By Tom Morris
The Owain Glyndwr is not a pub I visit often, but hesitation was far from my mind as I ducked in from the rain lashing down outside last Tuesday night. Peeking through a crack in the fire doors on my left as I went in, I spotted a group of people lined up together in an empty room, waving handkerchiefs like their lives depended on it. This must be it- Cardiff’s very own local Morris dancing group.
Slipping through the crack and making myself known, the first fellow I spoke to declared himself to not be dancing during the current round because “I’m a dragon.” You what? He’s a dragon, simple as that. This was the first of many encounters with Morris dancing jargon I had over the next two hours. I was glad to see that the group had a sense of humour, as I was sent purely so that we could name the article “Morris does Morris”- and so we have. Later, one of the men remarked that “we could do with a Morris”- because apparently some smart Alec always pipes up and asks which one of them is called Morris at the end of a show dance.
Minnie, a lady with a real passion for the sport, taught me some beginners’ steps, and our friend Mike the dragon lent me some hankies to twirl around. Much like a lot of dancing, Morris comes in fours. One, two, three, hop, switch sides and so on. It’s terribly hard to describe in words and I doubt it’s of utmost interest to the reader.
After that, Minnie handed me a big wooden stick and we started to clap them together, sort of like slow sword fighting. Then we got lined up in three pairs, and started clapping sticks and jigging around each other. You swap sides, roll round each other, change lines, and clonk sticks. Minnie told me not to worry about my footwork too much to start with, as that only really matters once you have bells on your ankles that ring in time with the band. It’s all done to the time of skilled live music by a group using accordions and flutes.
I spoke to the flute player for a moment, who told me she’s studying at Cardiff Met. She doesn’t do the Morris apart from playing the music, but she does join in with another local group, the Rapper dancers, who dance using double-handled swords.
In fact, a lot of the members are students. With some of the founder members from the 70s now getting on a bit, they say the students are useful to do the more energetic dances. However, when they finish studying and head off to pastures anew away from Cardiff, they usually quit Cardiff Morris. Therefore although the youngsters are the ones that can do the dances the best, the club relies on the older members to remember the routines and pass them on to the next lot.
The current club, members tell me, started in 1970, although there are records with one of the national governing bodies, the Morris Ring, that a club existed in Cardiff in the 1950s. No-one really knows, and splits with the governing bodies over time (for a time, the Morris Federation took over things) make it even harder to keep track of. People at the actual group mainly focus on keeping their step in time and looking forward to their next well deserved pint, so such semantics aren’t really worth worrying about.
Perhaps the most exciting thing the dancers do look forward to is their Ale, where the group all meet up to dance in a church hall, eat curry, drink kegs of ale then pass out in a sleeping bag on the very same floor. If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what does.