancing with. Bridgewater Morris Men from Portland is what is known as a "singing team" -- they go out and sing every week (which my team would do if there were a place to sing locally, but there is not). So they work on lots of songs and they love singing and during the day we were on a tour together we sang on the bus at all times the bus was moving.

On Sunday evening, after the two days of touring and the two nights of staying up until the wee hours doing pickup dancing -- after dinner but before the Sunday "skit night" -- some members of the Portland team sat on the porch of the lodge which was the Ale home base and started singing. Many of us heard the voices and joined them, and it was an extraordinarily peaceful and relaxing and powerful experience. Here is a picture of me leading a song on the porch, in a state of absolute bliss. This is during a chorus.

Back up the camera a little to see the view I had during the verses themselves.

Oh, there's so many more moments, each as wonderful as the next. And each person there has a similar set of moments to remember and delight in. But my hope is that these pictures and snippets of time give you some idea of what my weekend was like.

[Photos by Matt Tillotson and Amy Muldoon.]
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