American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 2
July, 2005

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 AMN Article, Vol. 25, No. 2

The Marlboro Morris Ale at 30

Part II. Skits, Spoofs, and Invention: the Ale as a Cradle of Creativity

Anthony G. Barrand, Ph.D.
Boston University

In Part I of this examination of the Marlboro Morris Ale at 30 (Why an Ale? American Morris Newsletter, Volume 25, Number 1 April, 2005), I described how it was started in 1976 primarily as a means to let teams see each other doing Cotswold Morris and, thereby, raise their standard of dancing. From the beginning, then, the Marlboro Ale was about Cotswold Morris and, for the most part, still is, with some changes as the Ale went through the three organizational phases of the Ale, one roughly every ten years. From 1976-1986, before the Marlboro men's and women's teams split after I quit as Squire, it was run by Marlboro Morris and Sword; from 1987-1996 the Marlboro women took charge, assisted by the re-formed Marlboro Morris Men; and from 1997-present it has been operated by a committee of volunteers, still mostly from the two Marlboro teams].

Since the 1980s, teams specializing in sword dancing, processional or North-west Morris, Border, Garland or Molly dancing have been welcomed but in limited numbers, usually no more than two or three teams at any Ale. The bulk of invitations have been reserved for Cotswold teams or "sides". Furthermore, a bias of mine which has survived is the position that the best dancing is most likely to be found when a team uses one or, at most, two source repertoires associated with a particular Cotswold village or town (what Morris dancers often call "traditions", a term I have abandoned in this context) such as those cataloged in "Bacon" or "The Black Book", Lionel Bacon's A Handbook of Morris Dances (The Morris Ring, 1974).

Dancing only repertoire from one source was a radical change from the approach taken by the first North American team, the Pinewoods Morris Men, which built its repertoire around a small number of dances from several village sources. The list included Adderbury "Lads A'Bunchum" and "Black Joke", Abingdon "Princess Royal" (the only published Abingdon dance), Bledington "Glorishears (Leapfrog)", "William and Nancy" and "Young Collins", Brackley "Jockey to the Fair", Bucknell "Queen's Delight", Eynsham "Brighton Camp", Fieldtown "Balance the Straw", "Banks of the Dee", "Step-Back (Old Molly Oxford)" and "The Rose", Headington "29th of May", "Constant Billy" (with two sticks) and "Trunkles", occasionally Longborough "Swaggering Boney" and Sherborne "Gallant Hussar", and finally Bampton "Highland Mary" and, of course, "Bonny Green Garters" for a recessional. This set of dances and the source repertoires used reflected two things: first, the dances taught in "Morris" classes at Pinewoods Camp run by the Country Dance and Song Society for many years (one never needed to identify them as "Cotswold" dances: even as of 1974 there was only one kind of Morris); and, second, a range selected from notations first published in 1907 in the five volumes of Cecil Sharp and MacIlwaine's The Morris Book (second edition, EP Publishing 1974, reprint of 1912-1924 editions; for volume I see ) which represented all the types of choreographic arrangement seen in the Cotswolds: for example, a one-stick dance, a two-stick dance a "Trunkles" (the commonest of the corner dances), a challenge dance, a dance in columns, a dance ending with a "maiden" hoisted, etc.

This repertoire was so widely known, I chose the first so-called "mass" or "massed" used at the Marlboro Ale from it. These were interspersed in the Ale program as "common" repertoire so that teams go to do more dancing than just their own "show" dances and to provide a spectacle for the audience. If you examine the repertoire danced at the first few Marlboro Ales (using the Digital Video Research Archive (DVRA) and searching on the listed dance names), you'll see most of them in the early Ale years (1976-1979).

After 1979, however, something else was seen. Teams began inventing dances to fill out their repertoire by borrowing ideas from other sources. You dance Bucknell but there isn't a Bucknell Glorishears? The old Pinewoods model would be simply to add Bledington Glorishears. Now teams make (invent) one using the Bucknell figures and gestures, fitting in Bucknell capers. This way of making new dances by pinching other people's basic idea was clearly a characteristic of the 19th century Morris as well. It's surely why many teams, for example, had their own "Trunkles", a "shooting" dance, and a leapfrog dance. Americans, always ready for something new, began to get creative.

I was looking to introduce new dances and styles of Morris into the Pinewoods Camp dance weeks. So 1979 was also the year I spent ten weeks in England and brought back film to the U.S. of a wide range of other types of Morris and movies of teams that specialized in a single source repertoire. The films of performances I took in the summer of 1979, and that Rhett Krause gathered during his year in England (1982), revolutionized my teaching and my approach to shaping the Marlboro team's dancing. A lot of influential American Morris leaders went to Pinewoods from 1980-85, and once new ideas spread forth from "English Dance Weeks" at camp and were seen at the Marlboro Ale, the pace of creative change heated up.

