On a rainy night outside St John's Church, Kingston, me, my wife and her friend.....
What it's like, joining a Morris side

St JohnsMe? Simon (no beard, no hair, one Harley and a novice dancer) a 45 year old fireman, husband to Leonie (no beard,) and father of five.
Why are my wife and her friend Janet (no beard, although trying hard) here outside St John's Church with me? Because I was too afraid to go alone and Leonie was too embarrassed to come alone with me. A real ménage a trois!

I had e-mailed a gent called Colin the previous week with regard to giving Morris Dancing a try. Why? Because I enjoy dancing, music (very eclectic), English/British history and socialising, mostly in pubs, with like minded people. Anyway, a car approaches, pulls up and out gets a bearded man with a handful of sticks, swords and what turned out to be a melodeon in a small black box.

melodeon"Are you connected with the Morris Dancers side"? (Yes I know, but I was nervous, so much so that my brain didn't put it all together) well obviously he was, and by chance it was Colin, (a bearded gent, expert Morris Dancer, instructor, musician, caller…they call the moves during the dance, The Foreman: decides which dances are taught and their style and part Bagman (the person nominated in a side who looks after bookings, venues, inter side communications and website etc, this role is being shared by a small number of the side,) also he is the first person anyone enquiring via Spring Grove's or Off-Spring's web site makes contact with.

Without further ado we entered the church together.
That's me on the right!
Suddenly a disparate group of people, men and women (Spring Grove is a men's side while Off-Spring is men and women), who 30 seconds prior to our arrival had been jumping leaping and dancing together to the beat of some lively music, all (as if beautifully choreographed) stopped and stared in our direction, (you know, like in the film An American Werewolf in London...they enter the Slaughtered Lamb.) Colin introduced the three of us and simultaneously we were greeted with smiles and handshakes all round. (What a relief, they are human after all this Morris Dancer lot.) Greetings over, the three of us were ushered by Colin to the main dance area and he immediately began to try and teach us some basic moves.

Well, we laughed at ourselves and at each other, at each of our two left feet and at our ability to watch Colin effortlessly perform a gyp or caper for us to reproduce, only for us to do something completely different!

Morris hankiesAnd so slowly, yes very slowly, Colin felt he could see something, no not a bird or a plane and not the end of the session, it was ......progress. Yes it was small, but it was there, apparently. So we were lent some hankies (used as an extension of the hand movements in a dance routine I believe, when used correctly!) Apparently we had the basics to perform a dance. Some of the other members kindly formed up with us to make a side.

And so it was after about forty five minutes excellent tuition that we found ourselves about to take part in the historic art of Morris Dancing. Sue (a charming lady, one of the musician/dancers, part Bagman, no beard though,) began to play what I now know to be Shepherds' Hey...Bampton (Shepherds' Hey is the name of the dance and Bampton the village of its origin).

Well what do you know..........yes we were awful, I found myself running around like a headless chicken for most of it, bumping into other headless creatures (namely Leonie and Janet) who were also trying to keep up with all the various moves! (I think it might be a rite of passage to go through this humiliation process before being let loose on the public). As we demolished the dance, other members of the side began to arrive, keen to practice the more complicated dances. They patiently waited, without laughing (which, I imagine couldn’t have been easy). When we had finished they were all so enthusiastic and encouraging, and for me personally, I loved it, as bad as I was.

Exeter City supportersA tall gent named Steve (no beard, Exeter City fan :(…. yes apparently they have a football team, expert dancer/caller, assistant to the Foreman and part Bagman) made himself known to us. He turned out to be one of the side’s instructors alongside Colin. We were then introduced to Ben (no beard and a novice dancer), who had also gone through the church door initiation a week or so prior, and to Marian (also no beard and a novice dancer) a new member in the autumn of 2008. The four of us where taken by Steve to a quieter part of the building to learn some other moves! To make up a side we were kindly joined by one of the other members Theresa (no beard, great dancer and easily the youngest member of the side).

Do you know how hard it is to hop, skip, jump and wave a hanky or flail a stick at the same time, whilst all the while trying to keep in-time with the music, and then to put them all together to form a dance? It's very hard. It's not so physically hard but more mentally hard if you get my drift. Apparently after ten years or so I'm assured that the moves and different dances, (of which there are stacks) become second nature! If you have ever seen a side out dancing and thought it looks easy, think again, it isn't. The reason it looks so easy is because of the hours of practice these guys put in. They are a dedicated bunch.

The Spring GroveAfter practice the side generally go for a drink at the local pub for a beer and a chat. Here we were able to chat with some of the side, notably:-

Robert, The Squire: he is the spokesman for the side when out and about and sets the agenda for the year’s events. (A bearded dancer and a true gent.)

Christine, The Treasurer: finances, (no beard, dancer) she explained that Spring Grove and Off-Spring ‘dance out’ most of the year on Monday nights at chosen pubs and on the weekends at festivals, fetes, functions etc. Practice is on Mondays during the winter months at the church.

