Wendy Wright explains the enduring appeal of Morris dancing
For many people the image of Morris dancing is bearded men waving hankies, dancing outside a pub in the countryside. It will come as a surprise to those people to find that Walthamstow is the home of a women’s Morris side who prefer a tea shop to a pub!
Blackhorse and Standard Women’s Morris was formed 35 years ago in 1981, as a result of two friends spending a week at Sidmouth Folk Festival. After seeing other Morris sides they decided to start their own back home in Walthamstow.
We dance ‘North West’ Morris, which originates from Lancashire and Cheshire. Dancing began as a hobby for the mill workers and the dances were performed for carnival processions and holiday festivals. Clogs were the normal footwear at the time and today their sound is an important part of the dance, making it impossible to perform on grass. The equipment we use derives from what was cheap and available at the time. We have some genuine mill bobbins decorated with ribbons, as well as sticks with ribbons and hooped garlands.
We practise weekly during term time at St Gabriel’s Family Centre, Havant Road, Walthamstow. It’s a different and friendly way of keeping fit. As one member puts it: “After my first evening I was hooked. I love everything about it. The music, the exercise, the mental stimulation of learning and remembering the steps and patterns. But most of all, being part of a group with a common interest in keeping alive an old tradition. It gives you a warm feeling to be doing something that generations have done before you. It being all-women is a bonus too.”
We have danced in many interesting locations. In 2012 we were delighted to be invited to dance in the Olympic Park during the Paralympic Games. We have performed at many of the famous London landmarks, including the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, outside St Paul’s Cathedral and Covent Garden. We were the first Morris side to dance in Portcullis House – part of the Houses of Parliament. Just as enjoyable are the local fetes and festivals when it is fun to have a ‘joining in dance’ where the audience of all ages can have a go.
After reading about Blackhorse and Standard Women’s Morris side I hope you feel inspired to have a go!
If you would like to take part in a Morris dancing session for women, sessions are held every Wednesday evening at St Gabriel’s Family Centre, Havant Road, Walthamstow, from 8pm. No experience is necessary. For more information:
Call 020 8527 2926 or 020 8514 8771