When I took over the foreman’s post from Bob Hazelwood in 1977, the team was facing several difficulties. These problems, along with one significant factor, led to the development of our own dance style. The problems were:
1.The unsuitability of Bledington as a second tradition.
2.The team’s isolation and immaturity.
3.The new foreman’s personal difficulties.
The factor was:
The connection with Chingford Morris Men.
The Bledington Problem
For the first year the team practised and danced Bampton only. However, we saw ourselves as a performance team and we felt that Bampton, with no stick dances, limited our performance. To widen the team’s repertoire for the second year, then, Bob introduced the Bledington style. He had danced this with Chingford, and although confident to teach it, never was particularly happy with it as a tradition to complement Bampton. The basic problem was the double step. The majority of dancers in the team were new to Morris in particular and, like many men, new to dance movement in general.
It may be useful here to outline our practice methods at the time. Although we practised all year round, the new season, at which time we took on new dancers, would begin in September after our Annual General Meeting. A great deal of emphasis was placed on achieving a common stepping style. Beginners would spend several weeks practising the steps only. Once an acceptable standard had been achieved, then the handkerchief would be introduced. When the dancers had these basics right, only then would figures be danced. In fact, the experienced dancers would not actually practise complete dances until, perhaps, February. Each week, one figure would be concentrated on, and at the end of the session a complete dance might be performed, more for recreational purposes than “serious” practise. It would be fair to say that practice nights, as indicated above, were an arduous business consisting of sweat and application with little inspiration.
In order to facilitate adding the Bledington dances to our repertoire, the team was split into two groups. The beginners, who numbered about six, were taught Bampton, as it formed the core of our performable repertoire, and only the fourteen experienced dancers were introduced to Bledington. Despite this experience and the nature of the practice sessions, we never achieved the team’s high, self-imposed standard when performing the Bledington dances in public. The beginners also faced the problem of regularly practising without experienced dancers. When year three arrived the problem was further compounded. We then had a team consisting of fourteen dancers proficient in both Bampton and Bledington, six Bampton only dancers, and about six complete beginners. The logistics for organising practice nights were obviously immense.
To persevere with Bledington, then, seemed fraught with difficulties, although it must be said that the public display was improving. Nevertheless, when I took over from Bob the team decided to look for an alternative second tradition, preferably based on a single step.