Iconic British Things No.14: Morris Dancing

Cotswold morris men

Some people think being tough is all about swaggering around smugly, as if inviting people to hit you in the face and smash their feeble fists into rattling mush. Some people thing being tough is about being the biggest alpha creature in any given room, always making sure that your needs are met and that your opinion is heard first and loudest.

I beg to differ. Those other forms of toughness are all a front, as far as I can see. The real hardcases think nothing of dressing up all in white, putting ribbons all over themselves, tying bells around their knees, and meeting up with a few friends to perform a strange skippy dance which sometimes involves whacking people over the head with a leather balloon and sometimes involves whacking great broomsticks together or dancing over interlocking swords…in PUBLIC.

It’s easy not to give a stuff when you’re cool and surly, people expect that. What if you’re taking part in one of the most derided traditional events, something which is giggled at openly whenever it happens, and STILL not caring? That’s like Eminem times Axl Rose times Madonna, in a smock and bells.

Watch this. You can see this in the car parks and civic squares of most rural towns in England, if you’re careful and patient enough (and it’s not raining):

At first glance it can seem a little baffling, and it’ll take a lot more than just one glance to make any kind of sense of it, so here’s a quick (note: not quick) guide to what it is they are doing.

The point is, it’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years (although it doesn’t seem to be pagan or pre-Christian, as some people claim), and as with all long-kept traditions, it seems baffling and maybe even a little silly from the outside, it wasn’t designed to look good on Facebook, it’s part ritual, part celebration, part nonsense and part wonder, and it is entirely immune to mockery. This is because the people who do it and commit themselves wholeheartedly have no cool to lose, and this, perversely, makes them amazing.

And look, here’s proof that morris dancing is undergoing a full-on urban renewal:

(erm…)

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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