Morris Dancing - fun with sticks!
I love Morris Dancing! I don't partake myself (being a non-drinker doesn't really go with the foaming tankard image - though I have got the almost compulsory facial hair!) but as a much ridiculed but widely loved English folk custom it takes a lot of beating. As with so many folk traditions it has become very fashionable to sneer superciliously but as soon as a group of Morris Men start dancing you can't help noticing that crowds start to build up around them.
Dating back at least to the 15th Century it's name is thought to have derived from the 'Moresca' - a Spanish dance which celebrated the driving out of the Moors from Spain in 1492. It's hard to see and harder to prove but for the time being that's the leading theory. It is however a traditionally male custom and although one can see mixed and all female sides these are not uniformly welcomed particularly by those who see the dance as fertility based. Again, you'd have a job seeing the dances as such but take my word for it. There are certain 'props' used by Morris teams depending on the type of dance they're doing. Handkerchiefs (ideally large and clean, for the waving of), sticks (for the walloping of), pigs bladders (for the chastising with), clog boots (for heavy clumping) and swords (for ornamental intimidation). All good clean fun as famously practiced by William Shakespeare's favourite comic actor, Will Kemp who morris danced from London to Norwich! (This led to Kemp's book 'Nine Days Wonder' (1600) and a few years back actor Chris Harris's wonderful one man play based on this extraordinary journey, 'Kemp's Jig'). Take a peek and see my video of the Blackheath Morris Men doing their wonderful stick dance by the pub on the Pantiles.
So basically this is the sort of event that can take you by surprise and turn up on the Pantiles. Oh, and did I mention the sedan chair races that take place here every year? Keep your eyes peeled on August 25th 2008!