When ESMM began in 1926 King George V was on the throne. We danced through one of the shortest reigning monarchs (Edward VIII) and have been dancing through the entire reign of the longest reigning monarch in British history (Elizabeth II). The story of all these feats of feet is available on our history pages website which you are welcome to browse as you wait for the coronation to start and we welcome our new King Charles III.
And in a way, the link between Morris and Monarchy is metaphor. If there is no meaning in the majesty, no mystery in the history, nothing symbolic or significant about the events at Westminster Cathedral… if all you see is a man having a hat put on his head at considerable public expense, then it will seem at best ridiculous and at worst infuriating. In the same way, if all you see in Morris dancing is a bunch of guys waving hankies and do not see the link to a past that goes back to Shakespeare, if you miss the spirit that celebrates the human ability to turn from productivity and celebrate the gift of life, joy and community just for the sake of it, if you miss the faith that some things will endure despite the uncertainty in certain change, then Morris will always be a bit baffling, I suppose.
The name Charles, of course, contains a reminder of the historical attempt to remove the king from the kingdom: there’s always someone ready to fill the gap. It is hard to imagine Cromwell as a Morris dancer and equally hard not to think it would have done him – not to mention the people of Eire – the world of good if he had been.
We have no idea how much of what passes today for Morris would be recognised by Shakespeare: honesty and humility require us to admit it is probably not much. But the ability and necessity of dancing for joy instead of labouring for the Economy or the home has never changed. Dancing may find many expressions, but few are as simple, unadorned, non-competitive and rooted in the land as Morris. Or, in the memorable words of Richard Thompson:
It was in my father’s father’s day they knew a rolling air
And the Albion boys will show you how, they sang it everywhere
And if you come along with us you’re numbered as a friend
And the faded flower of England will rise and bloom again
Long live the King!