APF Chapter 5: Thoughts and Themes [Prev Page] [Index] [Next Page]

...and Dance

When you mention 'Discworld' and 'dance' in the same breath, you can only be talking about one thing: Morris Dancing, a subject that most non-Brits will be almost completely in the dark about. Brewer has this to say on the subject:

Morris Dance: brought to England in the reign of Edward III, when John of Gaunt returned from Spain. In the dance, bells were jingled, and staves or swords clashed. It was a military dance of the Moors or Moriscos, in which five men and a boy engaged; the boy wore a 'morione' or head-piece, and was called Mad Morion.

Which is interesting, but doesn't really explain anything in a 20th century context. Luckily, a newsgroup like alt.fan.pratchett attracts contemporary Morris Dancers like flies, and for the rest of this section I will give the floor to Rich Holmes:

"In a number of books (including Strata, Guards! Guards!, Reaper Man, and Lords and Ladies) Pratchett refers to morris dancing. These allusions may be lost on the typical American reader. Picture, then, six men in white shirts and trousers, decorated with ribbons, wearing bells on their legs, in a two-by-three formation -- the men, not the bells. To a tune played on fiddle or squeezebox, they dance up and down, back and forth, gesturing with big white handkerchiefs in their hands -- or, maybe, clashing yard-long willow sticks with one another. That's morris dancing, or at least the species of morris dancing that was done in the late 19th century in the Cotswolds region of England.

It's also done today, throughout the English-speaking world (though in the US it's not exactly an everyday sight), these days by women's teams and mixed teams as well as by men. There are several hundred morris teams in England as well as 170 or so in the US and Canada and God knows how many in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and other odd places.

As for where it came from, and when, and what it all means, no one really knows. Some of its roots seem to go back to the European continent sometime in or before the 15th century. Similar, possibly related dances were and are found in Europe and even as far away as India. For a while in the late 19th and early 20th centuries they were commonly claimed by folklorists to be a remnant of a pre-Christian fertility rite performed by a male priesthood; there's really no hard evidence to support such a theory, though.

Terry Pratchett tells us he's "never waved a hankie in anger" nor knows any morris dancers personally, but that he finds the morris dance kind of fascinating.

Those interested can contact either Tom Keays (htkeys@syr.edu) or Rich Holmes (rsholmes@suhep.phy.syr.edu) about the Morris Dancing Discussion List. You knew there was an ulterior motive here, didn't you?"

There is also a web page for the Morris Dancing Discussion List. The URL is: <http://web.syr.edu/~hytelnet/mddl/>.

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