Nantgarw tradition is a style of Morris dancing from the South and Valleys regions of Wales, specifically associated with the small village of Nantgarw. The style encompasses both handkerchief and stick dances. The dances call for eight dancers in four pairs. There are now five dances in the Nantgarw tradition: Y Gaseg Eira (The Snow Mare), Hela'r Sgwarnog (Hunting the Hare), Ty Coch Caerdydd (Red House of Cardiff), Y Derwydd (The Druid) and Y Goron (The Crown). They are most frequently performed by Cardiff Morris. The style was first put into dance notation by Dr. Ceinwen Thomas (1911-2008) who wrote down what her mother, Catherine Margretta Thomas, could remember of the dances that had been danced locally when she was young.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 The Moves
- 4 The Dances
- 5 Practitioners
- 6 Criticism
- 7 References
Catherine Margretta Thomas was born in 1880:31 in the village of Nantgarw. Her parents were Daniel and Hannah Davies. As a child she enjoyed watching the local dances as they were performed in an open space below Twyn Chapel in Caerphilly:32 and at Nantgarw and Y Groes Wen. Due to the hostility of the local churches to folk dancing, Catherine Margretta Thomas' own mother was not keen on her daughter going to see these dances, but Catherine was able to convince her father to take her along to witness the displays. The rise of Nonconformism in Wales meant that by the time Catherine Margretta Thomas was in her teens folk dancing had practically been eradicated in Nantgarw.
The Welsh National Folk Dance Society
Dancing had died hard if inconsistently by 1911 when Catherine Margretta Thomas' daughter, Ceinwen Thomas (later Dr. Ceinwen Thomas), was born. But the influence of Nonconformism waned and by the time Ceinwen Thomas was attending school she was discussing the tradition of dancing in Nantgarw with her mother. After Ceinwen Thomas had left college she met Walter Dowding of the Welsh National Folk Dance Society. She told him about her mother's recollections of folk dancing in Nantgarw. He put her in touch with Doris Freeman. Together Catherine Margretta Thomas, Ceinwen Thomas and Doris Freeman worked to notate the dance steps from the traditional dances that Catherine Margretta Thomas could remember. These notes were then passed on to the Welsh National Folk Dance Society by Ceinwen Thomas. A complete set of the dance notation for Y Gaseg Eira was published, alongside the tune Ymdeithgan Gwŷr Penllyn (March of the Men of Penllyn), in the 1959/60 Welsh Folk Dance Magazine.
The United Kingdom experienced a revival in folk dancing and Morris dancing in the 1960s. In Wales this meant, in part, a resurgence in interest in the Nantgarw tradition from sides who were looking for Welsh dances to add to their English ones. Cardiff Morris Men began piecing together a Morris dance from the notes that had been written down by Ceinwen Thomas on one particular dance that she called Y Gaseg Eira .:5 After this 'original' dance had been pieced back together sides began to create more dances that were 'in the style of' this traditional Nantgarw Morris dance. Many of these new creations, such as Y Derwydd, are now held to be just as much a part of the Nantgarw tradition as the original dance. Today there are five Morris dances that are commonly recognised as being a part of the Nantgarw tradition.
There is double step throughout, except when 'chipping' (hopping in one spot whilst simultaneously rotating). The basic pattern is two double steps followed by four capers. There had been a tendency to truncate the second double step and leap straight into the capers, leading to a loss of balance and poise. The hand movements are straight up-and-down, with Adderbury-style circular movements at waist level for the capers. In the 'chipping' sequences in Y Gaseg Eira and Hunting the Hare the arms are raised in turn and in time with the single stepping which accompanies it.:28
Y Gaseg Eira (The Snow Mare)
This handkerchief dance has a pattern entirely peculiar to itself and was the first Nantgarw dance to see the light of day with the Cardiff Morris. The name of the dance is a Welsh idiom for a very large snowball, and it is so named because at one point in the dance the hand waving movements resemble the movements of somebody rolling a large snowball. This is the original Nantgarw dance and was being danced by Cardiff Morris by 1974. An article in the Welsh Folk Dance Magazine published in 1959 featured an article on this dance along with a photograph of a side performing it.
Hela'r Sgwarnog (Hunting the Hare)
This is the first of three dances which conform to a standard pattern; which can, with a little care, be memorised and need, therefore, no calling. Like Y Gaseg Eira it is a handkerchief dance. The current practise with the music is to use hornpipe time, which lends a lilt to the dance that some people find attractive. It had been added to the Nantgarw repertoire by 1984.
Ty Coch Caerdydd (The Red House of Cardiff)
Sixteen sticks lend a certain weight to the stick bag, if not the proceedings. The sticks are held skiing-fashion (as in downhill, not slalom or cross-country) and are brought up in front of the face to clash. It was being danced by 1984.
Y Derwydd (The Druid)
Previously known as Y Gamel (The Camel) until it was renamed after the tune it is danced to. There are only eight sticks in this dance and no clashing except in the chorus. The dance pattern is identical to that of Hunting the Hare, even down to the half-heys in the chorus, except that the corner figures are completely replaced with Stars. It was put together in 1991.
Y Goron (The Crown)
This is a stick dance based around circular hays.
Nos Galan (New Year's Eve)
This is a processional dance. Unlike the other dances which take place in one location this dance takes the dancers from one place to another. It takes its name from an old Welsh carol, the tune for which was used for the melody of "Deck the Halls".
There are no hard and fast rules as to which Morris sides can perform dances from a tradition, but the original Nantgarw dance, Y Gaseg Eira, is considered to be a dance for the Welsh sides. Consequently, it is often performed by the sides Isca Morris and Cardiff Morris. It was members of Cardiff Morris who developed the modern Nantgarw dances and so they are the most common performers of these dances.
There has been skepticism expressed over the claims by Dr. Ceinwen Thomas that the dances which her mother recalled were authentic and original Welsh dances reflecting a long and integral Welsh culture of folk dancing. The BBC Welsh Affairs Editor Vaughan Roderick wrote in a blog in 2009 that he doubted the history of these dances. He questioned why only Margretta Thomas had any recollection of these dances being performed. He wrote that his great grandfather had been a minister in Nantgarw in the 1880s but had not seen these dances. He linked it to a romantic nationalist desire to create a longstanding tradition in Wales even if one had not existed in reality.
It has been pointed out that there are "obvious" similarities between the Welsh Nantgarw style of Morris dance and the English Lichfield style of Morris dance. It is known that there were potteries in Nantgarw and these were largely staffed by workers from Staffordshire where Lichfield Morris was danced.
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