“Beer, fun, fun, beer,” was Ollie King’s explanation of the Sheffield City Morris Weekend of Dance at Bakewell.
Ollie is 19 and a Sheffield student, but his assessment is not too far removed from that expressed by the more experienced dancers of the ‘world famous’ - as they themselves put it after one or two pints - Sheffield City Morris Men.
“We’re famous in all parts of South Yorkshire,” clarified Peter Delamere, modestly, of the team which has also performed in Spain, Ecuador, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Ireland and north Derbyshire over the years.
“We’ve been to other festivals which are often in the south, so we thought we’d show how people in the north of England do it,” said Peter.
“There’s something special about dancing in the Peak District on a day like this. We enjoy ourselves, do lots of dances and drink lots of beer. Where else would you rather be?”
Morris dancers do overplay the beer side of things a little, as the dances are actually quite technical and athletic (all part of the attraction, they claim) and Peter noted that none of the dancers actually wanted to end up in the River Wye, despite some of the leaping, bell-ringing and staff-smiting coming perilously close.
Bookings for Sheffield City Morris Men are increasing all the time, said member Dominic Rice.
“People are interested in localism and local traditions,” he said.
Peter Delamere added: “Our dances are nationally recognised, they’re simple and effective, based on the originals, and it’s great to hear other teams saying ‘That’s a really good dance.’ Our aim is to entertain the public, show them the traditional dances of this country, and make this a living tradition.” Peter paused briefly for effect. “We’re taking the past forward,” he sound-bited.
Sheffield City Morris Weekends have been going for a few years now, and take pride in being performed entirely on foot from the dancers’ weekend base at Thornbridge Hall.
Last Saturday and Sunday saw traditional dancers in flowers, bells, clogs and remarkable headgear dancing round Bakewell and along the Monsal Trail, and included Hereburgh Morris from Warwickshire and Gaorsach Rapper from Aberdeen joining the local Strictly Clog and Sheffield City, and the national ‘offspring Morris’ team, Fool’s Gambit.
“Our parents are Morris dancers, and we found we’d be sat around at festivals like this, but never get to dance with each other,” said Fool’s spokesman Dominic Moss.
So the 15 to 24-year-olds formed their own team, and now practise once a month in various kitchens or scout huts between Exeter, London and Sheffield.
“After the first couple of hours of laughing about it, when I tell my mates I’m a Morris dancer for the first time they actually soon get used to the idea, and some even contemplate joining in,” said Ollie.
“Morris dancing can have an image problem for good reason,” said Dominic. “I’m not referring to Sheffield City in any way here, but people do think it’s lots of fat old men lumbering around. We think we can help change that perception by proving it doesn’t have to be like that.”
Fool’s Gambit do plenty of leaping rather than lumbering, and scores of locals gathered by the river on Saturday with their ice creams and cameras to take in the massed finale involving all the various dances.
As Sheffield City took the floor, the audience stepped back a few yards as the team’s much-abused wooden staves started to disintegrate mid-thwack.
“Half a stick flew off this morning, caught by a watching dog,” said Peter, with a cheerful smile.
The dancing ended, the splinters settled on the ground, and the hostelries called.
“It is getting more accepted, and some people now say ‘Oh, Morris dancing, that’s quite cool,’” said 24-year-old Dominic Moss.
“But I don’t think it will ever be normal.”