Category Archives: Morris Dance

Encouragement

by Zoë Madonna

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Zoe, in blue.

In come I, an Intern, welcome or welcome not, sheltering from the polar vortex in Western Massachusetts and helping out at the CDSS office for my winter term project this year. I’m Zoe, I’m a junior at Oberlin College, and I’ve been dancing and singing since shortly after I started school there.

I don’t remember what or who exactly brought me to my first contra dance; someone had told me that it was a. fun, b. possibly relevant to my interests (I had started playing piano accordion a few months pre-college), and c. happening at the school gym on Friday night. I was only there for the last half of the dance, following a production of Waiting for Godot. I missed the beginner lesson and was therefore adrift on the floor; some people I knew from various other activities were there and asked me to dance. Initially I was terrified of messing up, of causing a traffic accident with another dancer, of being not fun to dance with. Unlike lindy hop, which I had begun to learn two months prior, my partners wouldn’t be stuck with clueless me for just three or four minutes, and the amount of damage I could do was significantly multiplied by the fact that contra required me to interact with everyone on the floor.

When I stopped looking at my feet after a few dances, I was pleasantly shocked by what I noticed passing in front of my eyes as I danced down the hall, allemanded my neighbor, and stumbled my way through my first attempts at a hey for four. These experienced dancers weren’t only tolerating the other newbies and me; they were smiling at us, helping us by way of a guiding hand or a point at what shoulder to pass. They were asking us to dance.

Like many of my generation, I’m quite wired into social media, and I once searched the “contra dance” tag on Tumblr to see if anyone else had posted stories or just snippets of their dancing lives. The most re-shared post on the tag was not wholly about dancing, but included a few sentences about the author’s negative experience wherein “barefoot dancers of all ages gave [the author and his friends] fierce stares and shouted directions at us when we failed to do what the dance dictated.” I have seen those same fierce stares directed at new dancers on multiple occasions in various scenes, when veteran dancers meet a newbie and see an obstacle to their enjoyment of the dance, rather than a future dance partner and community member. It takes courage to step onto a dance floor for the first time and meet the eyes of complete strangers, and when those first attempts are scoffed at or refused, one cannot expect that the new dancers will have any desire to return.

I left the gym that night riding on a cloud of endorphins kicked up by fiery fiddle notes, feet stamping the floor in unison, and the almost constant smiles of my partners and neighbors. If I had been met with the same reception as the discontented Tumblr author was, I cannot say whether or not I would have returned for the next dance (and the next, and the next, and…). Experienced dancers actively welcoming in new ones with a smile and a request to dance is the only way how the tradition will stay alive and evolve through my generation and all who will come later.

Small to Large Gifts—It All Helps!

by Rima Dael and Caroline Batson

Help us Help Teachers! CDSS + Valley Gives, Thursday 12/12/13, until midnight

CDSS VGIt’s Valley Gives Day, 12/12/13, the 24-hour e-philantrophy event! This year CDSS is raising funds to create online toolkits to help teachers and parents bring the rich heritage of North American and English traditional dance, music and song to more classrooms and communities. See recent blogs on CDSS’s website about why we think this is important.

Here’s what a gift, small or large, can do for us:

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Photo by Daniel Friedman

$12—Why give $12? Because today is 12/12! $12 is meaningful because it is about what one can spend on coffee easily in a week, if you’re getting regular coffee. If you’re getting lattes, $12 doesn’t get you through the whole week, but $12 is a meaningful commitment to help CDSS help teachers bring dance, music and song into classrooms.

$20—Dance, music and song are important in the lives of children. See Nils Fredland’s blog about teacher support. And this just in, we’ve got more requests from other schools to replicate the teacher training he just did with CDSS member David Wiley!

Erin Nolan_Karana and JuliaFWP2012$53—A tank of gas. We travel to speak to teachers and artists. CDSS Education Director, Pat MacPherson, used a tank of gas to go learn about the Common Core State Standards at a creativity conference where she met a professor from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA. At this conference there was learning and networking with teachers on how to use the Arts with the Common Core State Standards now adopted by most States.

$100—Online resources for teachers. We’ve talked to teachers who have asked us to provide them with online resources. Why online? It saves them time! Online resources will showcase teaching notes and how other teachers have used dance, music and song in their classrooms. Let’s make this happen for them!

