IT has taken 47 years but one of the last bastions of male dominance in the Island has finally fallen – the Helier Morris Men will now just be known as Helier Morris.
At their recent annual general meeting, members decided to sacrifice the offending noun in a bid to breathe new life into a group which has enlivened many a fete and open-air gathering since it was formed in 1975.
Member Colin Ireson described it as ‘a major step’.
He said: ‘Recruiting efforts have so far resulted in three ladies stepping forward – pun intended – but more are needed.’
The St Helier side is not alone in its bid to shake-up preconceptions surrounding their traditional dance form. The Times recently reported on a similar development in Devon, where the Exeter Morris Men conducted the same exercise in grammatical pruning.
Morris man now joins a list of outdated terminology that includes chairman, policeman and ombudsman.
With the first practice of Helier Morris’s new season to be held on Monday 17 October, they are searching for new enthusiasts keen to give Morris dancing a try.
‘We will never know quite why [it] is struggling, not just locally but nationally. Some say Covid-19 and others will blame ‘progress’ but we are very keen to keep our name alive, albeit in its slightly altered form, and so attract more dancers, both ladies and gents,’ Mr Ireson added.
He pointed out that the Jersey Lilies continued as a Morris side solely for women, but said that there were evidently women who wanted to dance with a mixed group.
So what of that group’s plans? Ann Southern, a spokesperson – or should that be spokeswoman – for the Jersey Lilies said that ‘happily all was well’ with their team.
‘We don’t want to join them. We are flourishing and we don’t want to go mixed,’ she said, adding that the all-women’s group offered a greater range of dances.
It is thought that throughout the UK there is an equal balance of the sexes in Morris dancing, while those who claim historical justification for the Morris man have to contend with evidence to the contrary, in the form of historic photographs which show women as equally enthusiastic pre-First World War exponents.
Mr Ireson said this was not the only misconception: ‘We now only dance the Border tradition, a rather more noisy and potentially strenuous tradition when compared to Cotswold, which is known to many for its flowery hats and usually white hankies. It’s great exercise and a good workout is promised.’
For those keen to obtain more information about Helier Morris, the side are dancing at The Elms tomorrow at 2pm during the National Trust for Jersey’s celebration of Black Butter making, Lé Nièr Beurre. The first practice session of the new season will be held at Trinity Community Centre on 17 October, starting at 8pm.