Reasons Why the Ale Was Amazing

I said I'd write a post about why this ale was amazing, and why I love these gatherings. Some of the readers of this site are also morris dancers and so will "get" some of the things that I talk about. If you have another "thing," just unfocused your minds eye, and extrapolate these memories to your favorite annual gathering. I just got back and read posts about the Men's Spring Knitting Retreat, which I know a number of you all were at, and I think these were similar sorts of events. [1]

This post is just a series of anecdotes of events and connections, with minimal amount of musing.

There were a lot of people in my general age cohort: 18 to 27. We were the heart of the after 3 am dancing, and that was generally a lot of fun. One person is, though a friend from a morris dancing context, someone who I've spent a not-insignifigant amount of time with outside of dance. All this makes dancing so much more fun. I remember once when he came to visit me at college (where I didn't dance much, and didn't talk much about dancing except in)

I remember one time sitting around with these folks and just talking about normal people things, and thinking, "I like you all a lot." And it was good. We had sort of congregated on a massage table that someone had set up in the corner of the dining room and were helping each other stretch and it was very nice.

These gatherings aren't the kind of thing that's sustainable long term, like it wouldn't work if it were longer than three days every year, but that's ok too. It's a situation where lots of sort of transcendent experiences are primed to happen, and too much of it, and you don't realize how special it is.

I've been to the past seven of these gatherings (which have been going on for 27 years I think), my mother has missed two of them--including (most importantly for this story,) the last one. I should also subtitle that my emergency-back-up-mom (Hi Judy!) goes to these as well, and we're all on the same team, etc. etc.

On the first night I asked someone to go get my mother (who was in the women's buck room) and she went looking for Judy. Which embarrassed her terribly, but the rest of us found very funny. And it happened to my mom a couple of times, where she'd say "my son does so and so," and they'd ask "who's your son?" and she'd say "tycho," and they'd be surprised, because they clearly thought that my mom was Judy. It happened in reverse a couple times as well, which I was equally amused about.

Steven's Joy of Six+: I got to watch this absurd but truly amazing moment of dance.

This typifies one of the things that I so adore about this weekend: it's so clearly about having fun and dancing for other dancers.

Like getting the opportunity to dances that my team doesn't do, for fun. While people were concerned about "getting it right," it was never as if you were being judged for getting something wrong.

Like, when Steven's team did splitters and turned their baseball caps backwards/to the side so that the bills wouldn't interact as they leaped toward each other, everyone knew what that took.

A woman at some point had her knitting out and I was admiring it and this guy who is a great dancer, with a lot of experience and reputation was sitting near by and asked if I was getting a lesson, and I said, "oh no, [pause] in fact, I'm a way better knitter than I am a morris dancer."

"And you're a pretty good morris dancer," he said. (This meant a lot to me.)

I shrugged. I think it's fair assessment. My mother agreed with my judgement of these things.

There were a couple of "new" people that I adopted and encouraged, and it felt really good to play this role. There were a couple of girls that I would push to get into dances, even if they didn't know them, and I think they got up and did dances (and enjoyed them) that they wouldn't have done without encouragement. That's a good thing.

Two years ago, I had a minor dehydration issue. It was really hot, and I didn't drink enough fast enough, and I'm skinny and a sweat-er, and it was hard to keep up, and I wasn't paying attention. So I was pretty vigilant this time, and ended up drinking 5-6+ liters of water a day, which was almost enough. I only had a few hours where I fell behind.

There was a new person who started to look a little wilty, and I asked her if she was drinking water, and she said something, and I knew it wasn't enough, and I was like "if you're not peeing regularly, you're not hydrating enough," (good rule of thumb, by the way) and it was just a funny moment, but helpful.

Also, late at night, one of the dancing powerhouses (to my mind) looked all red and distracted during the lead up to a dance, and I leaned over to a friend and said, "B. looks dehydrated to you right?" The friend agreed and after the dance was over we called him over to us, and were like. "Drink water. Now. Don't pass go." It helped, he's fine, and he even reported on it thankfully to my mother.

Part of the reason why these weekends work so well is the pervasive feeling that everyone has your back. It was nice to be on the giving end of that for once.

