St. Leger round, known in olden days as " Sellenger," or " Sillinger's" round, one of the oldest and prettiest of true Morris dances
It is not possible in the space available here to give an exact description of the Morris dance as it used to be. But in most of the revivals which have taken place great care has been exercised by the originators to base the figures, the poses, and the steps upon what little information it has been possible to gather from descriptions and early pictures which have come down to us. At an old house in Betley, Staffordshire, is a most interesting stained glass window, the twelve lozenge-shaped panels of which depict some of the chief characters of the Morris dances; and also the may-pole round which in olden times these dances were frequently performed. Some authorities appear to think the original dance was a kind of hornpipe. It is certain that it was danced with a very considerable amount of action, and not distinguished by either sedateness or great gravity in the dancers themselves. In support of this contention, in Henry VI., Part 2, Act III., Scene I., Shakespeare makes York say of Jack Cade : "I have seen him caper upright like a wild Morisco."many of the dances which are now being revived for purposes of charity and other fetes were at one time very generally popular, even in Court circles. And one of the prettiest of these is the St. Leger round, known in the days of Queen Elizabeth as "Sellenger's," or "Sillinger's," which is recognised as one of the oldest dance tunes now in existence.
At a recent revival (photographs of which are given) some of the prettiest dances were performed for charity by a number of the pupils of a large high school in the South of England. Most of the girls were in printed cottons, on which were sprayed dainty flowers - rosebuds and the like - and sun-bonnets; whilst the . village girls wore flowered muslins and hats trimmed with ribbons, poppies, and corn. The village ' lads " were represented by girls dressed in good old-time smocks, felt hats, and coloured bandanas knotted round their necks. So excellent, indeed, was the "get-up" of the "lads," who had tucked their hair away under their slouch hats, that it was not easy to realise that they were girls at all. Of the dances selected the chief were " Sellenger's Round," " Country Gardens," "Laudnum Bunches," "Shepherd's Hey," "Dargas-son," " Bluff King Hal," " The Rigs o' Marlow," and " Bean Setting." " Bluff King Hal," it may be noted, is a version in the major mode of the Staines Morris Tune, which was published in the first edition of Playford's "Dancing Master." All the dances we have mentioned were popular in the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth, and are so designed, both as regards music and the figures comprising them, as to enable them to be easily learned and danced upon village greens, to either the accompaniment of a fiddle and pipe, or to that of the dancers' singing alone.
A figure in " Bluff King Hal. " a dance that was very popular in the time of Queen Elizabeth
"Dargasson" is a particularly interesting and pretty "dance, originally performed by four girls and four boys. But it can be done with two or three couples. The quaint, lilting music is known as The Beginning of the World," and can be found in the volume, " Old English Popular Music," published by Messrs. Chappell and Co. The "stick" dance, known as "Bean Setting," often forms an item in these revivals; as does also the pretty handkerchief dance, known as'"country Gardens," "The Morris Off," and " Rigs o' Marlow," also a " stick " dance. In between the dances can be introduced with great advantage folk songs of Somerset and Dorset, such as that charming old Somersetshire ballad of action, " Blow Away the Morning Dew," the first verse and chorus of which is :
"There was a farmer's son
Kept sheep all on a hill; And he walked out one May morning,
To see what he could kill."
Now to come to the more practical part - organisation. There should be little difficulty in teaching the ordinarily intelligent child the very simple steps of most of the Morris dances. And provided the teacher has well-grounded herself or himself in the subject, three or four weeks' training, devoting, say, half an hour after school proper each day, or an hour every other day, to practice, should be sufficient to bring the children to a state of proficiency that will enable them to give a public performance. If possible, at least fifteen boys and fifteen girls should be trained, as variety in the children in the different dances and singing games gives added charm, and in the case of the latter provides the necessary chorus.
The matter of costume is rather an important one. There have been many types of these introduced into the revivals in various parts of the country. In the dances which have from time to time been given at Bidford and at Hedington, for example, very elaborate costumes, copied from early prints and other sources, have been used. But the simpler forms, such as are shown in the pictures illustrating the present article, have much to recommend them if the matter of expense has to be considered. In other revivals one has seen the elaborate costumes of the Courts of Elizabeth and Charles II., and of the Georges, in which the " boys " wear doublet and hose or knee breeches and the much belaced jackets, and the girls the elaborate costumes of the same periods. But there is really no need to go to any great expense in the matter of costume. The country lads' costume worn by the girls in our pictures are easily and cheaply procured, a couple or three shillings, or even less, covering the expense if made at home; the girls' dresses need cost little, if any, more.