Just a reminder that New Year’s eve is the last day our gift memberships are available with our holiday discount. A great gift for students, young families, new dancers, the musicians or organizers in your community — the possibilities are endless! Support CDSS and the work we do.
The holidays deserve a bit of fun, so here’s a video from across the pond. It’s a selection from the BBC show Argumental where teams comedically debate a proposition, in this case: Morris dancing is cool. Special guests are London’s Greensleeves Morris Men. Please note the content is slightly PG-13 rated, and not just because of the morris dancing.
The proposition doesn’t quite win out, but it’s clearly close. Compelling arguments are made on both sides; I’ll admit it’s hard to argue with the point that morris dancing is indeed “the least stealthy of the martial arts”.
More reflectively, it’s revealing to see something folky through the vantage point of mainstream coverage, particularly when that coverage is neither entirely reverent nor mocking. This clip gives us that unusual vantage, with good fun being poked against the background of a fair amount of respect, from both sides, for morris and morris dancers. And after all, who can disagree with the ultimate conclusion that if morris dancers are not cool, they certainly are hot?
Are there other interesting examples of mainstream media attention to traditional dance/music/song that come to mind? What do see in the relationship between the traditional and mainstream? Is morris the least stealthy of the martial arts? Your comments welcome.
Working quietly behind the scenes, Mr. Pickow documented the bubbling cultural ferment of New York City, and in particular Greenwich Village, where he and Ms. Ritchie lived after their marriage in 1950. For Elektra Records and other labels, he photographed folk singers like Josh White, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins and, of course, Ms. Ritchie, as well as jazz and pop artists like Little Richard, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Nina Simone and Louis Jordan.
As the Times relates, George met his wife at a square dance in 1948 and became an important photographer of folk singers. He also manufactured dulcimers for a decade. He collaborated with his wife on a number of books, including providing the wonderful photographs in Jean Ritchie’s Swapping Song Book.
Larry Unger has more miles under his belt than just about any other contra musician. For more than 25 years, he’s been on the road playing countless dances and composing hundreds of tunes. Recently his band Notorious — with Eden MacAdam-Somer (fiddle), Sam Bartlett (mandolin), Mark Hellenberg (percussion), and Mark Murphy (bass) — released their third album, The Road to Damascus. I sat down with Larry recently and asked him a few quick questions….
1. What music are you listening to at the moment?
Ozarks Fiddle Music. I bought this great book and CD, It’s fantastic! There are a lot of tune books in the world, but this is well-done, I think.
Etta Baker: Banjo. I’ve been listening to it over and over again, recently. She was a blues guitarist that I knew and I used to visit her. She was known for her guitar playing, but I knew she played the banjo and thankfully there are enough recordings of it.
2. What are a few of your all-time favorite albums?
Tour of Scotland by Randy Miller. When I used to play with Rodney [Miller], I used to always ask him for that because I knew he played it. Of course, depending on the fiddler, I always ask for the Opera Reel. And of course Money Musk when the opportunity presents itself.
4. What’s one of the all-time favorite tunes you’ve written?
Two Rivers. It’s an old one. It’s 25 years old. I still like it though.
5. What’s an instrument that you don’t play but wish you could?
Well I don’t play the fiddle all the time! [Laughs.] I hold it in my hands and scratch away. As far as something that I really wish I could play that I don’t play at all, that would be Tejano music, Tex-Mex accordion like Flaco and Santiago Jiménez play. I just love that kind of music. That and the Cajun accordion.
6. In five words, describe your musical style.
“Can’t. Be. Done. Not. Today.” [Laughs.] “A. Little. Bit. Of. Everything.” Someone once said something about me, in a newspaper article or something, and I think it’s pretty good. As far as contra dance playing, they said, I had “the right hand of an old time player, but the left hand of a Celtic player.” I like that, but that’s too many words.
While checking out efdss.org the other day, I found a cool resource for teachers who are interested in incorporating traditional English song and singing games into their curriculum. Fun with Folk was created as part of the Take 6 Project, funded in England by the Heritage Lottery Fund and delivered to EFDSS in 2008-9.
Fun with Folk features 15 songs from Lancashire, Hampshire, and London with words and audio. And most importantly, there are extensive Teacher’s Notes with objectives, activities, local study suggestions, and websites for each region’s songs in the categories of: history, literacy, music, dance, physical education, art and design, and math.
These are fun, easy-to-use, colorful and kid-friendly resources. My favorite part was the staff room which addresses that age-old concern: I can’t sing!! You DO want to get over that, and it helps you learn how.
I gave a keynote address to the Southeast Dance Leadership Conference in North Carolina in October of this year. I wanted to show the lively and innovative state of change of contemporary life, and to contrast that to similar change in the past. I chose three videos to make the point.
First, the Demon Barbers Roadshow, a performing group in England combining superb English clog, morris and sword with hip-hop:
The concept, as they say in the video, is “to try to see the similarity between traditional dance and modern dance, especially street dance and clog. Quite soon we realized that a lot of footwork was very, very similar.” This collaboration between traditions of dance — and, you’ll notice, music — yields a discovery that they aren’t so different. In a sense, of course, morris is street dance, too.
On our side of the pond, another kind of fusion is going on with contra dancing right now, as in this video from Seattle:
Techno contra: hard, driving beat, sampled music, glow sticks, hot and sweaty dancing, and new moves. In addition to great camera work from Doug Plummer, there’s another reason I highlight this video in particular. Techno contras emerged, as much as you can pinpoint these things, in the Asheville, NC area only a couple of years ago. Amazing how widely it has spread in that short time!
Techno contra is one current manifestation of taking tradition and playing with it, but here’s the 1964 version:
Nelson, NH with Dudley Laufman calling. It’s an encounter between generations of dancers: there are the old-timers and then there are the newer, mostly younger dancers. How joyful and familiar it is to watch their interactions, all contained within a single community. It’s essentially the same experience we have still. In the Nelson video, you can see some of the traditions that were changing back then, but you’re also seeing what’s happening now. I love how we now take for granted things I remember as radical to us 30 or even 20 years ago. Twirls of all kinds. The twos joining in Petronella!
The fact that we have fusion is nothing new. Often you are in the middle of it and you don’t notice it until something unexpected happens. But in truth, the unexpected keeps happening. Traditions will adapt. The forms will change.
Are techno contra and hip-hop morris part of our future? In both cases I’m sure the answer is “definitively maybe” or “sort of”. It’s likely some elements will make their way into the run-of-the-mill, as happened with swing moves in contra dancing. Both will influence our traditional arts but won’t become those arts. Even techno contra is morphing, with people saying, “That’s nice, but I want to try taking it in yet a different direction.”
I find all of this fascinating and exciting. The chaos that comes from all this change is a very good sign. It’s a sign our traditions are alive.
So, how does all this speak to your experiences? What changes and innovations have you seen? Which are on the horizon? And, of course, what aspects of our traditions remain unchanged?