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24 September 2014

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7 Dances 7 Days: Morris Dancing
7 Dances 7 Days: Morris Dancing

7 Dances 7 Days: Border Morris Dancing

By Hannah Green
I went along to the outskirts of Basingstoke to meet up with the Hook Eagle Border Morris Side, to try Border Morris Dancing.

video Film of Hannah Green Morris Dancing >
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Coming from a small village in South Oxfordshire, I have grown up with Morris Dancers performing at local fetes. So when I was investigating dance styles in Hampshire for 7 Dances 7 Days, I felt that Morris Dancing should be included. Little did I realise what I was letting myself in for!


The setting was the village pub of the New Inn outside of Basingstoke. Radio Solent's Jon Cuthill and myself did a guided tour of various Basingstoke roundabouts before finding the inn.

 The Hook Eagle Border Morris dancers were dancing with a ladies side the Shinfield Shambles, both groups dancing Border Morris, although I did notice that the Hook Eagle team were more violent with their sticks.

Border Morris

Each region has different versions of Morris dancing. In the Cotswolds the Morris Dancing tends to involve hankies and puffy white costumes. Border Morris Dancing as performed by the Hook Eagle Border Morris side and Shinfield Shambles, comes from the Welsh Border. It claims to be Morris Dancing in its simplest form.

It is violent and involves lots of yelling, and hitting with very stout sticks. The Hook Eagle side have suffered injuries, including broken fingers, concussion and torn ligaments. They decided not to tell me this until after I had danced.

My Morris Attempt

Jon Cuthill was there to help me make a Video Nation film about the Border Morris Men and to capture my attempts at Morris Dancing. I was given about five minutes of tuition by six of the Hook Eagles, lead by Rob who shouted out the instructions to me. I have danced in ceilidhs before however I quickly realised that this was not going to help me at all.

Shinfield Shambles
The Shinfield Shambles Ladies Dance

The Hook Eagle team is a men's side so I am probably only one of a small handful of women who has ever danced this form. The chorus was the easiest to remember as it involved holding my stick ( about the width and length of a small baseball bat) out in front of my stomach while my dance partner hit it violently 7 times. Then I repeated the move!

It was the only move I could remember as my tutorial came to an end and the proper dancing began.

 Both sides danced different dances accompanied by their respective sides. While the Hook Eagles were dancing the Shinfield Shambles ladies told me about their costumes.

 When the side formed the original Shambles chose their own colours, their costumes must stick to each dancers individual colour. Later dancers who joined the side had a limited choice, but overall this gives the side a very colourful and eye catching look. 

The Hook Eagles and the costume

The Hook Eagle costume is highly elaborate, consisting of a rag jacket, a top hat covered in pheasant feathers with fox tails on the back, and finally lots of black face paint.

 Although this looks really politically incorrect, it is not meant to cause offence. When Border Morris was created it was illegal to beg, so Morris dancers would disguise them in these costumes to prevent themselves getting arrested.

Hook Eagles make me welcome
The Hook Eagles congratulate my dancing

The Hook Eagles had one last surprise for me, they decided that I had evidentially been trained enough and that I should perform in front of the crowd.

 Unfortunately the light had dimmed by this point so my public performance was not filmed. But as the photos demonstrate I performed the entire dance (with only a few mistakes) in full Hook Eagle costume. Afterwards the team all hugged me and rubbed their face paint all over my face!

Afterwards Jon and myself danced again with the Shinfield Shambles, in a more sedate but equally good dance. Then with one final Hook Dance we had to leave. I had a fantastic time, and would really recommend anyone to try Morris or Country Dancing. It is easy to pick up and a very social form of dancing which does not necessitate a high level of fitness.

Yet I was really tired after the dancing and the face paint took a good hour to take off!

last updated: 05/09/06
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