So when someone mentions Morris dancing, what do you think of? A quaint English village setting perhaps, with a team of men wearing white outfits, and straw hats with flowers. Or maybe bells on their legs, waving hankies in the air. Not forgetting the sashes of ribbons and rosettes of course…
Well, you’ll think again, when you meet Croydon’s Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris team.
I have been aware of a Morris Dancing tradition in our fair borough for some years. Each august, the Night of the Dance takes place, where different Morris teams come together to dance outside some of our Croydon locals, to celebrate the feast day of the patron saint of beer, St Arnold, no less. This was last year’s night in full swing outside the Oval. I highly recommend it.
Somehow I have always missed seeing the Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris team perform at the Night of the Dance. And you definitely wouldn’t forget them. Infamous for being asked to leave the White Lion by the police for being too noisy (the story, even making the Daily Mail), they look like wild beasts when they don their dancing clothes. They wear tattered coats and spooky masks complete with sinister red glowing lights. Clashing sticks and hollering during the dances, they create quite the theatrical spectacle. This all adds mystique to the story of their signature dance, the Wild Hunt – the legend of coal black hounds with glowing red eyes on a night-time woodland hunt. All their dances are rooted in folklore and ancient North European mythology but with their own unique twist. As you can imagine they are just as likely to be booked for Halloween performances as the more traditional May Day pageants. Oh and they are a mixed team, so anyone can join.
We were fortunate enough to bump into one of the Wild Hunt, David Young, at the Oval after one of their performances at the start of the year. We got chatting, then persuaded him to put on his mask, complete with Celtic symbols and red lights. In turn he invited us along to one of their rehearsals.
So that’s how we ended up at a West Croydon Scout Hut last tuesday evening. I was immediately integrated into the dancing, with the team’s squire Alison Scrimshaw patiently guiding me through the moves – walking pace at first, then in time (well broadly on my part) to music. They even let me loose with a stick! My first dance was exhausting and exhilarating. I was given a breather while they rehearsed another dance, and I had time to try and work out what the team were doing with their feet.
As for the accompaniment, it isn’t just a cd player in the corner, but actual live folk music – several members of the team play drums and accordions to make up their band. It’s loud and rhythmic, and before I knew it I was tapping my foot along. I was back in for a second, more complicated dance, where I hope I didn’t disgrace myself too much. It was great fun, and not to mention a brilliant stress relief after a day stuck in the office. Exercise-wise I’d take this over the gym any time.
To finish off the evening the whole team donned their costumes, to dance for us in full dress. The lights were dimmed, their eerie red mask lights were switched on, and we were completely mesmerised. I will certainly be back again if they’ll have me – I’m still not sure I got the foot work right.
If I have whetted your appetite and you’d like to see the Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris dance for yourself, they will be performing in Croydon on St George’s Day (Sunday 23 April) at The Builder’s Arms, from around midday. And they’ll of course be back at the next Croydon Night of the Dance on Tuesday 15 August. Check out their listings page for other events.
Or if you fancy giving it a go yourself, you can find out how to join here.
Thank you to David, Alison and the rest of the team for being so welcoming, and apologies if I trod on anyone during rehearsals…
Posted by Julia