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Local dance troop mark 50 years of tradition, friendship and fundraising

By Evie Payne

14th Jan 2024 | Local News

The Rutland Morris perform at a host of local events, and now so can you. Image credit: The Rutland Morris.
The Rutland Morris perform at a host of local events, and now so can you. Image credit: The Rutland Morris.

A local dance troop will be turning 50 this year, and have already marked the admirable milestone with some dramatic changes.

The Rutland Morris, formerly the Rutland Morris Men, will be celebrating five decades of dance, community and fundraising this year with a range of events, workshops and much more.

While the future holds a lot for this thriving local group, let us first look back on the 50 year history of The Rutland Morris:

The historic phrase "Morris Dancer" when used in the counties of Rutland, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and adjoining counties almost always actually meant "mummer" rather than "morris" as we know it today.

Any morris music and dance from before the 19th century would have probably been more akin to what we now call "molly" and much more like the Leicestershire variety revived by Hinckley Plough Bullockers, or some of the more traditional molly sides we see at near-by Whittlesey.  The performance would have been particularly different from today's variety in that there would be no Cotswold costume - and certainly no bells on the dancers' legs.

The Rutland Morris dancing along Oakham's Church Street and Northgate last year. Image credit: Wool Zone.

During the 20th century, and in particular in the 20s and 30s, Morris dancing was a common activity in Rutland schools, and a Morris dancing 'side' is believed to have existed in Caldecott in the early part of the century. 

The modern day Rutland Morris Men were founded in 1974 following a visit from the visit from Stafford Morris and families, following which the men in Uppingham folk dance club wanted to do morris too, so Mike Harnett started the Rutland Morris Men. Mike was the first Squire - and the full list of Squires, since 1975, is here.

The club then joined the national "Morris Ring" in 1978, and have since sought to ensure that Morris dancing remains alive and well in Rutland.  In 1983 we organised a dancing tour of all the villages in Rutland in a single weekend, and in 1995 and 2011 hosted national meetings of the Morris Ring which attracted over 150 dancers from all parts of the country.

By the start of the 21st century the club had settled on a regular pattern of activity, which continues today.  

The Rutland Morris in full costume supporting a local cause in January 2023. Image credit: The Rutland Morris.

A spokesperson for the group said: "Through the autumn and winter indoor rehearsals take place each Monday evening.  Through the spring and the summer we dance most Monday evenings in two locations - the first at 8pm is usually a hamlet or small village with no pub, a "dry" spot, the second at 9pm being in a village boasting a hostelry approved of by the dancers and musicians.

"Other regular performances include May Day in which we dance for the rising of the sun before partaking of a healthy (!) breakfast, and on Boxing Day whereupon we dance for the hardy souls of Uppingham.  

"Through the spring and summer we dance at a number of local events and weddings, and frequently travel to national dancing meetings all over the country.  Our dancers are accompanied by a varying number of musicians, which can be anything from one to seven - playing melodeons, accordions, violins, and even on occasion more exotic instruments.

"We take a collection at each performance which helps pay for the rehearsal rooms and replacement of equipment.  The majority of surplus funds raised during the year are always donated to a local charity - preferably an unfashionable one!"

Rutland and Melton MP cutting the ribbon on the sign and milepost, supported with funding from The Rutland Morris. Image credit: The Rutland Morris.

Last year, the group supported the Oakham Canal Green Corridor Project, and even danced at the launch of the new signage and milepost, unveiled by MP Alicia Kearns almost exactly one year ago, on 13 January 2023.

They also performed at the annual Rutland CAMRA Beer Festival, and took part in a dance of dance alongside three other groups, Rumworth Morris, Leicester Morris Men and Northampton Morris, raising awareness of the traditional dancing style.

Heading into 2024, the group have made the decision to welcome all members of the community this New Year, and voted unanimously for the name change, 'The Rutland Morris', to accompany this decision.

This comes ahead of a range of performances and workshops scheduled for the group throughout the year, where the group will be, for the first time, welcoming women to their ranks.

Find out more about the group online, or visit them at an upcoming workshop on 21 January 2024:

Join The Rutland Morris in 2024. Image credit: The Rutland Morris.

     

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