Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Mythologizing the Braggarts

From the time we arrived in Toronto, even before anybody there had seen us dance, people spoke of us as a hot team, a good team, a team known for its athletic dancing style. I wasn't sure where this reputation came from, or even what I thought about it. There's something jarring to me about somebody describing anything I do, physically, as "athletic", although I am as strong of a bass drummer as you'll find on the march.

Even after we danced people continued to tell this story, to note in kind admiration that we're this good strong-dancing team. I have the feeling that we could have gone out for our show dance and tiptoed about to Ring-a-Round-a-Rosy and people would have said the same sorts of things, such is the power of expectation.

This is the sort of thing I'm talking about: dactyl wrote of her response on finding out that we'd be at the Ale: OMIGOD. RAMSEY'S BRAGGARTS. OMIGOD. (Imagine a "it's the Beatles!!!!!" sorta reaction here). Ramsey's Braggarts jump six feet in the air at the drop of a hat (or flick of a hanky), are amazingly precise, and frequently damn cute men too. You know, I want to argue the individual points, but hey, if that's what people want to say about us I should just go with it. We are, after all, the "braggarts".

I actually do understand why other Morris dancers would note the difficulty of our slow-music high-leaping style. The wonderful Bob Dupre of Handsome Molly (from Princeton New Jersey), a friend from previous Midwest Ales, said to me on Saturday morning, "So, have the Braggarts taken up a more reasonable dancing style yet?" Bob once said to us: "It looks wonderful, but why would you do that your bodies?" doctroid, on returning from the Ale, wrote in his livejournal: Ramsey's Braggarts danced a very high-up-in-the-air interpretation of Bledington. It made my knees hurt just watching.

Well, mine too, just walking up stairs.

I've looked at some of the pictures and videos taken at the Ale (in this case by xeger). Ok, so even I was impressed with some of this (those pictures in particular don't show us in the air, but team member Douglas has some pictures in which some of our members seem to be defying gravity, pictures that caused me to gasp). But even so, I found it a little embarrassing when fine dancers would make a point of coming up to me to praise my team's style, to speak of us as if we were some fancy special team. I would thank them, and add, baffled, "But it's just us!"

One of my problems is that there is an ironic-but-not-really machismo Morris dancer attitude that can characterize all-male teams, an attitude you can trace back to the Morris Ring in England. We are men! We dance like men! That is not in any way the attitude of my huggy sentimental team. In fact, when a longtime member of the Toronto Morris Men (whom I respect tremendously) came up to me to compliment this powerful dancing style my team displays I said, outright, "But we're none of us alpha males!" He responded, without a pause, "Maybe not, but you dance like alpha males."

That almost made sense.

But I've been thinking about it, and I have a different theory. It's true that my team dances hard and strong, in a style that allows you to dance as powerfully and work as hard as you can. It's also true that my team is very, very good at dancing with the music (in our odd near-syncopated stepping style), which means that at a good moment we are all high in the air together, hankies floating above us, and this is for sure flying. But there's something else that my team has that I believe is special: we look and act as if we are, indeed, a team. We don't begin a dance until we've looked around the set at each other and checked in. We engage our partners across the set. We challenge each other, as if each six-man dance was a two-man jig. And we smile at the end.

I think that people see this, or sense it somewhere, and I think that this is what they respond to. I don't feel we are as tight or as crisp of a team as we could be, or as were many of the teams we saw. But I think when other Morris dancers see something they like about a Morris team, they put it in the traditional terms of Morris: strong, precise, athletic.

But really, what this makes me want to do is to somehow live up to this reputation. Maybe this will be the winter I will see through a real training program.
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