Alan, (no beard, part Bagman, dancer/musician, keen camper, member of two sides and a caller),

John, (a bearded gent and dancer who knows all of London’s shortcuts!!!),

David, (a bearded flamboyant dancer, part Bagman and a well favoured kind gent),

Kate, (no beard, dancer and always first at the bar and never shy of buying you a pint, an excellent attribute I must say),

Glenis, (no beard, dancer and another charming lady),

Gerry, (no beard, great musician/dancer),

Chris, Marion’s husband (no beard, musician),

Jenny, (no beard, occasional dancer) and a very important member of the side. Jenny is the side's Fool, dressed in Morris garb, she mingles with the watching public. Apart from answering the many questions people ask and handing out details of the side’s website etc, you will see Jenny carrying a small potty…. Yes a potty, a very clean one mind! Why a potty, I really don’t know. Sides collect money in many varied receptacles apparently. The potty is used as a collection tin for the sides chosen charity of the year. This year it is the Kingston Hospital cancer unit so please give generously if you come across us.


"Well, will you be going back there?"Morris hat

This was the first question I was asked on the way home, and of course I did, for about five practice sessions more. Leonie joined me on the second week and then felt she had given enough to Morris! I am now a ‘novice dancer’ and during those five weeks I learned two more dances and was offered a set of bells, told to purchase a straw hat, and decorate it, I think I got a bit carried away, can you have too many flowers on a hat?!( Ladies of a child bearing age are to be warned, do not touch the Morris Dancers hats or sticks as they are more potent than Charlie Chaplin!) Buy a white collarless shirt and trousers, both to be worn with black shoes and socks. White underwear (gender not specified) and a pair of white handkerchiefs. All these items I was told were necessary attire to dance out.



George & DragonAnd so, on the 23 April 09, St George's Day, at The George and Dragon, Thames Ditton (a lovely pub with an 'old school' landlord) in my newly acquired uniform, I did it. I was extremely nervous, more so than when I got married, I remember saying on the night.

We danced towards the dance site (car park) in procession, the side performed some dances, and then I heard the cry go up for Ben and myself, ‘Shepherds' Hey, Bampton’ the Squire was calling.

This was it, but no, before we could start the audience had to be introduced to Ben and myself.

"Watch these two, they've only been dancing a few weeks," Steve was calling to the gathering crowd.

My first public dance! And then we were off… da da da da da da dar da da...............

We finished it, we didn't balls it up completely and the audience clapped enthusiastically. Ben and I congratulated each other and I thoroughly loved every minute of it. The side continued to entertain, the landlord laid on some refreshment and during the second half of the evening Glenis and Theresa danced a duet, 'The Nutting Girl' I think it was. Such dances are to prove a dancers ability and range of dances they have acquired in order to be awarded your Baldrics. These are the crossed webbings (green and yellow are our sides' colours) that Morris Dancers wear over their shirts to show which side they are affiliated to. Glenis and Theresa were duly awarded theirs to rapturous applause.

We said our goodbyes and I left the pub on a high.

Breakfast at Colin'sThe next thing I know, two days later I am having a breakfast at Colin's house with a couple of other members, one of whom was Martin (no beard, musician/ dancer) getting ready to take part in the Whitton Parade!

We mustered at a local primary school to take our place in the parade itself. We were placed behind of a pantomime cow! The parade travelled up and down the high street with us dancing in procession, occasionally we would break through the crowds, which brought shrills of delight, and we even danced into some of the local shops, all the while led by Colin, (wherever he led our dancing line would follow.)

Some of my work colleagues were in the parade, and as I had not told them about my new hobby they were flabbergasted when they saw me. Once they had recovered from the shock and picked themselves up off the floor, the usual questions arose. “How, why, where, when, for how long, why, why, why?” To our mutual relief they soon got used to the idea and a couple of them even joined in when invited to dance with us. However, when I returned to work later in the week I discovered a poster of myself in all my regalia had been posted on the mess room wall for all to see; secrets are hard to keep in my job!!

The next dance was to take place at the summit of Box Hill on May Day, at 5am! (Remember I said they are a dedicated bunch.) This is an Spring Grove and Off-Spring traditional annual dance; they have been attending in one guise or other for thirty years.

Sadly I was unable to attend due to work commitments, I would have loved to been there, especially with its crack of dawn start time!!

Well, since that time I have joined the side and danced at quite a few events throughout the borough. I have met the boroughs mayor twice. I’ve had a great laugh with all the dancers and musicians. There are a couple of non bearded gents who I have yet to meet or converse fully with, namely Ian (no beard, dancer and part Bagman) and, Keith (some facial fur and a fine musician.)

There is a very busy schedule planned for the year ahead and I will be attending as many as possible. The itinerary is available on the sides’ website.


So if you want to see us performing, look on the site, see where we are going to be and come along. If you always wanted to give it a go, come along to our practise sessions or contact Colin through the website, you won’t regret it, promise.

At this time (3rd June 09), I am still a novice dancer and am working hard to gain those Baldrics. My next dance is at Twickenham Festival on Saturday 13th June, come and see us, say hello and see if Ben or I have gained the treasured stripes.

Cheers all

Simon Connor (now long beard after writing all this, still novice dancer though.)

Wassail! (a traditional drinking salutation, so the thesaurus says anyway!!!)

Simon went on to gain his baldrics on 23th June 2009 - Colin