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8 San Diego Uptown News | Feb. 4-17, 2011


Morris dancers preserve English dance tradition

Meeting each week in Balboa Park, Moreton Bay Fig Morris dancers urge Uptowners to cut a rug

By Cynthia Robertson SDUN Reporter


very Tuesday evening at the War Memorial Building, a

group of six dancers dressed in yellow, green and blue vests play “Olde” English music and prac- tice a traditional dance known as Morris Dance. They hop and skip, wave colorful flags and toss sticks in intricate patterns. The cavorters call themselves

The Moreton Bay Fig Morris danc- ers, named after the Moreton Bay Fig tree in Balboa Park. This particular type of dance hails primarily from a region of England known as The Cotswolds, which lies between Oxford and the Severn River. The Cotswolds is known for its picturesque rolling hills dappled with quaint English villages. With pockets of people emigrating from that region and settling all over the world, the traditional dance has found its way into this Southwestern corner of the U.S. The Morris dancers have had a team in San Diego since the 1980s.

James Thayer, who is the cur-

rent foreman and bagman for San Diego’s Morris team, oversees the artistic direction. His wife Marieke dances on the 10-member team and plays the fiddle. For Thayer, who by day designs cell phone

chips for Qualcomm, the dance team is an artistic outlet. “It’s a chance to create a mo- ment that, hopefully, others will enjoy,” he said.

Thayer said he also enjoys the camaraderie that comes as a part of being a member of the group. It’s a camaraderie that extends

to everywhere he travels. Fellow dance team member Armand Frigon feels the same. “Being on the Morris dance team is a great way to be con- nected to other Morris dancers all over the country,” he said. “It’s like having instant family any- where you go,” Within Morris dance, there

are several subtypes or “tradi- tions,” centered upon a village where the subtype was origi- nally recorded. At various times Moreton Bay Fig Morris has performed dances in the styles of Bampton, Brackley, Ducklington, Leafield (Fieldtown), Much Wen- lock, and Upton-on-Severn. In addition, Thayer said, it’s

important to be a part of preserv- ing a form of art that nearly died out following World War II. Nobody really knows where or even why Morris dancing began, but references to Morris dancing trace back all the way to Shake- speare. Morris dance was banned when Oliver Cromwell came to power, but returned to its proper

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place in English life when Charles II restored the English monarchy. With the erosion of agrarian

ways brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the impact of the World War I, Morris dancing came close to dying out. Due to the ef- forts of folklorists, Morris dancing underwent a revival in the 1920s and ‘30s. Today, it’s still performed all over the world.

Besides staying in shape from

the rigorous style of the dance, Thayer said he has grown person- ally in the team. “I’ve learned patience and toler- ance,” he said, smiling. “Seriously though, I’ve learned about the history of this style of dance, along with related forms of dance, both from England and from other parts of Europe,” he noted.

All of the members of the Mor- ris dance team have learned more about English culture and how it relates to this type of dance and general history. San Diego Morris dancers

perform regularly at the Adams Avenue Street Fair as well as dance festivals in Balboa Park. They have also performed at St. Paul’s Cathedral for St. George’s Day. Once they performed at a wedding ceremony in Talmadge. Tuesday night practice is when the team practices new dances and works to improve existing dances. Prospective dance members are

James Thayer, left, serves as the artistic director for the San Diego Morris Dancers. (Cynthia Robertson/SDUN)

always welcome to come in and give it a try. “We have two strict rules of membership,” Thayer said. “[You] must be a primate and must have a pulse!”

He laughed. “Beyond that,

we are extremely flexible and we will try to work with anyone that shows up. No prior experience is required.” However, as Morris is quite

a vigorous dance form, it is sug- gested that one be in reasonably


has been going in “a straight line up” over the last three years and has increased its staff by 30 per- cent over the last two years. “I hope homebrewing isn’t just

a trend,” he said. “Right now, we’re at the peak of a wave and it seems to still be building.”

After picking up a beer kit on craigslist for a couple hundred bucks, Matt Paquette of Hillcrest has brewed about 15 batches, including a red ale, a double Belgian ale and a brown ale, over the last two years. “It’s fun to experiment putting your own twist on other creations or recipes you’ve seen around,” said the 27-year-old firefighter. “Another big thing is that I’ve got my own homebrew on tap. So if friends stop by, I can have them try my new batch.”

San Diego also has an active and passionate homebrew club called Quaff, which holds monthly meetings in Mission Valley. “There are strong ties between the homebrewing community and professional crafting and brewing companies, and it seems more tight-knit than in other places,” Glass said. Many professional brewers

started out as homebrewers, such as AleSmith’s owner Peter Zien and Poway-based Lightning Brew- ery’s owner Jim Crute, according to Chuck West, president of Quaff and a homebrewer for 15 years. “One reason why people are get- ting involved is that it is so easy to learn because homebrewers are so willing to teach and share what they have learned to try to get better brewing across the board,” he said. The brewing community in San

Diego is known for being a collegial bunch, openly exchanging ideas about ingredients and beer-making techniques, according to Jim Akin, membership director of Quaff and a homebrewer for 10 years. “Professional brewers know us, and we know them,” he said. “They don’t look at us like we’re ama- teurs. They just have bigger toys.” Quaff, which has more than 200 members, saw its predominately male membership rise in 2010 and draw in a younger crowd, with 20 percent of its members between the ages of 21 and 25, according to Akin. In San Diego, there’s not much to be unhappy about, and staying positive helps produce a lot of good beer, according to Greg Tavangar, 23, an employee for North Park- based Home Brews & Gardens who has been making his own beer for a few years and teaches homebrewing classes to beginners twice a month.

“The laid-back, chilled-out at- titude adds to the brewing scene,” he said. Tavangar, who is currently an

anthropology major at San Diego City College, has become so fascinated by the business side of brewing that he is looking to make it his profession.

“Making beer is the perfect combination of art and science, and if all goes according to plan, I will have my own brewing com- pany in five or 10 years,” he said. Tavangar is not the only one with

big dreams for himself after immers- ing into the homebrewing hobby. As a homebrewer, McNair has

received national recognition for his homemade beer and even collabo- rated with two breweries on one of

see Homebrew, page 9

good health. If you’d like to get a taste of what Morris dance is all about, the International Dance Association of San Diego will be presenting its Annual Dance Festival and the Moreton Bay Fig Morris dancers will be performing. The free festival will be held at the Balboa Park Club, 2150 Pan American Road West, on Sunday, Feb. 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, visit moretonbayfig. org or

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