What is it about the first day of May, anyway? If you’re Neo-Pagan, it’s a major holiday (Beltane); if you’re in organized labor, it is a landmark in the fight for an eight-hour day–and if you’re a Morris weirdo, it means getting up in the pre-dawn and preparing to do this.
I come from Morris weirdo roots: About 35 years ago, my then-husband and I ran into an enchanting woman at a convention who was wearing all sorts of interesting buttons, and she told us about Morris dancing. It sounded interesting; she was smart and sexy; so we went and got sucked into the ravenous mouth of Tradition.
I’ve always felt a little weird being a Morris person, seeing as the tradition is English and I am BIPOC, but our local team in Madison, WI was completely welcoming. (I was later amused when I did my DNA and discovered that a full 55% of my randomly-compiled DNA comes from Britain anyway.) My knees crapped out on me early (yay titanium!) so I didn’t do much dancing–especially as I am also bad at knowing my right from my left. Instead, I became our team’s Jack in the Green. This traditional role (there are several, called characters) usually is played by the village blacksmith, who is gotten properly drunk and then put into a wicker tree-shaped frame which is then decorated with greenery. (You need the blacksmith because that thing is sheeping heavy.) Instead, I wore green everything–tights, tunic, and a cloak I spent hours and hours sewing leaves upon–and green greasepaint.
This greasepaint fooled at least one lady into assuming I was white, and I had the nigh-numinous experience of Being Behind the Color Line as she explained to me that she wanted fertility withdrawn from her sister, who was *oh horrors* Consorting With A Black Man. (At least she didn’t use The Word. This has given me some real sympathy for you pale folk–I couldn’t think of a blessed thing to say to this woman, because when I’m truly in shock, my brain grabs some popcorn and just watches.)
I loved being Jack. I had an ailanthus twig (about three feet long) for a wand and a pair of fish puppets. I didn’t even try to not move my lips–here’s a tip: If you focus on your friend as if you’re listening, the audience does too once it realizes it can’t stare at your jaw waiting to catch you at it. It was a huge amount of fun, and freed my deeply squished Performer. (I’m an introvert whose large black wardrobe stems from years of being BACKstage.)
And the fertility is real: My body used to “have late periods” every so often; basically my progesterone would cut out at about day 37 of my cycle and I would miscarry. So I was on heavy-duty meds, but still no baby–until we started Morris dancing. Baby #1 was discreetly conceived while we were illegally camping out at the May Day site, and Baby #2–who just showed up at random. much to our surprise–was medically confirmed two years later to the day. Hmm, magick: I’m watching you now.
And then life changed, and I ended up here in Massachusetts. I was too busy to bond with the local team, and Morris faded into the background of my memory, until this morning.
My son (Baby #2, now 31) lives with me, and he was brought up doing Morris. Just now, he packed up his bells and his flute, and hiked off in the freezing pre-dawn to meet up with the local teams on the banks of the Charles, all ready to dance the sun up once again. I have a rotten cold, so am staying in this year, but I’m delighted he’s there. It’s a bizarre little ritual, but it’s ours.