At the start of the practice season it's time to think about some of the basics we tend to forget during the dancing season, like, which foot we start on.
The Morris developed as several separate traditions with similarities and differences, and the “general rules” that teachers talk about are based on looking at what happens in a range of dances, and, where necessary, deciding on a side style. In 1898, no one thought in terms of “outside foot traditions”. It’s just that several separate traditions happened to have a similar rule for many or all of their figures.
Left foot traditions: The real Headington and Bampton sides start all or most of their figures on the left foot. That is what they do, but Dolphin don’t. Dolphin dance no left foot traditions at all. This has never been any different, at least for the last 35 years.
Outside foot traditions:
These are traditions where there is a turn, spin or twizzle of some kind half way through and at the end of each figure. That turn might be a galley (Fieldtown, Sherborne), a hookleg (Bledington), a turn (Ilmington) or a galley over (some Lichfield dances).
With all of these turns, if you are turning right, you ground your right foot on the first beat of the turn, and on the left turn, you ground your left foot.
This means that you need to start on the correct foot to avoid doing a messy change of foot that might put you out of time with the music.
So if you want to turn left after two double steps, your feet need to go:
L R L L | R L R R | then LEFT into the turn.
And if you want to turn right after two double steps, your feet need to go:
R L R R | L R L L | then RIGHT into the turn.
This rule works for all of the turning traditions and dances. Where there seem to be inconsistencies, it is always for a reason: you always start on the foot that you need to turn onto later.
• For “across the set” figures (half gyp, half hands, whole gyp, cross and turn, back to back) that means the first half always starts left foot, and the second half always starts right foot. We call it “outside foot” because the foot that you start on is the one that will be furthest from your opposite man as you pass him early in the figure. In most of these figures, the direction of turn will be away from your opposite man. If you can see him out of the corner of your right eye, turn left, and vice versa.
• The slightly confusing one is the Ilmington back to back because by the time you start the turn, you have gone around your man. If he was on your right at the start of the back to back, you will need to turn left, even though he has appeared on your left by the time you actually do the turn.
Issue 6: Oct 2018
• In the Ilmington half hey, 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 start with the foot nearest to the end of the set that they’re heading to. This will always put you on the correct foot to turn onto without stepping across yourself. Trust me and follow this rule blindly; I’ve done the maths. 5 and 6 turn on the very first beat of the half hey. As they are turning out (away from the centre of the set) they start on the foot that is furthest from the centre of the set.
• On the foot up and down, start on the foot that is on the outside of the set. This will put you on the correct foot to galley/hook/spin outwards away from your opposite man.
• In the normal Fieldtown rounds start with the left foot as this is on the outside of the circle. On the second half, yes you do step across yourself starting right, because this is the “outside foot” once the circle has formed.
• On “long Fieldtown” rounds (Dearest Dickie and one or two others we do less often) you do the opposite: start right, galley right, then start left, galley left.
• In the Bledington half hey, you always start off with a knacker cracker step (step across yourself). This will put you on the correct foot to hookleg away from your opposite man, wherever you are in the set. Trust me and follow this rule blindly; I’ve done the maths.
The above list does not deal with every possible situation, but that’s enough to be going on with for now.
Right foot traditions:
If a tradition has no galleys or similar turning movements in the figures, then Dolphin dance it with a right foot lead. That means the first and second halves of each figure start with the right foot going down first. Examples include Adderbury, Badby, Bampton, Bucknell, Headington, and the Lichfield dances that don’t have galley overs.