The (Morris) Dances of Mirkmere are considerably more elaborate than other traditional Fenland styles – particularly the Plough Monday Molly Dances. In character they are most akin to the familiar Cotswold style of morris but with some of the characteristics, especially the vitality, of the Border morris. There is, some historians argue, evidence of the Mirkmere dances once strongly having influenced the development of traditional dance forms in the Cotswold/Border areas of England and that the “Mirkmen” who fled from the local authorities after the proclamation and subsequent repression of 1706 (q.v.) would have inevitably had some influence in the communities where they eventually settled. Certainly, this may well explain the observed similarities between these geographically marginal Fenland dances and the “mainstream” morris villages.
The notation that follows is based on the recollections of Fred Fuddle and Charlie Nipperkin who danced with the last Mirkmere team in the years before the war. They were members of the side on that fateful day when a terrible fate befell the Mirkmere Morris.
The musical notation came to us from Jemimah Nipperkin who played concertina for the old team and taught her tunes to her nephews and nieces and also to Fred’s son Albert. She is believed to be the lady in the picture above standing to the right … it is unlikely that this was quite the costume the musicians wore when playing for the dances.
Like the Cotswold dances with which most readers will be familiar, most of the dances of Mirkmere were for sets of six or eight dancers in two columns. The dances are all vigorous with much “spring” and bounce and our informants insist that great pride was taken in precise bodily control and exhibitions of gracefulness. It is only too easy when dancing fast and vigorously to let the limbs get out of control and some modern revival sides almost make a virtue of the fact – this was most firmly NOT ever allowed by the Mirkmere dance teachers and Squires.
Like all other morris dance traditions, the dances of Mirkmere made use of combinations of basic steps and evaluations chosen to fit the music and character of the particular dance. These basic steps on the Mirkmere menu are as follows –
ALL steps and figures in the Mirkmere dances are performed with a right foot lead – with the sole exception of the foot-up which starts with the inside foot..
ONCE TO YOURSELF (OY)
Four plain capers (see below) – 4PC – hands: down/up/two high twists above the head accompany the capers
In most of the common dance figures the basic stepping sequence to an 8-bar phrase of music is as follows. If a stick dance is being executed then the stick is held low in the right hand.
The sequence consists of four single steps, a double step and a feet-together-jump (ftj). On each of the single steps in the sequence there should be a pronounced surge forwards while the double step and ftj are performed more or less on the spot.
Unusually, both halves of the basic sequence begin with the same right foot lead.
4 single steps
Danced with a surge as the body travels forward about six feet or so. J-shaped swing of the hands across the body from shoulder height on each of the first two single steps, right then left ON the beat. On the third single step both hands go up and forward at 45-degrees with a flick of the hankies up to face level. On the fourth single step the hands return to waist level.
Hands stay by the waist holding onto the belt buckle
This is danced as high as possible with the body kept straight. Hands go up and out as the body travels up into the air and thereby aid the lift. In the single exception of the Foot up and Down figure (q.v.) a hook step is substituted for the ftj and here the hands remain grasping the belt buckle in front of the body.
HALF CAPERS (HC)
This is a simple /R-lr/L-rl/ sequence.
Caper off the leading foot getting as high in the air as possible, land on the other foot and rapidly change weight to the original foot. The arms sweep up to aid the lift.
PLAIN CAPERS (PC)
A strightforward alternate caper off the right and then the left foot. Hands go down and up and finish up.
If the dance calls for a sequence of four plain capers (eg: in the Once to Yourself) then hands go down-up-two high twists.
SLOW “PUDDLE” CAPER
There is only one form of the slow caper in the Mirkmere dances.
With hands grasping the belt buckle and feet together jump high and land with feet crossed right over left and the weight on the back (left) foot. Immediately spring up again to land with feet well apart and then once more spring high to land in the starting position with fet together again to finish with a final surge as the dancer leaps high with both feet together, the spring coming from the ankles and slightly bent knees as the arms go up in a big “show” movement.
In other words – feet together hands on belt to begin and then –
spring high land right foot in front of left
spring high land feet apart
spring high land feet together
leap high with “show”
SIDE STEP (SS)
This is an open side step. The arms reach high and then fall briskly on the step – the leading arm only moving while the other stays with the hand on the belt as usual.
Double step to the right
Double step on the spot turning the body anticlockwise to face behind 180deg
Double step to the right (ie: back to the starting point)
Double step on the spot to turn round again anticlockwise to face original direction.