Armaleggan – the Oxfordshire Border Morris side with added Grrr…
We’re a mixed side – mixed genders, mixed ages, a mixture of tradition and innovation, and do not mind mixing our drinks.
We practice at Cumnor Village Hall just outside Oxford, and dance all over Oxfordshire, the Cotswolds and beyond. Every penny of the money we collect is donated to a different local charity each year – in recent years we have managed to raise about £1,500 or more for our designated charities.
Armaleggan is a fun side to watch and a fun side to be a part of.
Release your inner Grrrr…!
Practice is on Wednesday evenings from September to April at Cumnor Village Hall just outside Oxford (and, importantly, near the Bear and Ragged Staff where Morris fuel is available).
Whenever we dance out we get asked a lot of questions. Here are answers to the ones that keep cropping up…
Why don’t you wear white and wave hankies about?
That’s Cotswold morris, the style that’s traditionally danced in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and other places in central and southern England.
So if it’s not Cotswold, is it Morris dancing?
Yes. This style of Morris is called Border Morris. It was traditionally danced in Herefordshire and Shropshire – the counties at the northern end of the Welsh borders. Cotswold Morris is athletic and sometimes elegant. Border is more rough and ready but has a lot more ‘oomph’.
Why do you look… like that?
It’s most probably all about disguise and anonymity. Border was traditionally danced by underemployed rural labourers in the industrial revolution of the 19th and late 18th centuries as way of supplementing income in the winter and around Christmas. But the gentry and bosses frequently considered it an intemperate practice and little better than begging (not too dissimilar to our current practice, but now we intemperately ‘beg’ for a designated charity each year).
The tatter coats are probably an inventive way of making a costume out of a dancer’s ordinary clothes – but they also do a fine job of emphasising the spinning parts of the dance. Border dancers made do with what they had, turning their coats inside-out and further disguising them with decorative rags (that small boys sometimes tried to set alight!). To reflect this heritage, each of the dancers in Armaleggan has a slightly different personalised kit, rather than the common uniform that is customary in Cotswold morris.
The most popular theory on the facepaint is again that when labourers went out dancing in the hope of earning some beer money they used soot to darken their faces so nobody would recognise them – especially not the bosses who took a dim view of the practice. The practice of blackening the face as a disguise when engaged in frowned-upon activities such as poaching, stealing – or morris dancing -was so widespread in the 18th century that the practice was made a criminal offense, which could be punishable by death. It was finally decriminalised only in the 1820s.
Top hats are what men generally wore in the nineteenth century. Decorating the hat makes you taller, and we hope a little scarier. It would also have made your ordinary hat less recognisable. Because flowers and greenery were not as available in winter as they are at Whitsun-tide, when Cotswold was traditionally danced, Border dancers instead often used feathers to decorate their hats.
Why are you called Armaleggan?
Pick one of the following:
1. it sounds like Armageddon
2. we have arms and legs
3. both of the above.
Would you like a beer?