Isolation and immaturity

It would be fair to say that Bob Hazelwood and other senior dancers had a low opinion of the standards of most Morris dance teams at that time. On occasions this had been volubly expressed, and in order that Sheffield City Morris not be “tainted” by others’ bad habits, we were consciously kept away from other teams. We had also to live up to our voiced high standards, and failure in front of other teams was unthinkable. The exception to this rule was our association with Chingford Morris Men, which will be discussed further below.

Although we did not actively discourage dancers joining us who had previously danced with other teams, we did not encourage them either. If they came from a team that danced several traditions they were likely to be bored by our limited repertoire. We also expected newcomers to start with the beginners’ class on basic stepping. The “experienced” newcomer either lasted for only two practices or, more rarely, stuck it out and became an excellent dancer for Sheffield City. While this isolationist approach enabled us more easily to establish a club, corporate style of dancing, it nevertheless inevitably led to a dearth of knowledge about the Morris in general.

The new foreman’s problems

This is obviously a personal viewpoint. Whilst not wishing to emphasise the problem too much, I feel that my personal makeup in relation to the team was a factor which contributed to the development of our style. For the first couple of years I had difficulty in coping with interpersonal relationships, as I was an apprentice-served engineer who had progressed to a low grade white collar job while the majority of the team were university graduates who were now teachers, lecturers, etc. To compensate for my own perceived inadequacies, therefore, I worked extremely hard at the dancing. I had never done any sort of dancing before, and they say I was a very poor beginner. However, I was willing to practise the basic stepping for long periods with no complaint, and I regularly practised at home. Through sheer hard work and repetition I trained myself to become a precise, if not natural dancer.

From what has already been said the reader can tell that Bob Hazelwood was a tough act to follow. He was uncompromising in his pursuit of excellence, which inevitably rubbed off onto the team as a whole, and made an indelible impression on myself; who, at twenty four years of age, was the youngest member of the team at that time. When I took over as foreman I had only danced for two years, and while being surrounded by what I considered to be my social and intellectual superiors, I also had the ghost of Bob Hazelwood to exorcise.

A rather significant incident also occurred at this time. Trevor Beckford, an ex-Chingford foreman, came to study at the University of Sheffield. He made contact with the team, purely for social reasons, and I fell into conversation with him concerning the role of a new foreman. He gave me some timely and crucial advice. He told me to make a mark for myself as quickly as possible, that is, do something that the team would relate to as my own. He suggested that the team and I would gain mutual confidence, and, as will be clarified below, I took this advice very much to heart.

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