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April 23, 2003

May Day Customs Featured at Two Programs at the Library of Congress

In celebration of May Day, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress will present two programs on Morris dancing in cooperation with the Country Dance and Song Society, which is headquartered in Haydenville, Mass.

Anthony Barrand, professor of anthropology at Boston University, will present an illustrated lecture titled "'But America for a Morris Dance!': Documentary Materials from the Anthony Grant Barrand Collection of Morris, Sword, and Clog Dancing" at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, in the Montpelier Room, sixth floor of the Library's Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, DC.

Barrand's lecture will include video footage from his extensive collection-documenting Morris dance team traditions in Britain and the United States from the 1970s to the present-which has recently been acquired by the American Folklife Center for its Archive of Folk Culture.

On May Day itself, the American Folklife Center presents Barrand and Jennifer Cutting, one of the center's folklife specialists, as hosts of "Bringing in the May," with performances from a number of Washington-area Morris teams. The program takes place at noon, May 1, on Neptune Plaza in front of the Library's Jefferson Building, located at First and Independence Avenue S.E.

The groups dancing will be: Foggy Bottom Morris Men, Rock Creek Morris Women, Shepherdstown Northwest Clog Morris, the Arlington Morris Girls and the Potomac Morris Boys. There will be open Morris dancing both before and after the formal presentation, with audience participation encouraged. The teams will perform rain or shine.

Morris dancing originated in England and had become popular as an annual custom in English towns and villages as early as the late 1700s. It had its heyday in the mid-19th century in the Cotswold region of England. Morris dancing is related to other forms of European dances and dramas, variously called "Morisca" or "Moresca." All of these words derive from the root "Moorish."

It was in the 19th century that the costume or "kit" of white shirt, white pants, bells, and hats with ribbons and flowers became popular. The dancers wore brass bells on their legs and danced with either knotted handkerchiefs or sticks. This is the form of Morris dancing that was taught to American school children and adults by English folk dance teachers who came to the United States to teach in the years before World War I.

Barrand is university professor and professor of anthropology at Boston University, where he teaches folklore. In addition to his books on Morris, sword and clog dancing, he is one of the top performers of British folksongs and ballads, both in Great Britain and the United States. He and his partner, John Roberts, have published 15 recordings. In 1976, Barrand founded the Marlboro Morris Ale, which brings some 200 Morris dancers to Vermont each Memorial Day weekend. The organization has spawned many similar gatherings around the country.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established at the Library in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. For more information on the center, visit the Library's Web site at http://www.loc.gov/folklife/.

The Country Dance and Song Society, founded in 1915, is a non-profit membership association of people and groups with a common interest in English and Anglo-American folk dance, music, and song. Learn more about the society from its Web site at http://www.cdss.org.

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PR 03-077
04/23/03
ISSN 0731-3527

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