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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 18:19 GMT
Dancers urged to make the leap
By Huw Williams
BBC Radio Four's Scotland reporter

Neil Bayfield and Stu Ashton
Neil Bayfield and Stu Ashton in action

Banchory Morris Men - and they are all men - are almost all ex-pats from south of the border.

The group was founded in 1975, when the rapidly expanding oil business meant many English families moving to Scotland.

But the original founding members are now moving away, and getting older, and they say Scots seem too embarrassed to join them.

Neil Bayfield, one of the mainstays of the Aberdeenshire group, told me it was "certainly difficult to get Scotsmen to join. We have got one or two, but they're thin on the ground".

John Cairns, who is a new recruit, told me that going to the weekly practice was "a good way to get out of doing the washing up!"
Some might say that is not too surprising, given that it means dressing up in silly clothes, wearing bells, and hitting sticks in time to accordion music.

And because of the impression most people have, that it is a totally English custom.

Certainly the most commonly seen form seems to have originated in the Cotswolds, as some kind of fertility ritual.

And there are written references to Morris Dancing from the 1500s, making it clear that by that time it was already regarded as something ancient.

No-one even knows how it got its name. Some claim it is a corruption of the word "Moorish", showing that its origins were in Africa.

It may refer to the practice of dancers disguising their faces with burnt cork.

It might also come from the latin word "moris", which means custom, or tradition.

Don French
Don French provides the music
Certainly the Morris Men say there was indigenous Morris Dancing in Scotland, until the early seventeenth century.

Neil Bayfield said it was banned by the Scottish kirk for being too much fun.

But the group has been doing all it can to revive it, with new tunes in their repertoire like "Banks Of The Dee" and "Banchory Bill" alongside such English dances as "Shave The Donkey" and "Old Woman Toss'd Up".

The Banchory group, or "side", meets every Tuesday night at the village hall in Crathes, a few miles east of Banchory in Aberdeenshire.

John Cairns, who is a new recruit, told me that going to the weekly practice was "a good way to get out of doing the washing up!"

At the moment, the group is rehearsing for the annual Mayday tour, which will see dancers performing in Stonehaven, Arbroath, Dundee and St Andrews.

But they say it could be their last, unless they get new members soon.

John Cairns said it would be a "great shame", if the group did have to close.

So, if you fancy trying out to be the "Squire", the "bagman", the "foreman", or "The Fool", they would be delighted to hear from you.

The dancers say it is cheap, good exercise, great fun, and - they say - if you fail to enjoy the dancing much, you are sure to enjoy the "apres-morris", otherwise known as going to the pub afterwards.



Confessions of a morris dancer
05 Jun 02 |  UK News

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