Kettle Bridge Clogs dance at the Marlboro Ale
As you may remember, Kettle Bridge Clogs, the ladies North West morris side based in Maidstone, were invited to dance at the 34th Annual Marlboro Morris Ale in May this year. The Ale is held in Vermont, USA over Memorial Day weekend which conveniently coincides with the UK Whitsun Bank Holiday. It is very highly regarded so we felt very privileged to be invited and were especially pleased that it happened in our Silver Jubilee year.
As a result of some careful planning, all of the side’s 14 dancers managed to make the trip, together with 8 musicians and a handful of supporting “other halves”. Most of us managed to book on the same Thursday flight from Heathrow to Boston, giving us a day to acclimatise before the main dancing over the weekend.
Friday was spent sightseeing and relaxing before we congregated with the other Ale sides at Marlboro College. As honoured guests, we were allocated the student accommodation while the other sides enjoyed the delights of camping in the college grounds. The college “pub” was the venue for a welcoming party in the evening featuring food, drink, chat, dancing and music and an opportunity for the sides to get to know each other. Most were from the New England area but there were a couple of Canadian sides and Kettle Bridge was the sole UK representative. There was a mixture of styles, predominantly Cotswold but with a few sword sides and one other North West team, Guiding Star from Massachusetts.
On Saturday morning, after a hearty American breakfast, the sides formed up for a colourful procession through the college grounds. This was followed by each side performing a show dance for everyone else’s benefit and our rendition of Prescott was very enthusiastically received. This also gave us the opportunity to witness at first hand what morris “over the pond” was like. Without exception, all of the teams on display demonstrated an outstanding level of expertise, energy and commitment that confirmed that morris dancing is thriving in North America. The other pleasing aspect that we all remarked upon was the number of youngsters involved in morris, something we really need to encourage in the UK. The Americans are also not frightened of pushing the boundaries beyond traditional morris, as demonstrated by a mesmerising longsword dance by Orion Sword to the music “Take Five”.
The festivities continued when Marlboro Morris Men challenged Kettle Bridge to a game of “Aunt Sally” which involves taking turns to throw a stick to knock a peg off the top of a spike. In a keenly contested match, we narrowly lost in a sudden death shoot-out thus upholding a fine English tradition!
For the afternoon, the sides were split into groups of four or five and dispatched to perform at various locations around the nearby town of Brattleboro. By this time, the sun was beating down hard on the dancers and plenty of water was consumed. The day culminated in a congregation of all the participating sides for a procession and show dances in one of the main streets in Brattleboro which had been cleared of traffic for the purpose. A large and enthusiastic crowd witnessed more excellent performances including a couple of young, innovative dancers who arrived on motor bikes and danced to an electric guitar!
For Sunday, the sides were again split into small groups and transported in authentic yellow school buses to locations around the local countryside. We were accompanied by Jack in the Green, the youngsters from Great Meadows Morris and Sword and Harrisville Morris Women. After a couple of stands, the buses converged on the town of Newfane where a large crowd had gathered. As before, all sides took part in a procession followed by one show dance each.
Kettle Bridge Clogs performed their signature dance of Yellow Rose of Texas which, as you can imagine, went down a storm. Then it was back to the college for the traditional Ale Feast consisting of a sumptuous meal and more dancing, though of a slightly less serious nature!
"Yellow Rose" at Newfane
Monday morning was a time for sad goodbyes but also a time to reflect on new friendships made and a thrilling weekend to look back on. Kettle Bridge travelled back east and managed to squeeze in a day of sightseeing in Boston, including the Duck Tour (highly recommended), followed by more dancing as guests of Newtowne Morris Men who had also been at the Ale. Then it was time for the dancers to go their separate ways, some flying back straightaway to England and others staying on for a well deserved holiday.
As always, there are numerous people to thank for making such a trip possible. A special mention must go to the organisers of the Marlboro Morris Ale for inviting us, particularly Paul Eric Smith, and the tireless members of our committee who ensured that all the arrangements for travel and accommodation went off without a hitch. Lastly, we must thank all the people we met on the trip who, without exception, gave us a tremendously warm welcome.