From figures to dance

These figures were developed between September and Christmas of 1978. The practice methods of the team, as outlined above, allowed for this type of development; once a figure was accepted the team was quite happy to practise it ad nauseam, even without the promise of a complete dance. A major advantage to this seemingly ongoing introduction was that it gave the team and me a chance to get a feel for the style.

As our repertoire of stick dances was extremely small, we decided to develop a stick dance first. Furthermore, unlike handkerchief dances with the complication of matching arm movements and stepping, stick dances, which allow for little elaboration with the arms while moving, use “normal” sixteen beat music. As for many of our dances, a tune was found and the dance subsequently developed to it. In my perusals of the Black Book, I had come across a Bampton tune called “The Furze Field” which I also knew as a song, and was quite fond of. As we rarely practised with musicians in those days, the foreman and dancers would make mouth music and it was essential that the foreman be very familiar with the tune.

Readers who have tried to develop Morris dances will perhaps agree with me in believing that stick dances are easier to devise than handkerchief dances. I began creating by simply humming a tune to myself and listening to what the tune was telling me to do. Having received the tune’s message, I took six compliant dancers and tried it out. They did the rest, offering minor advice and suggestions. Since we were used to double stick clashing choruses from Bledington, we opted for that format for this dance as well. We tried dancing a half hey between choruses, but this did not feel quite right. Instead we tried a cross-over figure a bit like half of an Angles figure. This was both different and enjoyable to dance. A momentous point was therefore reached: we had a complete dance to practise and, I hoped, perform.

In order to establish the style as an all round “tradition” it was then necessary to develop a handkerchief dance. With the development of “The Furze Field” the pressure was off with regard to having something new to practise and perform. We now set about looking for twenty beat music again, for as mentioned above, handkerchief dances required twenty beat music to synchronise arm and leg movements. However, while looking for a suitable tune, we decided to begin work on the dance itself. This first handkerchief dance is unique, then, in that the chorus was devised before a tune was actually selected. The small range of steps available to the Medup dance deviser provided a limited range of options. Four pairs of single steps plus four plain capers fitted the style without feint steps, so this was chosen as the stepping for the chorus. We also opted for a corner dance. When practising this chorus I had the music of “Lillibulero” in my head which seemed to complement the steps. I occasionally sang this tune to help the dance along, and Alec Thompson eventually took the line of least resistance in the search for music by adapting “Lillibulero” to suit our twenty beat requirement. He simply added an extra bar to the ‘A’ part of the tune (see Figure 2), and this “doctoring” set a precedent for later developments. Since “Lillibulero” is also known as “Nottingham Ale” we suitably altered the title of the tune, and hence the dance, to “Nottingham Lil”.

With these two dances forming the foundation on which to build, we could at last drop Bledington. We had a wide range of Bampton dances, the Upton Stick and Handkerchief Dances, and now two Medup dances. Although the repertoire was still drastically reduced, the consistent stepping style for all dances was established, making practice structured and subsequently contributing to a higher level of precision in performance. Yet this concern with the dance per se is not to undervalue the pleasure that the team has had in producing a style of our own and establishing a common objective.

I am sure that many dance teams would perhaps have called the new dances “Upton”. However, we feel that our further amendments to the Upton, “as we dance it”, would do little credit to the Upton dance tradition, which as a team we enjoy and appreciate. We acknowledge our debt to Upton, and it is out of respect towards Upton and an understanding of the differences that we chose to call our dances “Medup”. If others choose to classify it as Upton that is all well and good, but we will continue to call it Medup and not enter philosophical debates. (But that is a philosophical debate! – Webmaster)

read more…              back