 In this second part of the essay, then, I want to focus on the various ways in which the Marlboro Ale has been a cradle of creativity especially for the core genre of Cotswold-style dancing. I see five main areas of invention.

  1. Bacon arrives! Expanding the source repertoires used
  2. "New" additions to existing source repertoires
  3. Previously unused Cotswold repertoire found in manuscript sources: "from the village of Roy Dommett"
  4. "New" source repertoires (invented "traditions")
  5. Spoofs and parodies

Bacon arrives! Expanding the source repertoires used

When I first went to Pinewoods Camp, there was a well established order for the teaching of "Morris", with simultaneous classes beginners, intermediate, and experienced dancers. Following closely with the sequence in The Morris Book, beginners were taught dances from Headington (or perhaps Adderbury, Bampton or Ilmington), intermediates studied Bledington, Fieldtown, or Bucknell (adding galleys and hook-legs to their individual skills), and experienced dancers were allowed to tackle Sherborne or Longborough. These classes provided the core of what was danced at the first Marlboro Ale in 1976.

But "Bacon" brought a revolution. The Morris Book had about 70 set dances identified with a dozen villages or towns. Lionel Bacon (aided extensively by Roy Dommett) made a handbook that has almost 400 dances from two dozen locations. This is a more than five-fold increase in the number of dance notations. Responding to requests to make sense of the mass of information in "Bacon," the Marlboro team ran a weekend in September 1978 at which we hoped to dance as many of the dances as we could, aided by other experienced leaders Fred Breunig and Howard Lasnik. Dancing constantly in shifts, we got through representative examples of each Cotswold repertoire in "The Black Book", 96 in total. It was held on a cold, rainy fall weekend at Camp Waubanong, a local children's summer camp where those not dancing huddled around the camp house fireplace or the cook stove. The intense and tiring, yet exhilarating days quickly led the place to be known as "Camp Woebegone." It opened up many aspects of the Cotswolds style of dancing previously unknown on this side of the Atlantic.

I got interested in seeing what happened to the American repertoire. I checked the clips from the first 29 years of the Ale in the DVRA (2005, the 30th year, isn't coded by the time of writing!). I decided to count the numbers danced from each source repertoire in each year. I have displayed them in Figure 1 broken down by the three ten-year phases of the organizational life of the Ale. The source repertoires represent those listed from Cotswold locations in Bacon plus two (Withington and Bessels Leigh) that Roy Dommett resurrected and I included in my Six Fools and a Dancer: The Timeless Way of the Morris (Northern Harmony Pub. Co., 1991). I included the non-Cotswolds dances from Winster (in Derbyshire) and Upton-on-Severn because they are so widely used by teams dancing Cotswold repertoire. In any case, the numbers for these only represent the Winster Processional and the Upton stick dance (with one performance of the Upton handkerchief dance).

Figure 1: Numbers of Cotswold Set Dances by Repertoire at Marlboro Ales

[Three high numbers each decade in bold and italics]



86-95 96-04     Total


1 0 0 1


1 0 0 1


 25 1 1 27


7 31 26 64


 8 9 0 17




Bessels Leigh  0 2 6 8
Bidford 0 0 0 0
Bledington 46 40 18 104
Brackley 13 25 7 45
Bucknell 7 8 3 18
Chipping Campden 1 3 5 9
Ducklington 12 17 11 40
Eynsham 3 0 0 3




Headington Quarry 31 7 4 42
Hinton 2 0 0 2


32 18 99
Kirtlington 1 19 6 26
Lichfield 26 24


Longborough 7 35 9 51
Oddington 3


7 58
Sherborne 11 36 9 56
Stanton Harcourt 0 3 4 7
Upton-on-Severn 4 8 6 18
Wheatley 1 0 0 1
Winster 12 27 24 63
Withington 0 0 11 11

This table bears extensive examination but let me here make the following observations:

a.  After being well represented at the first Ale and in the first ten years, all of William Kimber's home repertoire from Headington Quarry becomes less common than the Upton stick dance, going from 31 in the first ten years to 4 in the last.

b.  Adderbury reappeared in 2005 when the Adderbury Morris Men themselves came to Marlboro but after being very present early on, it lost popularity.

c.  Other Morris Book sources did very well. Fieldtown and Bampton are overwhelming favorites in thirty-year totals and in the top three in every ten year block. Ilmington, Brackley, and Sherborne are well represented.

