To some Morris Dancing may look like a little bit of organised chaos, and in that they would be correct. Each region throughout England developed their own particular forms of Morris Dancing with varying tools, steps and patterns forming the dances. Within these regions each village would also have more subtle differences in forms and styles known as Traditions. Sound and Fury Dance both Cotswold and Rapper, with a little Border thrown in for good measure.
Cotswold traditions inherit their names from various villages in the Cotswold Hills, a 25 mile range of hills in the south west of England.
While Lionel Bacon noted at least 23 village specific Cotswold Traditions, Sound and Fury currently attempt just a handful. Bampton, a gentle yet manly single step tradition and Sherbourne, a slightly rowdier backwards double step tradition (with a high kick and a flip or two if the right people are dancing!).
Others Making a frequent guest appearance in our repertoire is a favoured Border dance called Ockington. The Border tradition came from the Welsh border region and is typically performed wearing rag coats and blacked out faces. In the past the side has also danced Lichfield (along with Longborough and Elm City), and briefly dabbled in Brackley.
Rapper is an exciting form of Sword Dancing which features flexible double handled swords and a large amount of weaving in and out of the dancers. The earliest record of Sword dancing is from the Tyne Valley region of England in the early 1700’s using the more rigid long swords. With the invention of the flexible Rapper sometime in the 1800’s the Rapper sword dances developed about 20 miles away while the longsword dances died out. It has been suggested that due to the expense of steel in this time frame it is more likely that the Rapper was improvised from old mining tools. Rapper dances involve a very fast paced close knit team )and a top notch musician!). With all the bobbing and weaving ducking and jumping, flinging and spinning, it’s a wonder nobody loses a finger!
On January 10th, 2014 our rapper foreman lost his own personal battle. The following treatise has shaped much of how we as a side want to perform.
By Paul S. Davis
Rapper is an “act,” a spectacle, a show. It, unlike Morris, is not about some ancient fertility rite, calling a blessing on the plow, or some other facet of rural agrarian life in Jolly Olde England. Rapper is about showing off, and it evolved in a culture where the important qualities were strength, agility, speed, precision, bravery and, oddly enough, nobility.
Like vaudeville, rapper is an entertainment for the audience. Old rapper kits often look like military uniforms, just like a marching band or a drill team. The traditional calling-on song sets the scene: audience, these are not mere mortals before you. These are honest-to-goodness heroic characters, the best and the brightest. The verse runs “there are no finer men in the country, in Scotland or Ireland likewise.”
Therefore, to really “perform” rapper, beyond merely “dancing” it, you all need to have a persona, a character you inhabit when in front of the public. Pick a moment before the performance when you will assume your character’s attributes. Maybe it’s when you put on your sash. Maybe it’s when you take your sword. Pick a specific time, and, at that moment, stop being your day-to-day self and begin acting differently.
Imagine your own best quality. Your persona has 10% more of it. Imagine your worst feature. Your persona has never had it, and never will. Your persona is confident. Your persona says, “Yes, I DO run with scissors. I like running with scissors. In fact, I even play with them while I’m moving!” Because, that’s what rapper is like.
It’s not about arrogance. It’s not about showing off out of some neurotic need for approval. It’s not about trying to show that you are soooo clever. It’s just that you, in the form of your persona, are just so good, so fearless and talented that you can’t keep it inside anymore. It’s bursting out of you, this joyful excellence. It’s shining in your eyes, it’s glowing in your skin, it’s beaming in your smiles.
As you inhabit your persona, you’ll discover that it is fun to be larger-than-life. You can be stronger, faster, more skillful. It’s great! You toy with flashing steel, because you can, without fear, and with exuberance, and moving precisely at lightning speed. You are amazing!
By taking on these personas, you can subtly put that message across to the audience. It will transform your dancing. It will change the way you interact with the audience. Your personas are not shy. The audience will be drawn in, and start to feel the joy and the fun, at the core of the performance. They will respond.
This is the difference between a good rapper team and a great one. This is the trick to wowing a crowd, and, in the process, having an amazingly good time. Though it may feel odd at first, give yourself the freedom to really take on these personas. We don’t get enough opportunity in normal life to play-act, to leave behind our drab selves and become someone larger, better, more radiant. Try it. You may find, that, besides completely transforming the audience’s experience of the dance, it will also completely transform your own.
Paul S. Davis Sound and Fury Morris & Sword Seattle, Washington, USA Copyright ©2005 Paul S. Davis
Paul Davis was the foreman and founding member of Sound and Fury’s erstwhile rapper side. Under his guidance, some of us learned how to loosen our ankles, all of us managed spectacularly crisp locks and most importantly, we all had fun. Paul lost his battle with cancer on January 10, 2014. He is deeply missed. We hope his insights on dancing vs. performing will influence many future generations of rapper (and Morris) dancers.