American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 26, Number 2
August, 2006

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 AMN Article  

EDSS Examinations and Syllabi

Andrew Bullen

I was recently re-reading, with some fascination, an excellent article written by Walter Abson (The Morris Dancer, #4, August 1979) about the founding of the Morris Ring. I was particularly fascinated by the existence of required competency exams and the folk-dance certificate. To quote directly from the article itself:

"...[The EDFSS] had acted as a learned society led by Cecil Sharp with his very strong scholarly feeling for accuracy in everything he was doing, and it had also been highly successful at the re-introduction of country dancing, mainly Playford. It had acted as a learned society and a teaching organization where the Morris was concerned, but rarely seemed to know what to do with the Morris beyond that point. To show you the feelings of the men at that time, I can do no better than to quote extracts from Roy Judge's account of the early history of the Oxford Morris dancers. One dancer, speaking of the early 1920's, wrote

The society at that time was a monarchy ruled over by Cecil Sharp; control was centered exclusively in London, and there were teachers in other places... General Emphasis was on country rather than Morris and Sword, which were looked on as specialist activities... Sharp in fact very much disliked any man taking part in the Morris with galleys or advanced capers unless he had already obtained his advanced folk-dance certificate or he was a serious aspirant. Headington was the staple diet: Rigs o'Marlow and Blue-eyed Stranger 'til you danced them in your sleep... Ilmington was also done, but Bampton was largely the pre-requisite of the ladies... Music for both classes and shows was nearly always the piano, sometimes accompanied by the violin.

Another Oxford dancer, speaking of the 1924/5 era, says

...Morris had to be learned through EFDSS teachers, who were normally women, who were selected by Sharp and his senior staff after they had passed examinations based on their dancing ability. Any fully qualified teacher could teach reasonably well; the best of them were very good indeed... ...the teaching would be largely geared to the examination syllabus. Thus at the elementary stage he [the dancer] would be confined to the traditions for the elementary examination - Headington, Adderbury, Ilmington and Bampton. ...he would not be allowed to touch the advanced dances until he had taken the elementary examination. all teachers taught exactly the same things, he would find identical interpretations wherever he went in the EFDSS with no individual variation throughout the country, standardised from Sharp downwards through the hierarchy. ...because men were rare, teachers lavished special attention on them."

Why did Sharp approach the folk revival with such autocratic rigidity and centralized control? I think a clue to his motives can be found in a lecture he gave in Chicago in 1915:

Mr. Cecil Sharp, the president of the English Folk Dance and Folk Song Society, spent a few days in Chicago recently, engrafting in the minds of this city's dancers the true and unadulterated principles of the British folk dance. He also spoke-- at the Little Theater-- some words about the English folk song of which he has made particular study. 

Mr. Sharp told of rescuing English folk music; how he and his associates, seeking out persons untouched by the on-rush of education, had entered the workhouses and jotted down the songs of old peasants now living on the parish. No one under 70, he said, had yielded a song worth the taking. Another 20 years and English music would surely have dissolved in sophistication.

English children, Mr. Sharp assured his audience, have been contaminated with French and German songs. "Savea Vous Plantez les Choux" had placed "The Blackberry Blossom." England had sold her well-springs of music, fresh from the soil, for Burgundian or plebian Bock.

Chicago Daily Tribune, April 18, 1915. p. E1

I think that Sharp truly was acting out of a sense of patriotism and nostalgia; his motives were nativist in origin in that he wanted to preserve the English cultural landscape as an ideal of happy yeomen, country squires, and the gentle reign of the benign dictatorship of Victoria and all that her age represented. Sharp could hold onto this view because he spent the First World War touring the U.S., and thus was spared the soul-destroying horrors of the front. An interesting discussion topic would be how Sharp's psychology influenced the early Revival. I am, however, taking us outside of the scope of this article. Returning to the subject at hand, what exactly were these examinations? The EFDS News journal of the time gives us some clues. In the EFDS News, January 1921, v.1, p. 10 appeared the following article, entitled The New Examination Syllabus:

The new syllabus, copies of which will be obtainable during the Christmas Vacation school, comes into force on January 10th, 1921. There is no substantial change in the list of Morris Dances, but radical alterations have been made as regards the Country Dances. The old examination in Country Dances and Singing Games (or Sword Dances) has now been divided into two parts for Elementary and the Advanced, for both of which a certificate is awarded.