d.  However, some of the variety which existed in The Morris Book, such as the one dance each from Abingdon and Abram appeared once early on and never again. And Wheatley, Eynsham, and Bidford, also all in Sharp and MacIlwaine, were largely ignored.

e.  But Oddington, Ascot-under-Wychwood, Lichfield, and Kirtlington appear regularly, though the Lichfield and Ilmington numbers are skewed somewhat because they were the specializations of the host Marlboro men's (until 1986) and women's sides respectively.

f.  A couple of teams very profitably kept to the existing, known repertoire, notably John Dexter's Bouwerie Boys from New York City with Sherborne and Jim Morrison's Albemarle (VA) Morris Men with Bledington. But despite a broadening of the range of source repertoires used, most additions happened as people made up new dances in a style interpreted from a particular repertoire, e.g. Thames Valley International with Fieldtown, Marlboro Morris and Sword with Ilmington, and Ring o' Bells with Ascot.

 "New" additions to existing source repertoires

Reflecting on the Camp Woebegone weekend, it became very easy to see the patterns of Cotswold dances and, as mentioned above, to make a new dance in one style by borrowing an idea from another. Dancing nine different Trunkles in one weekend will reveal the pattern that's easy to interpret in your own style even if you don't remember any one of the dances through the blur. (e.g. Goatshead Morris of London, Ontario made an Ilmington Trunkles). 

This change of perception also happened as dancers started to see many other repertoires being danced. As I wrote above, the preference of North American teams (at least those who came to the Marlboro Ale) began to be on choosing a single source repertoire and exploiting all of the dances in its known repertoire but adding new dances. Sometimes these were just filling the dance card out with ideas that were common in the 19th century Cotswolds but had either not been adopted in that village or, equally possible, had not been remembered or noted down by Sharp or another collector. Increasingly, dances were invented based upon discovered tunes or local or national events (for example, I used "Lilliburlero" for a new Lichfield-style dance, "I 91", named after the interstate that runs through Brattleboro, VT, with four distinctive components for each exit in Windham County, and the Marlboro women made up an Ilmington-style dance named "Challenger" after the explosion of the space shuttle on January 28th,1986. (N.B. they interpolated galleys in their Ilmington interpretation after a reference abut an earlier version of the Ilmington dances in Roy Dommett's Morris Notes, Barrand, A. G. (ed.), CDSS, 1986)

But I'll linger more on this aspect of the invention of dances in Part III of this essay when I look at "What is American about Morris at the Marlboro Ale?" I want to leave this section about inventing dances "in the style of" by
highlighting dances created after the disaster that affected everyone's lives: The attack on the World Trade towers on September 11th, 2001. Two Morris dancers died that day, both Marlboro Morris Men. Steve Adams had just started a new job in the "Windows on the World" restaurant in the North Tower and Chris Carstanjen was a passenger on the plane that hit the South Tower.

Marlboro Morris Men (ca. 1995?) Steve Adams is second from the left on the back row (in shades) and Chris Carstanjen is kneeling on the far right of the front row. (

Both men were remembered by the Marlboro women in a tribute dance called Hallelujah.

And by the Marlboro Morris Men in a dance called The Twin Towers

Steve Adams, a wine connoisseur, also danced with Thames Valley International and they took a more humorous approach, taking advantage of a team story about another team-mate, Alistair Brown, who, on one occasion in Steve's company, had displayed a lamentable lack of discrimination about the finer qualities of wine

From the village of Roy Dommett: Previously unused Cotswold repertoire found in manuscript sources

First there was Cecil Sharp, who deserves the credit for alerting a broader audience to the existence of the English display dance traditions. Then there was Roy Dommett who delved deeply into the Sharp field notes and other sources for further information that fed and shaped the later "revival" of Morris dancing in the second half of the 20th century. He led innumerable workshops at Halsway Manor and elsewhere showing film and teaching interpretations of the full range of Cotswold repertoire and circulating his "Notes" based on his informed view of what was actually collected. They made new source repertoires available by the 1960s in England and in the late 1970s in North America.

One effect of this was the "discovery" of previously unknown source repertoires. But Withington and Bessels Leigh are based on such fragmentary scraps of information that it's clear they are based more on Roy's brilliant Morris mind than on any "tradition". I added notations for these two in my book, Six Fools and Dancer, extracted from the 1000 pages of Roy's "Morris Notes" that he gave me between 1976 and 1986. They had excitingly different figures. 

