Like many local clubs, Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men, known as the Chancs, are looking to recruit more dancers and musicians to join them. But why even try Morris Dancing? According to new Squire (the leader) Les, it’s all about the traditions it maintains, as well as the social and fun side of the hobby. And why ‘Chancs’? “Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men is quite a mouthful to say,” says Les. “So we're often referred to simply as Chancs!”
Morris dancing is really quite old, but no one really knows how old. The earliest known mention of Morris dance is dated to 1448 and records the ‘payment of seven shillings to Morris dancers’ by the Goldsmiths' Company in London. Later in the 16th century Morris Dancing became linked to village fetes and May Day celebrations. Shakespeare said "As fit as a Morris for May Day" and William Kemp danced a solo Morris dance from London to Norwich in 1600.
Keeping tradition, on First of May every year, Chancs dance at the top of Chanctonbury Ring, and if a weekend, go on to a day-tour, after a hearty breakfast of course! Another tradition kept alive is ‘Apple Howling’ on Twelfth Night, also called wassailing, and Chancs’ is well known as the best! During the festive season we have ‘tipteering’, a mummers play performed on Boxing Day, with St George, a dragon and a scary Turk.
So, who are the Chancs? “We are an all-male Cotswold Morris dancing side, with bells. sticks and handkerchiefs, based in central Sussex,” says Les. “We were formed in Shoreham 70 years ago in 1953, and just celebrated our Anniversary Dinner and joined a Fools and Beasts tour, hosted by Chancs.”
Chancs is looking for more men, between 16 and 60 is ideal but not a rule. “Drop in and talk to us at our practice nights September to May, currently at the Catholic Church Hall by the Tanyard in Henfield,” says Les. “We dance there from 8-10pm every Wednesday and then have refreshments afterwards. Then in the summer, Wednesday nights are spent dancing at pubs around Sussex to appreciative audiences”.
Beginners are welcome to come to either venue to chat with the men or have a go, and by the first season dancing out usually only need to know a few simple dances. “Of course, we welcome musicians to join us too; and men from any other Morris sides who fancy a change, or who have moved to the area”.
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