We have a tradition* of releasing a silly story each April Fools’ Day.
Mostly they get a few chuckles on Facebook, except for the time BBC Radio Sheffield invited us on to talk about the impact of Brexit on morris dancing. We were very kind and told them it was an April Fools’ before going live.
(*meaning we’ve done it more than twice)
Sheffield folk dancers embroiled in ‘Boris the morris dancer’ partygate scandal
A Sheffield folk dance group have found themselves at the centre of the latest alleged 10 Downing Street Covid-19 lockdown contraventions, this time relating to an illegal morris dance or ‘team building work event’.
According to a source close to Downing Street, the so-called ‘Hankygate’ scandal revolves around several dance sessions that allegedly took place during the first lockdown in May 2020. Five Rivers Morris, from Sheffield, were invited to run the practices for “up to ten people”, which were accommodated by “moving the big table” in the Cabinet Room.
At the time of the alleged practices, morris sides up and down the country were unable to meet to perform in public or practice due to the Covid-19 lockdown measures then in place. Indeed, many sides are only just beginning to perform again after over two years of enforced inactivity.
It is alleged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself, along with several of his closest aides and “at least one other cabinet member” took part in the morris practices, which were badged a “work meeting” to circumvent restrictions. Five Rivers Morris are alleged to have provided a musician, bells and hankies. It is said sticks were not allowed as they did not feel the participants could be trusted with them. No drinks were served.
An anonymous Downing Street source said:
“The events described were work team building events.The dance session was extremely well received and all participants were very eager to learn, although there was far more enthusiasm on show than the grace and beauty you would expect from a typical morris dance.
“To think of the things and people the Cabinet Room has witnessed; Walpole, Pitt the Younger, Churchill – and now we can add the Prime Minister capering around to Speed the Plough to its illustrious history.”
An opposition spokesperson was quoted as saying:
“I wish I was surprised by this. It’s like some kind of Black Joak’”
A spokesperson for Five Rivers Morris added:
“These allegations are quite clearly absurd. There is no way we would have considered travelling to London at a time of such national emergency, let alone provide dance instruction to a bunch of rank amateurs – who also don’t know how to morris dance.
“We all know that morris dancing is a fundamental part of the social fabric of the country, something we all take part in for fun and relaxation; not something that can be passed off as a ‘work event’. We have had an extremely successful recruitment year and can’t wait to be back out performing, so we really don’t need to become embroiled in yet another government controversy. And actually, there was plenty of beer to go round.”
Virtual morris dance practice causes £8000-worth of damage
A group of Sheffield morris dancers are cancelling their virtual practices after the first session caused over £8000-worth of damage.
Five Rivers Morris introduced the new virtual practices after mass gatherings were banned because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Sessions were to take place via Zoom from dancers’ own living rooms, but that plan has now been abandoned following a calamitous start.
Simon Whitbred, Squire of Five Rivers Morris, said: “Our members have been really missing dancing so we decided to see what we could do from our own homes. It was a bit of a disaster to be honest. We did not expect everyone to try clashing sticks via their laptop screens. And when someone performed an over-exuberant split caper and nearly garroted themself with their hanky and a low-hanging light fitting, we decided to call it a night.”
In total, the session destroyed six laptops, three light fittings, several windows and two television sets. One dancer was also hospitalised after slipping on a toy car and a pet dog had a lucky escape when it choked on an errant bell.
The team are now turning their attention to writing a dance which can be performed in accordance with strict social distancing measures. Provisionally titled “Containment Billy”, dancers will never pass closer than 2.5 metres from each other, whilst 3m-long morris sticks and haz-mat suits specially adapted to allow bells to be attached will keep performers safe.
Simon added: “We’ll see how the new dance goes. We don’t want to do anything that puts anyone at risk.”
“We’re not worried about any potential audience as no one wants to come within ten-foot of a morris dancer at the best of times.”
FOI request reveals impact of Brexit on traditional morris dance
A freedom of information (FOI) request to the Department for Culture, Digital & Sport has laid bare the likely impact of Brexit on one of the country’s favourite pastimes; morris dancing.
The request, submitted by Sheffield-based Five Rivers Morris, revealed that the government department has been looking into the risks and opportunities for traditional folk dance arising from Britain’s exit from the EU.
The FOI request has unearthed concerns including audience numbers, participation, international exchanges and even the impact on different aspects of morris kit after Brexit. The Department’s conclusion was that “…Britain’s exit from the EU was likely to cause significant damage to morris dance, [but]… the pastime was robust and could even grow in popularity due to a rise in interest in national identity.”
Commenting on the results of the FOI request, James Merryclough, Squire of Five Rivers Morris, said: “We are pleased that the impact of Brexit is being taken seriously by the government. Morris dancing is a much-loved tradition and it would be terrible if its importance was overlooked during the Brexit fallout.