Jack in the Green (Harrisville, New Hampshire) adopted the unusual figures of Bessels Leigh and interpreted the dances Roy made notations for, such as the Curly Headed Ploughboy.

They have also made new dances "in the style" such as "Battling Kittens" now known as Leapfrog

Even more challengingly, Commonwealth Morris Men of Boston/Cambridge took on the daunting task of making the very difficult figures of Dommett's "Withington" look good with its three-beat galley and dizzying hey. And they made it look very good for a few short years until age finally won out. They borrowed from Roy's two dances, such as the Gallant Hussar but, I think, brilliantly added several new ones such as Abraham Brown following Roy's suggestion that "any dances from the Stowe area" would serve. 

"New" source repertoires (invented "traditions")

Other American teams have invented the set figures, arm gestures, and movement style on which a whole new source repertoire can be developed. In the general style of the Cotswolds, three of these have evolved as rich treasures with lasting qualities. Toronto f Morris Men's "Hogtown" (a nickname for Toronto because of its livestock trade) is one. They have made several dances, for example, Ryerson's Stick Dance

Jim Brickwedde in Minneapolis, an influential teacher in the mid-west, was primarily responsible in the 1970s for the elaborate Minneapolis-on-Mississippi style. I was never comfortable with it because of its downward, outward arm gestures and odd feet-together-jump with hands held together over the crotch. But when Rick Mohr introduced it to the Commonwealth Morris Men to replace the strenuous Withington of their prime and extend their dancing lives, it became "Minneapolis-on-the-Charles" and became an attractive, integrated repertoire. See for example, their Trunkles

Spoofs and parodies

But my favorite -- though unanticipated -- creations of the thirty years of the Marlboro Ale have come with the many "spoofs" and parodies. These take advantage of and reveal the essential characteristics and repeating patterns of the Cotswold Morris. I see four types:

a. Individual gems worked out in advance The Albemarle Morris Men were always inventive with new Bledington-style stick dance ideas, such as Old Peculiar  (for me, this was a Fool's delight with sticks being tossed up for grabs). They brought outstanding parodies to the Ale designed to be presented to knowledgeable Morris audiences such as we have at the Saturday morning Marlboro College show or at Newfane Courthouse. One, based on the dance Saturday Night that gradually adds dancers, poked fun at the suggestion, brought to the U.S. by Roy Dommett but which I enthusiastically championed, that Morris "hankies" should be large and not little "snot rags" (as we called them in school). Their Strip Trunkles was also an early (1983) tour de force.

The Kingsessing Morris Men provided a truly lasting Ale favorite that even became a "massed" dance with their Three Stooges Morris dance, Mr. Softee

b.  Team parodies of whole, "rediscovered traditions" I, and a lot of the Marlboro team, took this Cotswold Morris dancing stuff very seriously in the 1970s and 1980s. The Newtowne Morris Men (Boston) were indispensable for revealing the funny side of the whole enterprise. For several years, they chose a new persona for each Ale appearance. At one they brought the ancient miners' tradition of Amble-on-Down and at another the Italian Morisco

In 1995, they appeared as a remnant of the old Viking Morris customs and even enlisted the women of Windsor Morris as Viking maidens.

Windsor that year left me with one of my favorite all-time Ale memories when they processed as Viking maidens shouting "Wicca - oi! - Wicca - oi! - Wicca, wicca, wicca - oi! oi! oi!

c.  Inventions on tour

A Sunday Windham County tour with the Newtowne Morris Men and the Bouwerie Boys were also responsible for Island Mary, the Bampton "Highland Mary" danced to the tune, "Jamaica Farewell." 

d.  Skits and spoofs in after feast dancing

Dancing after the feast at the Marlboro College Dining Hall has always been a source of prepared and spontaneous spoofs. Many examples will appear with a search on the word "spoof" at the DVRA. A personal favorite was a sidestep-half-hey dance done by six influential American Morris teachers with each one doing the figures and movements from a different Cotswold source repertoire. 

And, of course, the spoof published by Sharp and MacIlwaine as the Wyrsedale dance is a perennial favorite. 

Are these American Morris dances or Morris in America?

Many fine inventions occurred at the Ale as spoofs or parodies but also as serious "new" dances in different genres of Morris or sword. A check of the DVRA shows that the number of dances listed as "invented" at the Ale shows that, in the first five years (1976-1980), there were only one or two dances (0-5% of the total) not found in "Bacon", whereas in the years from 1999 to 2004 there was an average of sixteen, or 35% of the total. In several years, half the dances at the Ale were invented. In Part III, I will consider some of these as I attempt to show why what we have at the Ale now is "American Morris" and not just "Morris in America".

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