PAUL LICENSE: Splinters will fly as Morris steps out

Here we go: Morris men in full flight. Picture: Holly Allen.
Here we go: Morris men in full flight. Picture: Holly Allen.
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“DON’T say this aloud,” confided a pal one day.

“But he’s a Morris Dancer.”

There was a quick, conspiratorial flash of the eyes to either side.

And then he gave me a sly smile.

He was only joking. But he still felt the need to let me know that it was a joke.

Just in case...

You see, Morris Dancing (I feel compelled to endow it with capital letters to bestow upon this noble art the dignity which, I fear, it has been denied for too long) is very funny to some people.

No, let’s be honest. It’s very funny in most people’s eyes.

And I can see why.

Big, burly, bearded blokes skipping around with bells around their ankles, sticks in their hands and flapping hankies wildly in the air.

But I have to confess that I quite enjoy watching Morris Dancers in full flow.

You see, I am something of a nerd when it comes to traditional English dance music, particularly when squeezed out of an asthmatic melodeon.

It is jolly. It brings a smile to my face and I suspect to many other people’s faces too.

And that sight of ungainly fellows dancing their hearts out is also uplifting.

There may even be a touch of envy. At school, we were taught various country dance steps and I would shuffle unceremoniously around the school hall, one arm around a girl in my class, to the clank of a piano.

You may have gathered from this brief description that I was not very good at it.

Two left feet and all that.

Still struggle to tap my foot rhythmically, if I am being honest.

So there is some admiration on my part when I see a bloke, who clearly enjoys a pint or three judging by his waistband, dancing nimbly while still managing to slam a stick against his partner’s with grim determination.

You must have seen the splinters fly at this particular manoeuvre. Frightening.

This is Real Men’s Dancing.

But is it Real Englishmen’s Dancing?

Yes, it has become associated with English traditions and it is one of the few instantly recognisable English activities we roll out on St George’s Day to show our patriotism.

However, there is some dispute over where the term originated.

There is no mention of Morris Dancing earlier than the late 15th century.

And it is widely accepted that the term is derived from Moorish Dance and is possibly dates back to 1492 when Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille succeeded in driving the Moors out of Spain. In celebration, a pageant known as a Moresca was devised.

I don’t know about you but I feel a bit disappointed to learn that we may have borrowed Morris Dancing from the Spaniards.

So where will this leave us come St George’s Day, when we somewhat self-consciously declare our Englishness?

I’ve said this before but it deserves repetition: we don’t do patriotism very well in England. Somehow we think it isn’t, well, English, to boast of our achievements and cultural identity.

But I think it is time we changed. It is time we cried in praise of Harry, England and St George.

And, despite the danger of strains of Spain, I hope there is a Morris team around to help me practice rhythmic toe-tapping.