EFDS News, August 1921, v. 2, pp. 50-51 provides tantalizing hints of this syllabus:

The following is the system of grading of classes adopted at Vacation Schools and Headquarters' Classes. It is only intended as a guide. In addition to the dances specified a certain amount of revision of dances already learned is done in all Morris and Country Dance classes.

Grade 1 Rigs o' Marlow, Bean Setting, Blue-eyed Stranger, How d'you do Sir, etc.
Grade 2 Laudnum Bunches, Trunkles.
Jig: Old Mother Oxford.
Grade 3 Ilmington Tradition.
Jigs: Jockie to the Fair, Old Woman Tossed Up.
Grade 4 Bampton Tradition.
Jig: Lumps of Plum Pudding.
Grade 5 Revision for Elementary Certificate.
Grade 6 Fieldtown and Badby Traditions.
Revise list "A" of Advanced Certificate
Jigs: Fieldtown Tradition, Princess Royal.
Grade 7 Sherbourne, Bledington, Eynsham and Longborough Traditions.
Jigs: Bledington Tradition, I'll Go Enlist for a Sailor
Grade 8 Revision for Advanced Certificate.
Grade 9 Super-Advanced-Certificate.


Grade 1 Lists "A" and "B" of Elementary Certificate.
Grade 2 Lists "C" and "D" of Elementary Certificate.
Grade 3 Revision for Elementary Certificate.
Grade 4 Lists "A" and "B" of Advanced Certificate.
Grade 5 Lists "C" and "D" of Advanced Certificate.
Grade 6 Revision for Advanced Certificate.
Grade 7 & above Super-Advanced-Certificate.


Grade 1 Flamborough.
Grade 2 Kirkby Malzeard.
Grade 3 Revise Flamborough and Kirkby Malzeard.
Grade 4 Haxby and Sleights.
Grade 5 Revise Haxby and Sleights.
Grade 6 Earsdon.
Grade 7 Winlaton.
Grade 8 Revise Earsdon & Winlaton, or learn other long-Sword Dances not already mentioned.
Grade 9 Super-Advanced-Certificate.

The EFDS News of April, 1927, v. 14, describes the revision to this syllabus in more detail.

The Committee have prepared a revised examination syllabus which will come into operation on January 10th, 1928, when the present syllabus will be cancelled.


Morris Dances.

Rigs o' Marlow
Blue Eyed Stranger
Country Gardens
Double Set Back

Morris Jigs.

One or more of the following:

Old Mother Oxford
Jockie to the Fair
The Old Woman Tossed Up

Sword Dances.

Kirkby Malzeard (omitting the Double Sword figure).

Country Dances.

Haste to the Wedding (2nd version)...
Nancy's Fancy.
The Black Nag.
Gathering Peascods.
Rufty Tufty.
If All the World Were Paper.
The Merry Merry Milkmaids.
Hey Boys Up We Go.
Epping Forest.
Picking Up Sticks.


Morris Dances.

Maid of the Mill.
Shepherd's Hey.
Bobby & Joan.
Banks of the Dee.
Laudnum Bunches.
William and Nancy.
Cuckoo's Nest.

Morris Jigs.

Molly Oxford.
One of the following:

Lumps of Plum Pudding.
Ladies' Pleasure.

Sword Dances.

Askham Richard.
Kirkby Malzeard (including the Double Sword figure).

Country Dances.

The Old Mole.
Broom the Bonny Bonny Broom.
Apley House.
The Boatman.
The Fine Companion.
Parson's Farewell.
Dick's Maggot.
The Beggar Boy.
The Running Set (Introduction; Shoot the Owl; Chase the Squirrel; Going Down Town; Rights and Lefts; The Wild Goose Chase).


 AMN, Vol. 26, No.2, August, 2006  ISSN: 1074-2689