American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 2
July, 2005

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 AMN Article, Vol. 25, No. 2  

Duns Tew
Chapter 1--The Beginnings

Tim Radford

The bulk of the choreographic details of the Duns Tew Morris tradition were worked out at a workshop during the 1986 Sidmouth Folk Festival in Devon, England. However, as with all things associated with Cotswold Morris, it is never as simple as that!

By 1985, I had been going to Sidmouth nearly every year since 1970, and it was there that I learned much about Cotswold Morris, actual dancing practices, how I thought about it and where it fitted into my life and community. Teachings from the likes of Roy Dommett, Tubby Reynolds and others were invaluable in how my real Morris with my own teams had developed. This is not to say I slavishly copied everything I saw, but I learned what I liked, what to avoid and how to put it all into practice. There is a famous quote from an English Victorian actor Ben Greet who said (and I paraphrase) "Watch all acting, you will either see what you like or what to avoid." At Sidmouth I applied this to Morris. As well as my own development over that time, I was also able to observe how others had developed themselves. However, in my view, too few had learned the same lessons as me. I felt that there was still something missing in many dancers approach; they seem to have missed the boat.

A major aspect that has always been important to me was to have an identity within the Morris and to belong to the traditions I danced -- Ownership. Maybe that was easier for me because I was dancing with Adderbury and later Kirtlington; but many of my friends with teams like Windsor, Old Spot, Stroud to mention a few had also been able to establish great teams that were steeped in the traditions they danced, but they did not come from the same place as the dances.

In 1985, Roy Dommett taught again at Sidmouth, and as usual for me I found it to be a very motivating workshop (sorry, don't remember any details), and thought to myself - how can I run a similar workshop that would put over some of my ideas, but that would also involve the participants more and incorporate some of their good ideas. It seemed to me that everyone needed to be more involved in the process to get them more motivated and therefore dance better and maybe have more respect for the Morris. 

Before the end of the festival that year I approached Gordon Potts (of Hammersmith Morris) who was to become the Dance Director the following year and asked if I could run a workshop in 1986. My idea was to run a workshop that would try and re-create a tradition that we knew existed in the past, but had no dance information for. I proposed teaching some dances from the villages Adderbury, Kirtlington and Bucknell (all North Oxfordshire traditions) and using those as a base, synthesize and re-create the dances from the village of Duns Tew.

Duns Tew is roughly situated geographically in the centre of the three other traditions and although there is information suggesting a 19th century team, we really knew nothing about what they danced, only that they probably shared a musician with Adderbury - Pipe & Tabor player Joseph Woods. Now you may say to yourself, if you look at a map of North Oxfordshire, or read Keith Chandler's books on Morris in the South Midlands; Why Duns Tew; and not North Aston or Deddington or Somerton or Steeple Aston? All villages in the same area that once had teams.

1833 Ordnance Survey 1" to 1 mile map showing the geographic proximity of Adderbury to Duns Tew. The top of the screen is north. All three maps show Duns Tew highlighted in red.
Duns Tew to Bucknell.
Duns Tew to Kirlington.

That is reasonably easy to answer - Duns Tew has the most interesting name, is the remotest of them all and the team possibly was the shortest lived, also and very importantly - the village still has a pub! It seemed logical to me that whatever the team danced, it MUST have been similar to that danced by the surrounding village teams, and that the remotest of all would be more likely to have "borrowed" ideas from the others. That is the basic premise behind the re-creation of the Duns Tew Morris dances!

To my delight, Gordon thought my idea had merit and invited me to run the advanced workshop in 1986. For this I was also able to recruit the great Windsor musician Alan Whear to play for the class, so all I had to do before the actual workshop was to bone up on my Adderbury, Kirtlington and Bucknell, which should be no problem as they were all revived traditions that were currently dancing.

I was already teaching Adderbury weekly (I was then Foreman & Squire), and had taught Kirtlington originally and knew the team at Bucknell pretty well. However to make sure I had all my facts right, I went along to several dance outs of Kirtlington & Bucknell and talked with the teams about my ideas and made notations of the way they danced currently.

August 1986 came and Sidmouth was upon us. Gordon had arranged for the workshop to be held in the back clubroom of The Balfour Arms rather than in the usual large tent up at the Bowd. At first all those who turned up the first day (Sunday) were disappointed at the lack of space, but this turned out to be no real problem, and in some senses, it actually helped being closer together. On each of the first three days I taught the basic steps and figures and at least one dance from the three base Traditions; Sunday -- Bucknell, Monday -- Adderbury and Tuesday -- Kirtlington. My memory tells me that we had around 2 hours each day, which proved to be ample to get over the essence of each tradition. Wednesday and Thursday were to be spent re-creating Duns Tew, as we were booked by the festival to perform at 10 p.m. on Thursday night outside The Marine Bars on the Esplanade, the prime Sidmouth Morris venue.

