There are two really exciting dances in this year’s show. I’m not in either one, which means I’ve had opportunities to take blurry pictures of both. One is called “Saidi” – it’s a dance from southern Egypt with its roots in Ancient Egyptian martial arts. It involves guys dancing with sticks.
Revels aficionados may think, “guys with sticks? that sounds familiar.” Indeed, guys have danced with sticks on our stage many times. They’re usually morris dancers. Morris is an English dancing tradition which is most commonly associated with big white handkerchiefs and bells on the ankles, but can also involve sticks.
Last summer I was in England and saw a bunch of morris teams performing in a town square. One of them was doing a stick dance and another team kept messing with them by running up, grabbing a stick, and giving them something else – a different team’s stick, a bit of ivy, a coffee mug, a flower, a member of another team. It was the funniest thing I’d seen in a long time. I was informed later by an experienced morris dancer that this is utterly old hat, but, you know, it was the first time I’d seen it. I was impressed.
I do not recommend trying that trick during a Christmas Revels performance, by the way.
Anyway, the point of that little digression on morris dancing is that the word morris supposedly comes from the Middle English word morys, which meant “Moorish.” I don’t think anyone actually thinks the stick dances of the Border Morris tradition came from the Upper Nile, but it’s an interesting connection, isn’t it?