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Pride and Poncing About

Pride and Poncing About:
Mr Darcy’s winning jig

 

by Jameson Wooders

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a morris dancer in possession of a large ego, would do anything to win the jig contest. The competition has seen a number of spoof entries … but only one of them has actually won. Jameson Wooders tells how he “subverted” the event … and one of Jane Austen’s best-loved characters.

I’d entered the competition a number of times before without winning. I think I was trying too hard. I was simply too nervous on many occasions. Sometimes, I had been too busy dancing on the seafront beforehand and hadn’t eaten anything, so had simply run out of energy by the time of the competition.

It was the time that all the subsidiary prizes were being introduced. I wasn’t happy with the direction the competition seemed to be going. In particular, I regarded the innovation award as a bit of a red herring. I therefore decided to throw out the rule book!

I had been rather taken with an idea from Malcolm Lawrence (formerly of 7 Champs) about a team he called Bucks Morris. This was to consist of all the best dancers, but who would never actually dance. Whenever asked, they would always reply that they’d “just finished”. They would thus tantalise and frustrate an audience because they would have been really worth watching had they ever actually danced. The kit would reflect the fact that they didn’t actually dance by being extremely elaborate and flamboyant, with “vestigial” little bells.

I decided to put together a jig based on this idea, where I would don a flamboyant costume and do as little dancing as possible. I basically wanted to look like Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Nature, however, had already dictated that I couldn’t have his hairstyle, but I decided that a shaved head and goatee beard would be a good second best (yes, I was that serious about it. Up until this time, I had had a full beard and longer hair!).

I had bought a frilly shirt with big fluffy sleeves at Chippenham the previous year, and this was the occasion to wear it. The shirt was topped off with a red, military-style waistcoat with gold braid. I also wore my tightest, white Berkshire Bedlam breeches. Mr Darcy wouldn’t have big, flappy handkerchiefs, so I dispensed with them altogether (though the fluffy shirt sleeves did the job anyway). Big chunky bell pads around the legs would also have unbalanced the top-heavy look I wanted to achieve. I had originally intended to get some tiny “vestigial” bell-pads made up, but ran out of time to do this so simply decided to dance without bells – this was innovation after all!

To add to the innovation I didn’t use a morris tune, but found something suitable on a Token Women tape. Mr Darcy wouldn’t dance to a melodeon, so I used Jane, the Berkshire Bedlam fiddle player, instead. I got her to wear a red military jacket. On the day, I also got Jane to go out centre-stage on her own whilst I hid in the wings. She played the whole tune through once before I even bothered to appear. I wanted to make an entrance! I remember the laughs when I finally did appear, strutting out on to the stage and posing.

The jig itself was basically me poncing about. It was meant to be graceful with no extraneous energy. Mr Darcy could jump high *if* he wanted to, but that would involve too much energy so he would simply choose not to! I therefore substituted every jump with a bow to the audience.

The whole thing was basically a bit of silliness that wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously. It was taking the mickey out of the jig competition (with its new array of prizes and new venue on a theatre stage) as well as sending up my own image as the ultimate morris poseur. I called it “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, not just because of my own attire, but because it was a transparent load of old nonsense.

Ironically, the only time I ever subverted the jig competition was the time I won it! I actually knew I was going to win from the moment I woke up that day. Life was feeling especially worth living that Sunday morning, as I’d fallen in love the night before (I was young, and it was Sidmouth, after all). Maybe I also felt more relaxed about the whole thing because it was so original and I was making up my own rules.

Although not part of the game plan, I remember completely intimidating some of the other entrants when I turned up in the changing room in character beforehand in my fancy clothes! Everything just seemed to go right that day. I won the innovation prize too. I had said beforehand that I would refuse to accept it because I didn’t believe it in, but it seemed churlish not to accept gracefully when I actually won.

But it was a one-off, and things had changed the following year when I had to reprise it. The holiday romance proved to be just that, and wasn’t to be revived the following year. The venue changed from the Manor Pavilion to the Church House Lawn marquee, so a jig that was designed to be seen from one direction only on a stage was now in the round. It simply didn’t work as well, and I’ve never performed the jig since.

As a postscript, just to emphasise that I wasn’t being especially serious, I even filled the trophy with trifle the following year.