Even though the weekend is about dance, there are lots of great singers and lots of opportunities to sing. There's a regular late night singing, which is sometimes fun, but there are also little ad-hoc moments where singing happens. Places where people congregate in a corner under a low ceiling, and sing favorite songs in folksy harmonies.

There were a couple of moments that stand out:

  • Underneath the great hall of the Nebraska state capital, there's a low dome and everything is marble. We sang "Let Peace Prevail," and "We are a People," by Robert W. Service (and Steven) set to music by David Perry, and a couple of other songs that were vaguely protest songs that I don't remember. I got to see a number
  • In the corner outside the dorm rooms, we sang "Rolling Home," and something else that I also don't remember. I was in the middle of this little cluster standing next to two basses, and it was divine.
  • At the Sunday morning shape-note sing, I sang a song, and I got it. I don't shape note much, and I'm not particularly good at it (circle = sol, square = la, triangle = fa, diamond = mi? Right?), but for the first time I sang and got it, and I could see and hear all the parts and how they worked.
  • There's this song that I think of as being sort of schizoid, in that the chorus sounds like it's from different songs and the verses don't really jive, but the most recognizable line is "let union be in all our hearts / let all our hearts beat on as one," and we sang it once and I it was just right.

Good moments.

One of our stops "on tour" sunday afternoon was at a museum, where we were basically dancing for ourselves, and somehow, I got to do a dance with a team that I absolutely adore. It's also to the tune that Peter Bellamy set Kipling's "A Pilgram's Way," (and thus the dance is appropriatly titled "The People's Dance") and it was a great pleasure and an honor to be able to do that.

At these ales--if anyone who doesn't go is still reading--there are a list of dances provided and taught ahead of time that the group can do as a whole (Mass/ed Dances). Most of these are accessible dances picked from a limited repertoire, but most years there's a more piquant dance, in the mix, which can be a lot of fun. This year it was, probably, my favoritest dance of all, one called "Queen's Delight."

Earlier in the afternoon, I had danced it with an amazing dancer from the women's team in the twin cities, on a little stage like platform, and long story short, she misjudged, on the last and climatic portion of the dance, and almost fell of the stage. Luckily she wasn't hurt (there was a doctor in the set, who took over her position and finished up the dance for her). though she had a broken bell pad and a nasty bruise, and that afternoon when they called the dance again, I was standing next to her and said "we need to finish this right."

End result: I was thrown into this set with hotshot dancers. And it went off perfectly. Well maybe not perfectly, but all mistakes were recovered, and it was almost zone-like. At the end one of the people in the set--who is amazing--said "best dance/set at the ale," and that felt really good. It was so much fun.

Last year, as a commentary on a pub-stop where the only dancing area was behind a pool table in an area not suitable for real morris dancing, I instigated a skit where we did (I should say that morris dancing is most frequently done in sets of 6) a single set of a dance with 12 people dancing six positions, two layers deep.

I threw around the idea of putting on the same skit only for 18 people (3 layers deep,) but we tried it at a pub with 14-16 people, or so and it totally wouldn't have worked out.

But, the notion of doing dances this way, with "shadows" totally did catch on, and we tried a lot of dances this way at night, and it was a lot of fun. Durring one dance my shadow, lost me as I surged through a hey, and I heard him from the other side of the room say "hey, where'd you go," and then saw him run out of the corner of my eye, around the outside of the set to catch up with me. It was funny, trust me.

The truth is that it's a lot of work to shadow someone. Because you have to go the long way around curves to end up at the other side behind them, and you have to move fast.

There is also a class of figures where, facing across from someone, you pass by one shoulder, slide to the left or right behind them, and pass back to your original spot on the other side. We call this "back to back," but it's the same basic thing as a "do si do" in contra dance (do si do, is apparently a corruption of the french for back-to-back, so yeah, same thing). Anyway, when there are shadows this figure with 4-6 people involved, is hilarious.

Strangely it all seems to work out just fine.

That's all that I can think of right now. I'll return to normal posting and working on things tomorrow. Thank you for your patience.

Onward and Upward!

[1]I'm totally at the knitting retreat next year as long as: a) it's not on memorial day; b) not the week after I start a new job and the day before my birthday.
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