The Great Bustards of Wiltshire… ..Morris Dancers!

Posted on Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Note: This is a guest post from Morris dancing troop, the Great Bustards of Wiltshire.

“We are the Great Bustards of Wiltshire!” So the opening announcement is shouted out to the audience, from our Squire, Andy Barrington. An experienced morris dancer from at least two sides, and a very talented musician. He not only plays the melodeon for the dance side, but also keyboards, concertina and many other instruments in his spare time. His wife, Liz, also well experienced in dance, and plays melodeon and flute and woodwind for the side.

The Wiltshire flag by Mike Pryor of Trowbridge

When the side that they were with folded due to lack of members, Andy began to think, ‘wait a minute – I could create a morris side.’ Whilst pondering this thought, they visited the Great Bustard Group in Salisbury and were enchanted by the reintroduction programme of these wonderful birds. They bought up lots of the badges and with Andy’s knowledge of the Bustard being featured on the flag for the county of Wiltshire (as designed by Mike Pryor) the name of the side was sealed. The Great Bustards of Wiltshire Morris!

It took three or four attempts to recruit enough people to begin with; but then it just seemed to take off! The costumes had been carefully designed and made by Liz, and they both wished their side to be the most smartly turned out morris side in Wiltshire, if not further afield. Resplendent green and gold baldricks, colourful flowery hats and shiny black shoes are their kit. They dance not just with the ordinary white hankerchiefs, but with additional green hankies too. To contrast with the hanky dances, they chose to do stick dances too. Using hazel sticks for some of the traditional dances, and axe handles, for the Bustards home-made dances. The axe handles are sturdy enough not to break easily and give a good loud, clear clashes.

Yes, that’s right, home-made dances. Andy and Liz invent their own dances, mostly in the style of Cotswold Morris (Wheatley and some from Adderbury. But they are not adverse to including ones from the Border, or hooligan dances such as Tinner’s Rabbit. But getting back to the home-made ones.

They try to raise awareness of the Bustards every time we dance, explaining how it is featured on the Wiltshire County flag and how it was Wiltshire’s native bird.
Uniquely, the Squire, has created two new dances in honour of the Birds.

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One dance called the ‘Bustards Nest’, features the dancers taking on the role of the chicks, looking left and right for the parents bringing them food. Spinning round in their nest and stomping their feet when none is forthcoming.

Another dance (Flights of Fancy) features new dance figures such as ‘Wings’ which is unique. It begins with 2 dancers flying out behind their neighbours. Then all 4 of those dancers flying out in V shape to form a line with the remaining two dancers. This gives a line up of dancers facing the audience – totally new in Morris, and then they perform a chorus all in line behind one another. This looks great to see.

And they have adapted a third dance (a traditional one called Bluebells of Scotland – now Bluebells of Salisbury) which begins with the troupe all walking around in a large circle prior to the dance, singing: “Oh where, Oh where, have all the Bustards gone? They’ve gone down to Salisbury with all their feathers on” And then crack straight into a lively dance.

Although on one rare occasion the lyrics was changed again to “O where has all our audience gone?” Lol. Sadly on that occasion there were no doors at the event to be able to keep the crowd captive!

Editor’s note: You can find out more about the Great Bustards of Wiltshire Morris troop on their website: http://www.lightunderabushel.co.uk/GreatBustardsMorris.html

Alex Stott

Posted by Alex Stott

Alex runs the Great Bustard Group website and online shop.

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