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Morris dancers flock to London protest over holiday change

Joe Jackson

Agence France-Presse

London, United Kingdom  /  Thu, July 25, 2019  /  06:07 am
Morris dancers flock to London protest over holiday change

Members of the Loose Women morris dancing team from the village of Loose in Kent take part in a demonstration by morris dancing teams in Parliament Square in London on July 23, 2019 against a government decision to move the traditional May Day bank holiday to acommodate a later bank holiday to mark next year’s 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe or VE Day. (AFP/Niklas Halle'n)

Stick-wielding, bell-jangling English Morris dancers descended on parliament Tuesday to protest plans to move the date of a public holiday when they traditionally gather to celebrate the ancient folk custom.

Sporting musical instruments and trademark long socks, hats and white handkerchiefs, dozens of Morris men and women brought their unique brand of musical merriment to Britain's parliament to decry delaying the 2020 May Day holiday.

"There was no consulting, very little consideration -- it was very high-handed," musician Gary Morris, 53, said of the government decision announced last month.

"They really should've thought more about the traditional stuff that goes on during May Day," he added.

The appropriately named Morris was dressed in a traditional outfit, complete with a "baldrick" -- a multi-colored sash-like ribbon -- crossing his chest.

Britain's May Day holiday is usually held on the first Monday of the month, but is being switched next year to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe in World War II -- known as VE Day -- on May 8.

That has infuriated the Morris community, who have long organised countrywide meet-ups on the Monday and instead want an additional public holiday held on May 8.

"It's incredibly disrespectful to tell us we've got to dance on VE Day when we're meant to be remembering those who died," said Colin Minns, 55, of the Black Swan Border Morris group from Surrey, southwest of London.

"They should listen to reason," he added, as his fellow Black Swans with painted faces clunked sticks together, dancing in the shadow of parliament.

Read also: London's Tower Bridge an icon at 125 years old

'They don't listen'

England's traditional folk dancing, usually done in sets of four or six people, takes on many regional variations. It is a feature of rural life that dates back to at least the 14th century.

Gordon Newton, a 72-year-old veteran dancer who founded a popular May Day Morris festival, spearheaded Wednesday's protest.

Newton picked the demonstration date months ago, and it ended up coinciding with the announcement just down the road of Boris Johnson as the governing Conservative Party's new leader.

Newton has been lobbying lawmakers to reverse the decision, arguing it could cost tens of millions of pounds (dollars, euros) in lost revenues if Morris dancing events have to be cancelled.

"I'm hopeful we're making headway," he told AFP ahead of a meeting with the Conservatives' vice-chair.

But, pointing at parliament, he added: "These people, they don't listen."

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