I had some rough overall ideas about what was needed to be achieved on these two re-creation days, but I only aided the participants make the right choices. The only rules I really made before were - there should be NO stick dances and that the dances should be simple, but distinctly and characteristically Duns Tew and have elements similar to the base villages - but be different.

I think we only spent the minimum of time discussing the basic steps for each figure and these were Double Steps. However, to be common with Adderbury & Kirtlington it would be a Right foot lead in both halves of each figure. Also we quickly agreed to have a "rolling, low huckle-back step", a toned down Kirtlington back step.

The Once to Yourself was simply placing handkerchiefs and thumbs on shoulders for the last 4 bars of the tune. Handkerchiefs were tied on two diagonal corners as at Adderbury. Hands in Double Steps were Down and Out Wide, and for the Back Steps a held "W" balance, like a bad Kirtlington back step hand movement.

We then began to concentrate on the track of the figures, ie. Foot Up, Face to Face, Front to Back, Back to Front, Rounds and Half Hey.Very early on we decided we liked the "turn right" on the second double step in the Face to Face. We wanted to make this a tradition feature in each sequence before the 2 back steps. This meant that on the first double step you "surged" to were you were going, then the turn on the second double step and backwards on the 2 single steps and feet together jump. Using this, the figures were almost obvious and seem to almost create themselves. However, and after the most discussion, it was decided that the Foot Up should NOT have the turn, and be Up and Up again, NOT Up and then Down (much to my personal disappointment!).

The Front to Back, and Back to Front were inspired by the Adderbury Processionals Up & Down, and although there was not a turn in the strict sense, you still had to dance around the stationary dancer with the second double step.

With regard to the "turn" it became the mantra that there should be a space between dancers ie. in face to face etc. - because there is a space between Duns and Tew!

We also quickly agreed there would be no Whole Hey, only Half Heys. The Half Hey was discussed and it was felt that the ends, ie. 1 & 5 and 2 & 6 should simply dance a Face to Face on the side. But what should the middles do? It was soon agreed, they should just "Get out of the way!" - that is dance simple circles right. Since those early days I have seen American sides dance between top pairs - but then American's would do something like that!

The first whole dance tried was "The Swan" (although it was not called that until the end of the week) using the tune Lumps of Plum Pudding, and like the Kirtlington dance of that name, is a simple Side Step and Half Hey, and repeat home. So you may ask - What do you do in Side Steps? This was an interesting departure from the base Traditions. What we came up with looked nothing like anything from them, but I remember wanting an elevating Side Step, with the arm going high above the head, and I think this turned out to be very important characteristic of the tradition.

The second dance was Old Gordon (after our sponsor Mr. Potts) to the tune Old Woman Tossed Up, and here the dancers pass opposite with the side steps and half hey on the other side, etc., and then repeat to return home.

It was then time to tackle the additional steps, ie. Plain, Double and Upright Capers, so that corner and column dances could be added.

Plain capers are Plain capers, the only necessary decision is hands Down & Up or Waves? - Waves won out, mainly because only Kirtlington is Down & Up.

There was more to decide on Half Capers. Adderbury and Kirtlington have none. Then we only had Bucknell to model. The only change made was that the hands would be held in a "W" balance position like the back steps. The steps being "Step, Hop, Hop"

Although I have not previously mentioned it - the workshop was open to anyone who came along. It was billed as an "Advanced" class, and there were no restrictions on gender. It was important to me that everyone who participated in this experiment should be capable of dancing everything we created. I only mention this now because of the Upright Capers. There are some Uprights danced in certain traditions that are not best suited for female dancers (I can also think of several male dancers who should also avoid them!), but I remember asking that this factor be part of our deliberations in this respect. I will add more about the gender of dancers later in this piece.

When it did came to Uprights, I remembered something Roy Dommett had told me years previously; the important element should always be the high jump at the end, NOT any exaggerated preparation. So we agreed on a simple low sequence, with hands doing small Waves, of "prepare, prepare, balance - JUMP." The "prepares" were simple steps forward with the hips lower and the knees bent - right step then left step. The "balance" was feet together and a gather, ie. pre-empting the Jump. In the JUMP the legs must be together at the knees and ankles, and the hands should be up high and out to finish in a balance.

Once this was decided exactly, the 2 next dances were quickly developed - the corner dance Seaside Shuffle using the tune Constant Billy, and the column dance (ie. two by two facing the music) Mrs. Casey, using the tune of that name. These both used a sequence of the additional steps either corners crossing or pairs facing the music in turn. That is Side Steps, Plain capers, Half capers and Upright capers.