“Much of what the FOI revealed is no surprise to us in the morris world, but the opportunity to use bendy sticks again will be welcome news to many morris sides.”
The Department has looked into the following areas of concern:
It is possible that lower international tourist numbers may have an impact on folk festivals, a key performance space for morris dance. This may result fewer invites for teams to perform at festivals, where they are often given free tickets. This would have a resulting economic knock-on effect on festival host towns; the drinks trade in particular would be hard hit. However, more domestic tourism may offset any loss in international visitors from an economic perspective, and may also have further positive benefits discussed below.
More people taking holidays within the British Isles may lead to greater exposure to morris dance and interest in taking part. An explosion in home-grown morris talent is possible. An observable rise in national identity may also result in increased interest in participating in morris dance. However, there is a risk that the pastime is co-opted in nationalist campaigns, which would be against the wishes of the vast majority of current participants.
Anecdotally, foreign tourists make a up a large percentage of those who stop to watch morris dancing and seem far more interested in its history and tradition than natives. A drop in international tourists would therefore be extremely detrimental to audience numbers and dancers may find they are performing to no one at all. Online streaming of performances is recommended in this situation.
Morris dancing does not attract any national or local government investment. This is unlikely to change.
International travel and exchange programme
The ERASMMI (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of Morris Individuals) would cease to function after Brexit. It is possible that other exchanges might occur on an ad-hoc basis, but the overall impact on the international exchange of morris ideas and techniques is likely to be severe and possibly terminal to fledgling morris teams in areas with no local expertise. Overseas travel to international folk events is also likely to be negatively impacted. This will result in a lack of representation for England at such events and will deny international audiences the experience of watching live morris dancing.
The UK refused to sign the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, meaning no British folk dance traditions are recognised by the organisation’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. There seems to be little appetite to revisit this decision after Brexit and morris dance will therefore continue lack the protection and significance accorded by being on the register.
A number of items of morris kit may be affected by Brexit.
Bells are likely to decrease in quality due to increased imports of Chinese steel.
The tariff level on imported cotton is currently unknown, but is likely to fall particularly in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This could result in cheaper hankies.
Traditional clog making has been recognised as an at-risk heritage skill in the UK. A renewed interest in national culture may give a boost to these skills and make clogs more readily available than at present.
A relaxation of health and safety rules following Brexit will allow for sharper swords to be used in ‘rapper’ and ‘longsword’ dancing. We do not comment on the advisability of such a change.
Sticks are likely to revert to being measured in yards rather than metres. This may result in slightly larger dance set sizes, due to the longer reach of a yard-length stick. Bendy sticks can also be reintroduced, after being banned by EU Commission Regulation 2257/94, which stated that morris sticks must not have an “abnormal curvature”.
Sheffield morris dancers ‘furious’ at river reclassification
A Sheffield morris dance group has been left seething after one of the city’s famous five rivers was reclassified as a stream – leaving them facing a name change.
Following a year-long study of the River Don and its tributaries, experts have recently decided that the Porter Brook is actually a stream and not a river as previously thought. The stream, which runs from its source on Burbage moor to join the River Sheaf under Sheffield Midland train station, will lose its classification as a river from April 1st, leaving at least one group in Sheffield furious.
Five Rivers Morris have been dancing under their present name since forming in 2008. The team had been looking forward to a packed summer of events and festivals to celebrate their tenth year. Now, following the expert analysis of the Porter Brook, they are left with the prospect of changing their traditional name.
James Merryclough, Squire of Five Rivers Morris, explains:
“We’re extremely disappointed by this decision – it risks turning us into the laughing stock of the morris world. How can we be Five Rivers Morris in a city with only four rivers and a stream? We are in our tenth anniversary year as a morris team, and to find that our traditional name is now irrelevant due to a ludicrous limnological loophole makes us furious.
“We’ve built up quite a following in the UK in the ten years we’ve been dancing, with appearances at various top folk festivals, as well as lots of dancing in and around Sheffield itself – including within sight of the so-called Porter Brook stream. We just hope our legions of fans understand the predicament we’re in.
“We’re looking at the legal options, but really when a decision like this is made there’s not much we can do. We’ll be organising a protest morris dance, but it’s a token gesture at this stage.
“We’ve therefore settled to rename ourselves Five Tributaries Morris. As the River Don runs into the Ouse, we hope this name will continue to be geographically correct in the future.”
The team will continue to practice at their present location, the Burton Street Foundation in Hillsborough on Thursdays, 8 – 9:30. Anyone wishing try morris with the newly-christened Five Tributaries Morris should get in touch via www.fiveriversmorris.org.uk, www.facebook.com/fiveriversmorris or Twitter (until the team are able to change their web addresses.)