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The Royton Morris Dance

Originally based on the dance collected by Maud Karpeles and published in 1932 as “The Lancashire Morris Dance”, this is a traditional dance from the eponymous town near Oldham in Lancashire. There were several teams in the Royton and Oldham area performing very similar dances and two families were pre-eminent in them: the McDermotts and the Colemans. The figures published by Maud Karpeles had come from different teams and there are many other traditional "Royton" figures which were not published. Another similar dance is performed by the Manley Morris Dancers, from the village of Manley in Cheshire, who were originally taught the dance by Bob McDermott at the inviitation of the local EFDSS dance club.

This is the only dance in Rumworth’s repertoire where the figures can be performed in any order. It’s also the only dance whose duration can be varied, by leaving out certain figures. In fact, when we first started dancing it we only did a small subset of the published figures. Even now, we have still not performed all the published figures (although we have done them all at practices) and we've even added a couple of new figures of our own.

Because the figures can be performed in any order, this is also the dance where the conductor’s role is most important: The dance is processional in origin and it is the conductor's job to select the figures which show off the team to the audience to its best advantage. He calls each figure, either in words or using a whistle. As well as having a large number of figures, many of the figures use different steps, capers and even varying sling movements many of which are called by varying blasts on the whistle. It's definitely our most complicated dance but because it's different every time we dance it, it's also very satisfying as well. It certainly keeps dancers on their toes (literally as well as figuratively!)

Unless we are processing off the dance always finishes, like most traditional Lancashire dances, with the Cross Morris figure known in the Royton dance as Nancy Dawson or Number 4. (Afficionados of Bill Tidy’s much lamented Cloggies cartoon strip will recognise this as surely one of the models, if not the model, for the famous Flying Arkwright. Not that we can claim that Mr. Tidy ever saw Rumworth perform this dance.)

 

Up-in-fours, Chippenham Festival 2008

This was the third dance that Rumworth learnt, after the Polka and the Garland. The Conductor claims that he started to teach it in response to complaints that the first two dances were too predictable. Ever since, he has made a point of making Royton as unpredictable as he can - you never know what figure's coming next!

As a static dance including all figures and all variations, Royton would take over half an hour. You’d need to be very fit to do this. Rumworth’s record is around twenty-five minutes, performed to welcome the sun (or at least a sky that wasn’t raining) towards the end of a very wet Chippenham festival around 1983 – the first time all weekend that we’d managed to dance out of doors.