The Development of the Figures

Having scoured the “Black Book” for a Bledington replacement with no success, other than the development of the Upton Handkerchief Dance, the team was still in a dilemma. We needed to replace Bledington quickly, so at the A.G.M. at the end of year three it was decided to develop our own dances.

From the start there were certain unspoken objectives we felt had to be achieved. We undoubtedly wished to develop what may be called a “dance tradition”, that is, a series of dances based on common figures with different choruses that made each dance different. The common figures would also follow the order and pattern of “traditional” dances as we knew them: Foot Up, Foot Down, Half Gyp, Whole Gyp, and Rounds. The number of basic steps should also be kept to a minimum. We started with a series of single steps followed by four plain capers and only relatively recently introduced a new type of step. This is a combination of one single step and one plain caper called a “step caper”. Although not fully appreciated at the time, this minimalism, especially in the stepping, is the strength of our style. However, with a small amount of building material the development of dances is slow and requires significant imagination. In addition to attending to the actual structure of the dance, we also recognised that developing a dance tradition presented certain stylistic requirements that had to be met. The figures should be big and cover a lot of ground. Lines should appear and disappear quickly, and the arm movements should be distinct so that they attract attention. Our primary criteria, then, were that the dance tradition we developed should involve uncluttered stepping and eye-catching upper body and set movements.

Given these objectives, there was a certain inevitability that the new style should emerge out of the Upton dances. We already had the steps and the hand movements which we had developed for the Upton Handkerchief Dance. All we needed to do was to create some different figures.

Developing the figures

The basic Medup figures are:

, Angles, 
Three Top, 
Half Rounds
, Circle
Occasional figure (danced as part of the chorus):

HEY: The Hey and Circle figures are borrowed directly from our version of the two Upton dances. The others are described below as they are danced today:

CAST: Facing across the set, dance four single steps on the spot, numbers one and two turn away from each other and cast to the bottom of the set, then up the middle back to place, turning away from each other to face in. All others follow in their lines behind numbers one and two, that is, three and five behind one, and four and six behind two.

ANGLES: Facing partner across the set dance four single steps to pass right shoulders, turn and move to the right for two, and turn to face partner for two. Then, in two single steps, dance towards partner as if to collide, but before collision turn rapidly to the left 180 degrees to miss partner and dance two single steps backwards into place and finish with four steps in place. This figure describes, for each dancer, a right triangle with the hypotenuse being the first line of travel. Incidentally, this is the only Medup figure which involves back steps.

THREE TOP: This figure is based on the figure of the same name in the Upton tradition, that is, a reel of three with the middles dancing with the end pairs to their respective rights. Where Medup differs, however, is that numbers two and five (opposite corners) do not join in with the reel but dance around each other in a large figure of eight, passing by left and then right and temporarily joining the reel at the other end of the set.

HALF ROUNDS: Facing across the set, pass right shoulders with partner, turn immediately to the right, and circle to the right until the set has turned through a right angle. From here pass left shoulders and dance to the left back to place. The middle dancers, in effect, dance a figure of eight with each other, while the end couples change the angle of the set ninety degrees.

This brief description of the figures, as mentioned above, is the way they are currently danced. The figures are listed in the order in which they are danced, not as they were developed. What follows is an explanation of their development, as I remember it. I offer apology to any member of Sheffield City Morris who helped in a significant way to develop a figure, but who is lost in the morass of my memory. We have never been great note-takers, and on the one occasion that detailed notes were made, the team refused to believe them! Indeed, I admit that, as a foreman, I always fought shy of the written word and actively discouraged it.

ANGLES: This figure was developed on a graph pad by myself shoving six coins about. At a human level, Alec Thompson, musician and previous foreman, and I together tried out many of the ideas I came up with, and I am sure that his good taste, and the commonsense of the team as a whole, put a stop to some of my more bizarre graph pad routines.

THREE TOP: This started life as a straight borrowing from Upton. However, those who have danced Upton, or even a reel of three, will be aware that numbers two and five seem to spend an age killing time before they start moving. We tried a number of different ways to solve this problem but with no lasting success. An idea was offered from the unlikely source of Pete Smith, a man seemingly more interested in the social aspects of the Morris club than in developing the dances. Pete’s suggestion was initially dismissed out of hand, but again Trevor Beckford was there and said that it sounded like a good idea. Reluctantly six dancers were pressed to try the idea, and, indeed, it worked very well. The team had to eat humble pie and Pete’s Three Top is his share in immortality.

HALF ROUNDS: This was a tempered graph pad figure as well. I had a basic concept for the set to change through ninety degrees but was achieving it in a most contrived and ungainly way. Trevor was making one of his flying visits and was bemusedly watching the embryo figure. He stepped forward and suggested we do what became the figure we now dance. This is my favourite figure and I have only recently forgiven Trevor for his help!

CAST: I have left this figure until last as it is the weakest one, and I have no clear idea where it came from. This is perhaps where note-taking may have been useful.

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