This only left a Hand-clapping dance, and Old Number Five, to tune The Rose Tree, was finally developed last on the Thursday. It started life as a more complex version with the top pair facing the middles, who faced up and bottoms facing each other for the side steps and clapping - but that quickly changed to be always facing your opposite.

We still had time to practice each of the five dances before plans had to be made for the debut performance later that night.

By this time, having spent much of last 5 days together as a group, at both the workshop and at extracurricular meetings, we consequently had all got to be pretty close and good friends. According to my notes, we were 20 dancers and musicians in total: Tim Radford, Andy Anderson, Ann Baines, Mike Chapman, Steve Cunio, Paddy Davies, Liz Davies, Chris Dommett, Tony Forster (and his 1st wife), Phil Heath-Coleman, Dave Muedell, Simon Ritchie, Colin Sawyer, Andy & Jenny Slade, Sue Swift, Sally Wearing, Andy Wilkinson and Alan Whear on Melodeon. (Apologies if I have missed someone).

We all decided to meet up early Thursday evening at The Swan pub, dressed in Whites, to run through the dances privately before the debut at the Marine Bars later in the evening. Now someone, I think it was Tony Forster (later of Pig Dyke Molly fame), had some red sashes and spare red material, and very, very quickly the team had their costume. White Trousers and Shirts with a Red Sash over the right shoulder to left hip. Black Shoes and bare heads, that is no hats. Bell pads were to be all different and be your own home team colours, etc...

We practiced each of the 5 dances in a very dark car park (parking lot for you Americans) across the street from The Swan. I remember it having a very gritty and slippery surface and I was not that happy with how we had danced. However, the time had finally come for our debut. The Swan is situated back into town and the opposite end of the Sidmouth seafront, and we had to walk most of the Esplanade to get to The Marine Bar, so we lined up in pairs and started to walk. As we did so, Alan Whear was in front and he started playing his melodeon as we walked and he went into the Playford/Arbeau tune La Morrisque. I started doing the Side Step hand movements to the A music and held the hands as for Back Steps and Half Capers in the B Music, and that was the beginnings of what became the Duns Tew Processional, a dance that never had a name other than - The Processional.

We arrived thus at the Marine Bars and performed all the five dances created; someone (can't remember who, it could even have been me) danced a solo jig to the tune Ladies Pleasure and much beer was consumed during and after our stand, and we vowed we do it again someday. My memory is that the actual dance performance was too short, I certainly wanted more, but I was very proud of what we had achieved in such a short time, and I think that all of the dancers felt the same.

The following day we all met again to talk over what we had achieved and what we would like to see in the future. We all agreed that there should be a repeat performance again at the next Sidmouth as everyone had enjoyed the experience greatly and all found it of great benefit to the rest of our Morris, and maybe we should consider even taking the team to Duns Tew itself!

The notations for The Duns Tew dances, and observations of the teams first Sidmouth, can be found in Morris Matters -- Volume 9 No. 1, written by Cecil Sharp (aka Tony Forster) in 1987.

Before ending Chapter One of this story there are a couple of important things I would like to add. First I would like to briefly re-visit the issue of Mixed Gender dancing. On the first day of the workshop I am told I asked the class to set up in teams divided by gender. I don't remember it as clearly as this, but I can imagine that at that time I may have requested this. Of course everyone refused.

I only know that since that day, it is something I have never even considered again, and I would like to think that the experience of Duns Tew made me realize that gender is an unimportant aspect of Morris. All dancers should be taught the best habits regarding Morris, and if the teacher expects no more nor no less from each the pupils in a class, that is the best way forward. It is good teaching that makes good Morris.

Many friendships came about during this experiment and even nearly twenty years later, we all probably look back on the event with a warm glow, although there is more to be added about this in Chapter Two of this saga.

Some years later I came across a book called - "The British Folk Scene - Musical Performance and Social Identity" by Naill Mackinnon. This was a serious work published for the Open University, the aim of which was "to seek to understand a musical genre, the British folk scene, in terms of identifying the social factors that give it coherence."

I cannot in such a short space give the whole essence of this book, however on pages 62 to 66 the author discusses Morris Dancing. He talks much about a Rubber Glove being used as a substitute for a Pigs Bladder, and talks of Symbolism in Morris and how modern life intrudes on it, and the differences between "Revival" and "Re-enactment." However I was very pleased that he made reference to something he read in a Sidmouth Newsletter. He noted that there was even a workshop called - "Creating a New Tradition" - That was the Duns Tew experiment!

Chapter Two -- what happen in the following 5 years to The Duns Tew Morris, how it continued to flourish and grow; more dancers, more dances, mid-summer tours in the village of Duns Tew; and finally - what made the team disband. Next issue... Stay tuned!

 AMN, Vol. 25, No. 2, July 2005  ISSN: 1074-2689