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Photo by Paul Bestock

$250—We want to get with it, electronically! We have some great resources for teachers that exist in binder and booklet format, but need to embrace the 21st century to digitize and update these resources for use online.

$500—Tablets have become a great resource in the classroom. Not as heavy as a laptop, and a good way to read book, articles, research on the go and show videos. The e-book format is exciting for us as we envision a resource that will connect theory to practice and right on the same page a “how-to” video or audio! We’re excited to make this happen.

Donate before midnight! CDSS + Valley Gives

DART is coming to Amherst, MA, this weekend!

DART 2013Inspired by the Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT), the Dancing America Rapper Tournament (DART) is a weekend-long opportunity for rapper teams to compete, show off, and learn from each other. Judges, stationed in pubs, award ranks, prizes, and constructive critiques based on teams’ performances.

We are very excited to have this tournament in our area…check out the DART website for more information. And visit their Facebook page.

We wish all the teams participating — Flesh Wound, Northampton, MA (Host team); A Sworded Affair, Burlington, VT; Half Moon Sword, New York City, NY; Charles River Rapper, greater Boston, MA; Candyrapper, Sudbury, MA; Charm City Rapper, Baltimore, MD; Bubble Rapper, Carlisle, MA; Pocket Flyers, Sudbury, MA; Rust Belt, Oberlin, OH; No Apologies, Boston area, MA — the best of luck!

Legislative Testimony

by Rima Dael, CDSS Executive Director

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Rima and Sen. Connor Ives

This past Friday, Pat McPherson, Director of the CDSS Education Department, and I provided testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. State Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord) and Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives (D-Newburyport), Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee, are traveling around the state with fellow committee members to solicit ideas from the arts, cultural and tourism communities, and the general public, to help the Committee develop policies that strengthen arts, culture and tourism in Massachusetts.

Tourism is recognized as the third largest revenue producing industry in Massachusetts with a $3.6 billion payroll across 124,700 jobs. In 2011, 21.3 million people visited the state and spent $16.9 billion, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Tourist surveys consistently indicate that arts, culture and history are among the top reasons for choosing to visit our state. Nonprofit cultural organizations employ nearly 18,000 Massachusetts residents, generating $28 million in payroll taxes and $1.2 billion in annual in-state spending.

“Tourism and the arts bring Massachusetts to life,” said Atkins. “People come from all over the world to visit Walden Pond, Tanglewood, the Freedom Trail and our other internationally renowned destinations. Our artists, dancers, and musicians produce captivating works that produce jobs and showcase the creativity of our Commonwealth. On this tour, our Committee will explore the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Massachusetts, its impact on our economy and our communities, and ways the Legislature can help sustain it for future generations.”

Our primary goal of providing testimony was to raise the visibility of traditional dance, music and song in Massachusetts and showcase the good work of the Country Dance and Song Society over the past 98 years.

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Rima and Rep. Andrews

“I look forward to visiting different parts of the state and working with the Regional Tourist Councils to promote these areas and the attractions that they offer in an effort to encourage economic growth throughout the Commonwealth,” said Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives.

Senator O’Connor Ives and I shared a fun moment as fellow alums of Mt. Holyoke College. Rep. Andrews, a member of the committee, came up to ask advice from CDSS on thoughts and resources for bringing dance to a community in her district and engaging children and their families in participatory dance. Also in attendance were Linda Henry, CDSS Outreach & Grants Manager; Lynn Nichols, CDSS Webmaster; and CDSS member Alex Krogh-Grabbe of Amherst.

CDSS is working on creating toolkits to provide to members with best practices to engage local elected leaders to increase the visibility of traditional dance, music and song, and provide testimony on the value of our participatory arts in our communities. We thank the Massachusetts Cultural Council for their on-going support of our work and thanks to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development for their time visiting towns around Massachusetts.

 

Walking Into My Past

by Lily Kruskal Leahy

Morris dancing is something I grew up with. To me, it was as normal as fireworks on the 4th of July—it just came to me, like walking. I was, of course, “formally” taught by my dad, Tom Kruskal, who started a children’s morris team when I was 12 because I wanted to dance. And just as morris dance has been a constant in my life, the dance form itself has always been constant. It is a tradition that hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years.

