The sound of bells, sticks, singing and a mix of fiddle and accordion music comprise the Bloomington Quarry Morris dancers annual May Day performance. The group started in 1977 and is part of a larger Morris dance movement which folklorist John Bealle says migrated from Great Britain to the United States.
It became well established in the English countryside in this particular area of England and so each community would have a team or a side as they called it and they would perform on festive occasions. The way it came over here was this folklorist Cecil Sharp collected it and observed it in the 1910s and then he came to America and helped found this country song and dance society so Morris dancing became a part of their instructional program.
Martha Marmouzé has been dancing since its beginning in 1977. She explained the specifics of the ensemble.
“Its done in a team or a set traditionally it was done by men but now in the United States and I would say England as well we have women dancing that have helped keep the dancing alive. They dance in different formations, lots of times its in lines, three people facing three people and its just a weaving and intricate pattern with those six people to music with bells on our shins and we dance with hankies or sticks to hit the ground with.”
Libby Gwynn, also with the Bloomington Quarry Morris, says,
“The main focus is on the spring and the growing of the crops and encouraging the crops to grow and celebrating May and the new spring season.”
The Morris musicians are just as an important as the dancers. Fiddle player Twy Bethard emphasized the communication between dancer and musician.
“Here you’re supposed, you have to watch what the dancers are doing and adjust your tempo to match what they’re doing. They’re setting your tempo instead of the other way around. The symbiosis of the dance and the music that’s whats great. You know you have this relationship there between their movements and your music and that’s why I play now.”
While the tradition is strong in the Bloomington Morris group, member Martha Marmouzé and Jeremy Nottingham have personal reasons why they dance.
For Marmouzé it’s the love of dance.
“I just love to dance, I love to dance. And the when friends dance its even better because there’s that camaraderie its really nice. That’s what it’s a lot about just being together with friends.”
And for Nottingham, it’s the sense of doing nothing really important, but enjoyable all the same.
“Cause its ridiculous, its totally silly, its like the silliest kind of recreation I’ve ever seen. There’s absolutely nothing accomplished by a bunch of people swinging sticks around and dancing to a fiddler or an accordion player absolutely nothing at all and frankly I can’t blame anybody who looks at us for laughing because it’s a bunch of fun and for no purpose whatsoever.”
The group is preparing for the Ale, a festival on Memorial Day weekend in which all the Midwest Morris teams meet up to exchange dances and perform a single, large show.