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Lucy Wright Hedge Morris Dancing. Photo credit: Leonie Freeman

Join the ‘hedge morris’ dancing revolution 

Worried that you don’t have anyone to ‘dance the sun up’ with on May morning? Fear not! The fastest growing (virtual) Morris dancing team wants YOU to become a hedge morris dancer this May 1st

It’s hard to believe that May morning is nearly upon us again. It’s always been one of my favourite folky festivities – so much so that I’ve taken to calling it ‘Folk Christmas’ (borrowed, I think, from the lovely Jen Cox of Open Morris / EFDSS fame). But this May Day is going to be extra special to me for another reason: it’s the one-year anniversary of the Hedge Morris dancing project.

Regular Tradfolk readers might remember my previous hedge morris article. TLDR, I’d found myself holed up in a Holiday Inn in Stevenage on the eve of May 1st last year, far from home and even further from my old Morris dancing side, Waters Green in Cheshire. I’d been feeling sad not to be able to join the communal May Morning dance-outs which filled my social media feed with such colour and exuberance each year, but had decided that I was going to do it anyway. On my own. In the car park. I danced the sun up and had a blast.

The ‘hedge’ prefix feels pleasingly progressive, even renegade, speaking to a kind of rootsy self-determination

I named this type of informal, solo performance ‘hedge morris dancing’, with reference to a book I’d always loved, Hedge Witch by Rae Beth, about the practice of solitary witchcraft. A bit of additional research taught me that the term ‘hedge’ has been used throughout history to refer to things that were unofficial or unaffiliated… like the ‘hedge schools’ of 18th and 19th-century Ireland which educated Catholic children when such teaching was outlawed; ‘hedge missionaries’ who preached the gospel outside of an established church, and clandestine ‘hedge marriages’ between two people whose union was otherwise unapproved. Even Shakespeare makes reference to a ‘hedge-born swain’, in his play, Henry VI, as the counter to those of ‘gentle blood’. So basically an oik (like me).

Although most of the ‘hedge’ prefixes (with the exception of Rae Beth’s) were used rather derogatorily – intended to suggest illegitimacy or inferiority – to my contemporary eye, many feel pleasingly progressive, even renegade, speaking to a kind of rootsy self-determination that I can really get behind. 

Photo credit: Leonie Freeman

And it seemed that other people could get behind it, too. When I posted my musings on social media, along with a couple of shaky self-shot videos from my Stevenage dawn outing, a whole bunch of people got in touch to say they also danced alone, or wanted to, and asked me to share more information about how they could get involved. Since then I’ve found myself increasingly busy, creating online resources and mini-tutorials – from footwork karaoke to making hankies and rag jackets; giving workshops (including for a fabulous drag collective from Newcastle) and hosting discussions on a range of topics, from gender and race to disability access. It’s been wonderful to see so many people, especially those who have never Morris danced before, and/or have felt excluded from the folk arts, begin to take their first jingling steps into the wonderful world of Morris.

And then, as you may recall, in October, I decided that my growing army of misfit Morris dancers needed a tradition to take part in, so I invented ‘Dusking’ (with apologies to Terry Pratchett, and a host of southern hemisphere Morris sides). Taking place at the opposite end of the year, Dusking was an invitation to dance the sun down, marking the start of winter and the gifts of rest, replenishment and reflection it brings with it. It was one of the loveliest things I’ve ever been involved with, and such a pleasure to go out – even in the cold and damp – knowing that all over the country, and all over the world, there were others doing the same thing in their own extraordinary ways. (There’s a Tradfolk article about Dusking here, plus a round-up of some of the amazing performances that y’all shared!)

From the outset, I wanted Hedge Morris Dancing to have a strong focus on inclusion and self-expression – concerned with using morris as a springboard for creativity rather than something that always demands faithful reproduction – although we can count some award-winning Morrisers amongst our number, alongside the sparky first-timers. To date, Hedge Morris Dancing has also inspired songs, poems, essays and even a theatre production in progress. As someone who has always believed wholeheartedly in making folk traditions our own, I’m delighted to be a small part of that living ‘folk process’.

(Morris) dancing with myself

But why dance alone? Surely it’s nicer to dance with others?

Yes, it absolutely can be. Being part of an in-person team is almost certainly one of the best and speediest ways to learn Morris dancing, and there are huge benefits to belonging to a friendly ‘lived’ community. In fact, more than a few people who took part in Dusking last year have since gone on to join Morris sides in their local area, something that brings me enormous pleasure to hear.