However, in 2006, I watched something that made me more excited than I’d ever been about morris dancing. A long time dance friend, Jan Elliot, shared with my family a video of a morris dance show performed in England by a group called Morris Offspring. This group, led by Laurel Swift, was mostly made up of second generation morris dancers who had grown up just as I had, surrounded by morris dancing, and were continuing the tradition. However, they had done something completely new to this old tradition and had written new dances for far more people than the usual six. They used different tunes, figures and costumes and even omitted the traditional bells. I became transfixed and amazed. I wanted to be a part of something so innovative, but it didn’t happen. Life got in the way.

A few years later, on Monday night July 15th, 2013, I was lucky enough to be in the audience for “Rootbound,” a morris show performed by Maple Morris, a group of young, mostly second generation, morris dancers from the U.S. and Canada, and Morris Offspring who came over from England to participate. The show was the culmination of a cultural exchange between these two groups.

Maple Morris started as a group of young morris dancers who wanted to get together socially and to learn each other’s dances. They quickly became a large network of dancers putting together weekends of dancing, learning, and creating in many different locations. Around the same time, Laurel Swift, founder of Morris Offspring, was invited by Scott Higgs to teach morris at CDSS’s English & American Dance Week at Pinewoods. I had the great fortune to attend this week and was very excited to take her classes and meet the woman who had inspired me. I shared with Laurel my awe at her choreography and my vision of wanting to do something similar here. Two summers later, as the chair of CDS Boston’s 4th of July session, I invited her back to Pinewoods to teach. It was there that she met up with members of Maple Morris and started to brainstorm this cultural exchange.

While I never ended up becoming a part of this amazing show, I was honored to have had a small role in it. The story of “Rootbound” is that of how morris dance has been passed down through the generations. The characters of “the child” and “the fool” play vital roles in and amongst the dancers. The child sees morris dancing and after learning how, she becomes the teacher, and a new child takes her place. For those of us who grew up in the tradition, this is our story.

I will end with a Facebook post that I wrote the day after seeing “Rootbound.”

“Last night was like something out of a dream. When you move away from home, not only do you leave behind a place you love and family and friends, but you leave behind a community, a collective group of people that make up who you are, and you leave behind hobbies and passions. Last night all of those things came together for me in a way that doesn’t often happen anymore. As I walked into the Somerville Armory, excited to watch a much anticipated morris show, what I got was so much more. I walked into my past in which long lost faces swam before my eyes. Smiles greeted me at every turn, arms embraced me and I went through an almost waltz as I glided from hug to hug, greeting friend to friend. And as I scrambled to find my seat what unfolded before my eyes was truly awe inspiring, energizing, moving and riveting. It pained me not to be up there dancing and made me proud to know most of these young dancers–especially proud to watch my brother. And the story behind it all: my own story, all of our own stories, of the traditions passed down through the generations and embraced by this community–my community, although I may live far away. Thank you, Maple Morris, for the dream that was last night.”

Watch part of a dance, accompanied by Ian Robb’s singing (July 16, 2013).

Watch the full cast finale (July 16, 2013).

Lily Kruskal Leahy lives in Ireland with her husband and children and enjoys getting a chance to dance and going to CDSS Family Weeks when she comes home to the U.S.

CDSS’s English & American Dance Week = great contra and English country dancing!

And it starts THIS Saturday, August 10, at Pinewoods Camp, near Plymouth, MA. Join us!

Contra dance at E&A Week, Pinewoods Camp, MALook at the dance program—George Marshall calling contras, Gene Murrow leading English, and Scott Higgs calling English and American dances. Musicians? Oh, yeah! The amazing Jonathan Jensen, lydia ievins, Anna Patton, Richard Forest, and Night Watch (Naomi Morse, Elvie Miller, Owen Morrison).

Display dancing will definitely be on display, taught by Brits Tom Besford, Northwest morris, longsword and rapper sword dancing; Ian Robb, Cotswold morris; Stephanie Besford, English clog; and Alex Cumming, from the Southwest of England; and from Quebec, Yaëlle Azoulay is back to teach Quebecois Step Dance and a class in body percussion. Ian will lead singing classes, Elvie the dance band class. And if that’s not enough exhilaration, there will be several themed music and dance parties: English ceilidh, French Canadian soiree, pub night and Irish music/set dances. Plus the usual great food, wonderful community, beautiful location, musical jams, spontaneous singing, and lots of smiling.

