American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 26, Number 1
May, 2006

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 AMN Article  

The 2006 Ginger Ale

Sean Smith

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Every spring for the past 10 years, the Morris dance community has gotten a glimpse of its future, courtesy of the Ginger Ale, a Boston-based annual gathering of children's Morris and sword teams from New England.

Massed Lads A'Bunchum, Ginger Ale 2004, Quincy Market, Boston. 

On May 6, the Ginger Ale celebrated its first decade with typical flair and spirit, as several dozen young people ranging from elementary school to college age descended on downtown Boston for an afternoon of dancing and camaraderie. This year's roster of teams included Green Mountain Morris of Vermont and Maple Leaf Morris of New Hampshire, warmly welcomed by the local sides: Banbury Cross Morris, Great Meadows Morris and Sword, Hop Brook Morris and Mulberry Morris. After an informal "warm-up" session on the Boston City Hall Plaza - with the visiting Big Apple Circus tent as a backdrop - the teams split into two groups, one touring Boston Common, the other Paul Revere Mall.

Later in the day, all the dancers, along with various attendant parents, siblings and friends, met up at Christopher Columbus Park for the Winster Processional and a one-hour stand on the Boston waterfront. Many of the participants then headed off to the First Parish Church of Sudbury for relaxation and conversation at a dinner hosted by Great Meadows Morris and Sword. 

Ten years is no small amount of time, especially where children are concerned. Most of the first Ginger Ale's participants are about to enter college, or have done so - and in some cases, have already graduated and/or entered the workforce. The adults who have banded together to organize the Ale during its first decade are 10 years older, perhaps wiser (a matter of some debate), but in any case heartened and impressed by the youthful enthusiasm for Morris that shows little sign of flagging - and in fact has been growing since the Ginger Ale's beginnings.

Foot down on Bonny Green Garters, Ginger Ale 2006, Boston Common. 

The Ale's origins owe in large part to Peggy Marcus, then squire of Banbury Cross, and Tom Kruskal, squire of Hop Brook and Velocirapper (a now-defunct high school-age rapper side), who arranged to bring their teams together so they could experience something of what their adult counterparts have through the years: the opportunity to dance for others, to see others dance and to have some fun. So, on May 17, 1997, the sound of accordion, concertina, fiddle and a few hundred Morris bells filled Harvard Yard as the children began the inaugural Ginger Ale with a processional to Holyoke Center in Harvard Square, where they danced for upwards of an hour; the teams also performed at Faneuil Hall later that day.

It didn't take long for the Ale's cast of teams, and overall number of dancers, to expand. The next year saw Green Mountain's first appearance; the debuts of Great Meadows (then known as Team X) and Mulberry came two years after that, followed in 2001 by Candyrapper, an affiliate of Team X. In 2002, the Ale welcomed Beyond the Fringe, a border Morris team from Western Massachusetts, and the following year Maple Leaf joined the festivities.

The high-water mark probably came in 2004: In addition to Banbury, Beyond the Fringe, Hop Brook, Green Mountain, Mulberry and Great Meadows - which by now encompassed four rapper sides, including Candyrapper - the Ale's ranks were bolstered by the Johnny Jump-Ups from Western Massachusetts, as well as a group of children from the Waldorf School in Lexington, Mass., who were taught Morris by Ale co-organizer and former Banbury squire Kem Stewart. Estimates of the total number of dancers were between 70 and 80.

The Ginger Ale has been somewhat of a movable feast. The Faneuil Hall-Quincy Market-Christopher Columbus Park area has served as the primary venue most of the Ale's first decade. But the teams also have danced out in Harvard Square and vicinity, including Harvard Yard (a future address for some Ginger Ale participants). In 2003, the Ale took place as part of an Earth Day celebration in Concord, Mass.; the dancers joined in a lengthy parade that wound through the town - the strains of a Caribbean steel drum band melding at times with the Winster Processional - and later performed at Concord's Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts. Last year's foul weather forced the Ale indoors, to Boston's South Station, the dancers stepping and capering amidst newspaper and magazine kiosks and loudspeaker announcements of arriving and departing trains.

Dancers perform Balance the Straw, Ginger Ale 2001, Quincy Market, Boston. 

Although the event follows a schedule and time-honored framework ("Team A, followed by Team B, massed dance, then Team C," etc.), like any good Morris gathering the Ginger Ale has its moments of spontaneity and one-off, just-for-the-heckuva-it performances. A quartet of Great Meadows members, for instance, once exhibited an Appalachian clog dance utilizing flyswatters (a performance piece they had done in Revels). Dancers from Hop Brook and Mulberry, meanwhile, combined forces in the 2003 Ale to stage what may have been the largest massed "Fool's Jig" in modern Morris history. Green Mountain squire Chris Levey quips that the Ginger Ale has enabled some of his charges to polish their busking skills - such as the lad who told the audience he needed money "to buy a shaver for the few long black hairs emanating from his chin."

It's that kind of natural, good-spirited fellowship Ale organizers have sought to encourage and nurture throughout the first decade. Getting kids from different social circles, and especially different age groups, to mingle freely isn't always easy. Where possible, especially at the après-dancing dinner party, there have been activities such as Morris workshops, skits, party games, mummer's plays and ad hoc contra dances to help break the ice. And when it works, it's beautiful, especially when the young ones lead the way: One year, Velocirapper was persuaded by members of other teams to teach the border Morris dance "Four Lane End"; another year, Green Mountain enticed a few recruits to learn an intricate Portuguese folk dance. 

The Ale's brain trust continues to discuss ways to improve on and enhance the event - especially with an eye on building cross-team rapport - like stretching it out to a second day, or inviting teams to a workshop session at another time of the year.

Of course, the apotheosis organizers are awaiting is the day when someone who was in the Winster Processional through Harvard Yard that day in 1997, or who passed up their youth soccer game to do half gyps and foot-ups in the shadow of Quincy Market, steps forward and says, "Sure, I'll run the Ginger Ale."

Gillian Stewart (foreground) and Kirsten Smith lead the 
Winster Processional at the 2003 Ginger Ale, Concord, Mass.



 AMN, Vol. 26, No.1, May, 2006  ISSN: 1074-2689