Morris Dancing And Other Cancelled Events

morris-dancing-cancelled events

Image of Morris dancers at Mt Coot-tha (2019) by Mary Brettell

Most of us have one social activity we love to share with like-minded people, be it Morris dancing, concerts, plays, ballet, rodeos, stock car racing, cricket, playing or watching football (all codes) or participating in surfing carnivals or golf tournaments.

Perhaps camp drafting is your thing (nothing happening here); there are no country shows or rodeos and the list of cancelled music events and festivals goes on for pages.

Even if your interest is excentrique (a dozen friends gathering for dinner and Chateau de Chazelles while trying to speak French for two hours), COVID-19 restrictions have put paid to it.

I might just add, before developing the theme, I’m puzzled why the horse racing industry has not come under much scrutiny for its lack of attention to social distancing. Horse racing, trots and even greyhound racing have continued without disruption throughout COVID-19. Sure, there are no crowds in attendance, but just envisage a typical blanket finish in a horse race: a nose, a neck and half a head. Pity the poor jockeys at the back; copping all that flying sweat, saliva and horse drool. That’s not social distancing, folks. As animal rights group PETA rightly observes, “staff members at a typical race meeting include trainers, jockeys, vets, strappers, farriers, stewards, handlers, and stable and kennel staff. “They’re required to be in close proximity, and many travel considerable distances to attend.”  (Nothing to do with gambling revenue, of course. Ed)

But as we were saying about cancelled events, Queensland’s Morris dancers called off today’s traditional May Day event.

Every year on May 1, dancers gather on hilltops at dawn to welcome the sun. Morris dancing is a 14th century English tradition which lives on, not only in the UK, but in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.

This was the topic of my first FOMM, six years ago. It was an eye-witness account of pre-dawn shenanigans atop Brisbane’s best-known spot to view the city. It was cold, dark and showery, but nothing could extinguish the enthusiasm of musicians and dancers and their loyal followers.

Morris dancers clash sticks and bump bellies, symbolising the battle between the seasons. Morris men often wear hats with flowers, and “tatter coats” and many paint their faces. Dancers use either garlands of flowers or hankies for the gentle dances. But  there are as many variations in dress and dance style as there are Morris ‘sides’ or teams.

Brisbane Morris musician and dancer Nicole Murray told FOMM that local dancers would not be congregating at Mt Coot-tha this year, the first no-show for at least 40 years.

“But we are marking the occasion,” she said. “Emma (Nixon) and I recorded a version of Princess Royal (a traditional dancer tune). Everyone is dancing a jig at dawn and filming it. The aim is to do a stitched-together video. I hope that will be the outcome, anyway.”

Amongst other things, COVID-19 has postponed attempts by those who aspire to topple world records for mass participations. World records of this nature are many and varied – mass gatherings of Peruvian folk dancers, people wearing Akubra-style hats, Elvis impersonators, people dressed as Harry Potter, the longest River Dance line – the list goes on.

In 2018, the Potty Morris and Folk Festival set the record for the largest Morris dance in Sheringham (UK) with 369 dancers (33 Morris sides).

(Ed: Bob reels about clutching his head screaming ‘the bells, the bells”)

Nicole Murray’s partner John Thompson penned a song a few years ago which starts: “Dance up the sun on a fine May morning, dance up to sun to call in the Spring…” and traces the English tradition that spawned this annual event. The ritual insists that if Morris dancers don’t dance up the sun, it will never rise again.

May Day also commemorates those who struggled to win the right to fair pay and an eight-hour day. Perhaps that is one reason British Morris dancers arced up last year when the UK government arbitrarily decided to shift the date of the May long weekend (in 2020).

Meanwhile back home, a survey showed that Australians are anxious, bored and lonely as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions.

This may not apply so much to the over-65 cohort, many of whom will tell you they routinely experience anxiety, boredom and loneliness. For example, the highlight of my week was queuing up at 7.15am for my annual flu shot, along with 150 others over-65s. (We stayed at least three walkers apart).

Freedom of movement restrictions are sending some people a bit bonkers. Look how much trouble these rugby league players are in, not only breaking curfew but sharing their co-mingling activities on social media.

Young people are finding self-isolation and social restrictions tough. I offer as evidence the chart that shows more women aged 20-29 have been infected with COVID-19 than any other age group.

We have noticed, on our evening strolls along the river with the dog, increasing numbers of runners, seemingly out for more than routine exercise. Most people whizz by at one or two metres with a cheery “G’day”. Some give us a wide berth, occasionally muttering “1.5 metres mate.” A solitary young man can be seen repeatedly whacking a hockey ball into the net, not missing very often. One can only guess, in these uncertain times, at the level of frustration felt by people who enjoy team sports of any kind.

Even though I have been a rugby league fan for some 40 years, I disagree with the National Rugby League’s decision to restart the professional season in late May. It is irresponsible, fraught with risk and seems to be done for the sake of TV rights, betting agencies, and advertising contracts (not forgetting contractual obligations with players and coaches).

As is often demonstrated, the NRL cannot control what goes on in the lives of young athletes with high disposable incomes. What’s worse is the sense of entitlement the season re-launch implies. It may not be so well known that all amateur and semi-professional footballers (and netball players), were stood down in March. There are no signs at all of those competitions resuming any time soon.

We all may deeply resent the forced curtailment of our chosen sport/hobby/social activity. But it is being done for noble reasons, demonstrated every day with a notable drop-off in new COVID-19 cases. This weekend will be the first big test (in Queensland), as some restrictions are eased. For our part, we may visit Queen Mary Falls, located in a national park some 40 kms from home, just inside the 50km maximum travel allowance. As it’s in a national park, the dog will have to say home. He won’t like it, but rules are rules, eh?

As for the Morris no-show, several people who follow the tradition suggested Morris folk dance in their own driveways, just like on Anzac Day. Accordion and bells at 5am, LOL!

Here’s Nicole’s Murray’s song, Let Winter Begin, about that very magical moment from a southern hemisphere perspective.Let Winter Begin

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