But online community is also a marvellous thing, especially for those unable to commit to being a member of a side, or who don’t have a suitable one within commuting distance of home. Lots of people who contacted me last year experienced chronic illnesses or disabilities which limited their opportunity to take part in outdoor activities, or were struggling with the ongoing cost of living crisis that made travelling far from home impossible. Not to mention the large numbers of newbies coming to Morris for the first time, inspired by Morris supergroups like Boss, The Wad and Blackthorn Ritualistic, who want to build a little confidence before donning bells in public

Photo credit: Leonie Freeman

And I’m not the first to highlight the virtues of solo Morrising. In addition to the fantastic performances each year in the Cotswold Morris jig competitions at Sidmouth and Whitby folk festivals, as well as jaw-dropping solo contests for clog and carnival morris, during the darkest days of the Covid-19 lockdown, lots of solitary morris dancers went out as part of the fabulous Lone Morris Festival, the brainchild of Kathy Brickell.

Shared via Facebook and raising much-needed funds for NHS charities, some participants wore a mixture of the different kits they had lying around at home, while others took up more ‘domestic’ props, like knitting needles and rolling pins for sticks. Since then, the dividing line between the ‘lived’ and the ‘virtual’ has only become more blurred, and I for one am hugely grateful for the networks of friends and supporters who live (mostly) on my smartphone – as well as any opportunity to get creative with my Morris practice.

That’s why Hedge Morris can offer even fully-affiliated Morris dancers a brilliant potential outlet beyond their regular side. Sometimes you don’t have the energy to organise a full dance-out, or you’re travelling for work over the May Bank Holiday (as I will be again this year), or the rest of your side just doesn’t fancy getting up that early to dance the sun up even though you’re itching to. Sometimes you just want to give yourself permission to create the non-canonical Morris kit of your dreams, to finally try mixing Morris with krumping, dabbing or voguing, or to simply take a moment to acknowledge the arrival of another summer with a quiet moment of reflection and a quick stomp in the garden! And you can do that, knowing that you are part of an enthusiastic Hedge Morris movement, all doing the same thing, and cheering you on every step of the way.

So if you’re a solitary Morris dancer, please do consider getting your bells out this May Morning, wherever in the world you happen to be. And if you’ve never danced before, you are SO very welcome to join us, too. This year, I’ve been creating even more inspiration and beginner-friendly resources in the lead-up to the big day, and for those who take part, there are even bespoke leather badges, hand-made by The Badgesmith (because everyone knows that all Morris dancers need badges). And if you share your photos and videos using the hashtag #hedgemorris, you can be sure of a warm reception, whether it’s a few tentative steps in your kitchen or a fully choreographed and stage-managed performance in your local beauty spot. The main thing is to do it. The summer is relying on us.

To quote Billy Idol, if I had a chance, I’d ask the world to dance, and I’d (Hedge Morris) dance with myself!

Hope you might join me.

Lucy Wright's bare legs in a woodland clearing. She is wearing morris dancing bell pads. Her feet are also bare.
Photo credit: Tilo Reifenstein

Fancy giving Hedge Morris a go? Here’s my handy-dandy checklist for any first-time Hedge Morris dancer.

  • Decide where you’re going to dance. At home? In the garden? In the park? In bed? There are no rules about this, so pick wherever feels right to you (and is safe).
  • If you’ve not Morris danced before and would like to learn a few moves, there are some mini-tutorials on my Instagram covering the very basics of a range of Morris dancing styles, including armwork-only ideas. And there are also some great Tradfolk articles here and here to help get you started. However, you’re also completely welcome to dance the sun up in your very own style: at Dusking last year, we were treated to pole dancing, pogo-ing and voguing. We love it all!
  • Decide what you’re going to wear (if you’re anything like me this might be the most important bit!) Are you making something, customising something you already own, or just wearing your everyday clothes? It’s entirely up to you. I say go wild! There’s lots of costume inspo on Tradfolk and Instagram…
  • Pick a prop: are you going to make hankies, wave tea towels, gather a couple of sticks in the park, or maybe something else?
  • Worried about the (lack of) music to dance to? Play something on your phone, or just respond to the sounds of the natural world around you. As for me, I like to channel the women of La Rioja in Spain, who have been fighting to be allowed to dance La Gaita (‘the Bagpipe’) for years (it’s normally performed by men only). At last year’s festival, when the women started to dance, all of the (male) musicians abruptly stopped playing, so the women completed their dance in silence. Dancing without music can be an act of solidarity and defiance.
  • Set your alarm for 4.48am (dawn), or whatever time you need to be up and ready to dance before sunrise. Be sure to do some stretches, and wear appropriate footwear if you’re dancing outside.
  • Let the world know you’ll be Hedge Morris dancing by filling in the Tradfolk May Day Morris Dancing callout online form, then be sure to take photos, videos etc and share them using the hashtag #hedgemorris
  • Feel flipping proud of yourself. You helped make summer happen. You’re a star.  And you’re part of a gorgeous movement of like-minded folks. Thank you.