Editorial: A case for structured silliness

Say what you like about Morris dancing - and plenty have - but you can't fault adherents' sense of humour, enthusiasm and timing.

The arrival of legions of men and women in silly hats, striking costumes, and bells on in Nelson this week has brought a burst of colourful eccentricity to the city at the start of 2014.

Groups or "sides" of dancers from around the country, Australia and England have been capering about with sticks, handkerchiefs and knee-bells in the rain, and the midday sun.

No-one knows the exact origins of this most English of dances that dates back at least 500 years. Even its name is shrouded in mystery - one theory is that it's a derivation of Moorish, as in describing an exotic practice.

That's a long time, in anyone's language, to be the butt of jokes.

In the first of Rowan Atkinson's memorable Blackadder series, his character described Morris dancing as "the most fatuous, tenth-rate entertainment ever devised by man.

Forty effeminate blacksmiths waving bits of cloth they've just wiped their noses on. How it's still going on in this day and age [15th century], I'll never know".

A bit harsh, perhaps, but Morris dancers are having the last laugh.

One participant this week has a gentler observation of her hobby, describing it as "fun, structured silliness and that's always good".

There's no doubt that the dancers always look as though they are having a blast, even as the rain dropped on to their hats at the 1903 site on Trafalgar St on a wet Tuesday lunchtime.

They have been a sort of medieval flash mob, bringing smiles to faces long before the modern practice of turning up unannounced for a co-ordinated song or dance in a public place became a fad.

The fact that many Morris dancers are above a certain age reinforces the eccentric image, but also shows age is no barrier to having fun.

And perhaps that is an enduring lesson to be taken from the dancers, particularly at this time of year before the work shackles tighten. A bit of structured silliness can go a long way.

The Nelson Mail