BY MAX BENNETT
Spring sprung to the sights and sounds of traditional English folk dancing in Takoma Park. Dancers celebrated May Day by dancing up the sun – and away the clouds and rain – Thursday morning at dawn.
Dancers gathered at the Takoma Park Gazebo, donning bells and taking white handkerchiefs and sticks in hand as part of the morris dance tradition.
Accompanied by accordions, fiddle, and a folk drum called a bodhran, morris dancers stepped, clacked their sticks together, and flailed the handkerchiefs in time with the music.
The performances combine dance, music and accessories as dancers step, clash, wave, and jingle rhythmically to the beat, creating visual and auditory performance unlike any other.
“In England, that’s what morris dancers do on May Day,” said Laura Parsons, a morris dancer with the Arlington Northwest Morris team. “They get together in the morning and dance up the sun.”
Each team has its own traditions, she said. The Rock Creek Morris Women practiced one of their traditions during the May Day celebration. One of their new dancers was “vested.”
Dancers in the Rock Creek team earn yellow vests when they dance well enough to become team members. Those vests are decorated with various pins.
New initiates are given a pin from each team member’s vest as part of an initiation ceremony.
Gretchn Pfou is celebrated after being “vested”
Takoma Park resident Jen Wofford has been watching the morris dancers welcome spring since she moved to Takoma Park.
She said the dancing is a great display of community, “I love it, it’s fantastic!”
Wofford said the dancing is playful and happy, saying it’s a great way to wake up the earth and bring spring.
“It’s old history,” she said referring to the morris dance tradition that extends back to the 15th century England.
Roscoe and beyond
The dancers broke for breakfast, then made their way to Takoma Parks Old Town where they performed near the Roscoe the Rooster statue.
Dancers headed to Farragut Square and MacPherson Square in Washington, showing their skills to the city.
Parsons said they get a mixed reception from onlookers.
“It’s kind of street theater, and it’s a little odd,” she said. “People have never heard of it. People in England have never heard of it and it’s an English tradition.”
Parsons said that almost every place English people settled has morris dancing.
“Canada, here, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, there are morris teams everywhere.”
Morris dancing came to the Washington area in 1977. Dancing up the sun has been a Takoma Park tradition since 1986. It was picked because several members of the Rock Creek Morris Women and the Foggy Bottom Morris Men live in the Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and Takoma, DC area. Other members and the Arlington team have early risings and long drives from as far away as Sterling, VA and Ellicot City, MD.
PHOTOS BY BILL BROWN