CDSS English & American Week, Pinewoods Camp, MABring your instruments, singing voices and dancing shoes, and join program director Owen Morrison and his talented staff for a marvelous week! Whoo-hoo!!

Class descriptions, staff and schedule

Registration

Fees

Photos by Doug Plummer

 

Dance, Sing and Play in WV

dyskant,b tr07 dsk1 1877Not doing anything special next week? Then join us at CDSS’s Adult and Family Week at Timber Ridge, in the foothills of WV—it begins this Saturday, August 10, and it IS special!

N7. Couples Promenading Use One U IMG_1532We like to say that participation and involvement are contagious at the week. It’s a terrific program for adults, children, families and young adults, featuring a mix of English and American dance, border morris, clog, song, music, arts and crafts, nature walks and more. Adults participate in their classes while children enjoy age-appropriate dance and music options, and everyone joins together twice daily for the All-Camp Gatherings and at mealtimes. dyskant,b tr07 dsk1 2967Join program directors Gaye and Rachel Fifer, and their fantastic staff, for a relaxing and exhilarating week.

Class info and schedule

Staff

Register

Fees

Two special MINI-COURSES are at the week as well:

view 2 1353Contra Dance Callers Course, led by the excellent Rick Mohr, is an intensive calling course for advanced beginner through intermediate callers who have a knack for some skills, a commitment to work on the others, and are eager to take their calling to the next level. Learn a lot, share a lot, and have fun doing it!

Community & Classroom Dance Leaders Course, led by longtime camp favorite DeLaura Padovan, with musicians Steve Hickman and John Devine, will have abundant dancing, as well as discussion/processing time, to really integrate shared experiences and take them back to their home communities.

See you there!

Scenic photo courtesy Timber Ridge Camp; all other photos by Barbara Dyskant

“Rootbound”

by Nathaniel Smith

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Maple Morris; photo by Sarah Pilzer

Maple Morris & Morris Offspring present Rootbound:
Celebrating the life of English folk dance in North America

with music by Ian Robb, Amelia Mason, Eric McDonald and Emily Troll
original lyrics by Susan Cooper

July 15, The Armory Performance Hall, 191 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA
July 19, The Berkeley Church, 315 Queen St E., Toronto, Canada

 

 

 

Rootbound_thumbMaple Morris (North America) and Morris Offspring (United Kingdom) are thrilled to invite you to their collaborative theatrical Morris dance production, Rootbound. A blend of vigorous dancing, musical exploration, vibrant costumes, and creative storytelling, Rootbound will tell the story of a dancer’s journey in the North American Morris dance community.

Morris is a surviving English traditional folk dance that has been performed since the 1400s and has been associated with seasonal and harvest rituals. The dance is vigorous and athletic and the high leaps are accented by the use of white handkerchiefs and bells. Laurel Swift of Morris Offspring describes Morris dancing as “a complex and energetic art form demanding athleticism, coordination, and musicality from its performers, expected to display both discipline and individuality at any moment. It is rich in material, forms and movement, rarely tapped by the wider arts world yet offering a unique source of artistic possibilities.”

Maple Morris is a community of young dancers from across North America who are dedicated to promoting creativity, leadership, and continued excellence in future generations of the North American Morris Revival. In 2011, Maple traveled to the UK to collaborate with England’s foremost innovators, Morris Offspring. The result was the production Must Come Down, a stage performance showcasing Morris dancing at its most inventive.

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Morris Offspring; photo by Alan Cole

The return leg of this collaboration this summer will see Maple Morris joined by Morris Offspring in a brand new stage production in Boston and Toronto. Rootbound will feature music by the powerful singer Ian Robb (of the folk trio Finest Kind: www.ianrobb.com), Amelia Mason, Eric McDonald, and Emily Troll, words from acclaimed author Susan Cooper, and new Morris dance creations by Maple Morris and Morris Offspring.

Beer and wine will be available at both performances. Premium ($40) and general admission ($25) tickets are available at maplemorris.com/rootbound/.

For more information, visit our website: www.maplemorris.com

Rootbound is supported in part by the Country Dance and Song Society’s Outreach Funds.

Addendum: See the Boston Globe 7/11/13 online article about the event, http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater-art/2013/07/11/review-rootbound-maple-morris-and-morris-offspring/AVgLw9uZKjyldbKakqJeUI/story.html.