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Archive -> Autobiography -> ‘As a Tale That is Told’ Extract 41 Page 145-147

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‘As a Tale That is Told’ Extract 41 Page 145-147

MN account of first visits to Sharp
As Christmas time drew near we began to wonder how to use these songs as part of an entertainment which had hitherto always included dances as well as songs.

So I went again to Mr. Sharp and asked him if there were any dances danced by country folks which would not spoil the songs and be in harmony with their spirit.

He told me that seven years ago, (Making over thirty-seven years from now) he had seen a “side” of Morris dancers dance down the High at Oxford and that he had taken down one or two of the tunes. He said he had always meant to follow up the subject but that he had never done so. He found the name of one of the dancers and said he came from Headington Quarry.

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Armed with this information I went to Oxford and arranged for two dancers to come up to London to teach their traditional Morris dances to the girls of my Club. So that the first Morris dance of that revival which has spread from one end of England to another and which is to-day part of the national life was danced at a Girl’s Club in the old Cumberland Haymarket in the northwest of London.

That night we learn Bean Setting, Blue-eyed Stranger, Constant Billy, Shepherd’s Hey, and another visit from the country dancers perfected us in about half a dozen dances. The countrymen were as pleased with the girls’ dancing as Mr Sharp had been with their singing.

It was at our Christmas party that the first public Song and Dance Festival took place with an audience of some 200 people of all classes, the friends of the girls and friends of those who helped at the Club.

And that night there awoke, after generations of sleep, a little stir of an older life, an older rhythm, an older force, in tune with a simpler life, a sweeter music. And that stir took place as we watched and listened to these workers of the city who sang and danced to the rhythm so long forgotten.

There happened to be there that night many artists, writers, musicians, those in fact who by their nature and their work were sensitive to the atmosphere created, to

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the vibrations set up by this music and rhythm of an older world, a world untouched by machinery and mechanised power but responsive to the vibrant rhythm of sea and wind, earth and stars.

And it was Laurence Housman who first saw the significance of that first revival of these dances. He came up to me at the end and said that we must not keep such a national possession in the narrow area of a Girls’ Club. We must show the country what we had discovered and he prophesied a great revival. Had it not been for him I doubt if the national revival would ever have been realised.

As I look back it is almost incredible that from that visit I paid to Headington and from that Christmas party when the morris dance of the revival was first danced, should have grown a national movement, and that a group of working girls should have taught those dances to hundreds of children and young people in every country in England.
 



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‘As a Tale That is Told’ Extract 41 Page 145-147