The Tab Tries… Morris Dancing

The Tab takes part in a traditional fertility dance...

A sea of white handkerchiefs, straw hats and jingling bells – the Oxford University Morris dancers are hard to miss.

Ever dreamed of doing this?

Ever dreamed of doing this?

A few tourists in the King’s Arms look bemused as the dancers perform but their expressions soon brighten when a student informs them that Morris dancing ‘is very English’.

Despite being ‘very English’, most of us only catch a glimpse of them on May Day as we stand on Magdalen Bridge watching the summer come in. The dancing itself looks pretty basic, a bit like an Irish jig in slow motion. So I thought I’d give it a go.

When the time came for me to dance, I wasn’t feeling very confident. For a start I wasn’t dressed for the occasion and it must be said that the whole performance is significantly improved by the jingling bells and colourful ribbons.

A black sheep? Kate puts on a brave face for her new comrades

A black sheep? Kate puts on a brave face for her new comrades

Luckily my part was extremely basic – I simply had to stand there.

I stood on Parks Road, surrounded by about 12 male dancers, playing the part of the ‘Maiden’. Crowds of passers-by began to gather around us and at the end of the dance I became visible to all, as the men lifted me in the air and spun me around.

'Four men to lift ME? Really?'

‘Four men to lift ME? Really?’

I was then courteously thanked by the circle of dancers who, one by one, kissed me on the cheek, ending the performance in the traditional manner.

The group, by their own admission, are lacking in youthful input, with the majority being alumni and university tutors. However, they assured me that all ages are welcome and there is no need to have tried Morris dancing previously.

The group was extremely friendly and the dancing seemed to be an excuse for a social as much as anything else.

They meet every Wednesday in winter and perform every week during the summer. Some members join ‘The Ancient Men’ tour and travel the world with their dancing.

At the end of the session they revealed that the dance I had participated in was in fact a fertility dance.The myth goes that maidens become pregnant shortly after participating, although they assured me I would be safe as I wasn’t wearing the essential Morris hat.

Not wearing a hat -it's basically contraception

Not wearing a hat -it’s basically contraception

To get involved in Oxford University Morris Dancing, email for more details.


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