Ilmington Morris Dances
There are twenty-four dances from Ilmington, of which many go back before the nineteenth century. A number of these appear as alternative chorus movement dances – either stick or handclapping, as with Shepherd’s Hey, Constant Billy, Cuckoo’s Nest and Black Joke.
As with most traditional dances they have been handed down from father to son, by the teaching of dancer to dancer. They have not been noted down until fairly recent times, with the main collector of details being Cecil J Sharp, who published some of our dances from Ilmington in the first edition of The Morris Book in 1912, in conjunction with Herbert Macilwaine. In the 1960’s Roy Dommett also made a significant effort to record information concerning the dances returning again between 1977 and 1982. As time has passed there have been slight variations to the ‘Ilmington stepping’, changes having been made to cater for dancer ability, as noted when Sam Bennett’s team performed in Stretton-on-Fosse on a noteable occasion in the presence of Mr. Sharp. Generally, most dances are now performed to a standard ‘two double steps; two single steps’ format. More recently the side have produced an accurate record of the current dance notation, as it has evolved to the present day, which has formed the basis of most instructional sessions undertaken. The side actively encourages the wider knowledge of our tradition which we are proud to perform and and give instruction to the more discerning enthusiasts.
One of the unusual dances is the linked handkerchief dance ‘Maid of the Mill’ believed to have evolved as a practice dance to ‘keep the set together’. Other dances have been ‘composed’ to commemorate events or individuals. Perhaps one of the earliest known dates for the specific composition of a dance is that of the stick dance ‘Jubilee’. It was composed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897. Similarly ‘The Keeper’ in memory of Sam Bennett (to his favourite Warwickshire song tune) and ‘Sturch’s Piece’ for Harry ‘Fid’ Sturch who played fiddle with the side until 1980.
The set dance movements in Ilmington are particularly noted for the ‘half-hey’ formation with the associated turns.
Another dance with an interesting history is the ‘Broom Dance’, usually performed by one man as a jig with a household broom to the ‘Greensleeves’ jig tune. This was taught by Sam Bennett, who was renowned for dancing the jig, to Arnold Woodley of Bampton, probably during a period in the 1920’s or 30’s when Sam Bennett played for one of the Bampton sides, and was performed regularly by Arnold’s Bampton side. When Arnold discovered that the side in Ilmington was again performing, he made a point of teaching Paul Bryan the dance (in the late 1970’s) thus ensuring its return to its ‘native heath’. This dance is thought to have originated in the neighbouring village of Blackwell, having been performed by a Blackwell Morris dancer, Tom Barlow, in Darlingscott in 1911.