AP MEMBER FEATURE EXCHANGE ADVANCE FOR MARCH 2-3 – In this Feb. 17, 2013 photo, the Morris dance group called “And Sometimes Y” practices a dance called “Oranges in Bloom” in the Shutesbury, Mass., Elementary School gym. Morris dancing is a traditional English folk dance. The group is planning to travel across the Atlantic to perform its folk dances in the land where they originated. (AP Photo/Daily Hampshire Gazette, Sarah Crosby)
SHUTESBURY, Mass. (AP) — The Valley is home to hundreds of fervent Morris dancers who form nearly 10 troupes, so it’s no surprise that three years ago, a teen group joined their ranks. Now that group is planning to travel across the Atlantic to perform its folk dances in the land where they originated.
The teen group, known as And Sometimes Y in honor of the part-time vowel, performs Morris dances, a traditional English folk dance, and Manx dances, which originate on the Isle of Man. Morris dancing has a following in the Valley, but the members of And Sometimes Y believe they are the only group in all of North America to perform Manx dances.
“The beauty of our team, the thing that makes us really original, is that we’re the first group of people to do Manx dancing on this side of the ocean,” said Jake Engram, a Shutesbury resident who is a senior at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley.
The dance group is planning a trip this summer to the Isle of Man, which is in the Irish Sea, to learn about the island’s culture and history, and to perform Manx dances. To help troupe members cover the costs of the trip, estimated at over $2,000 per person, And Sometimes Y will be holding several fundraisers.
And Sometimes Y was founded three years ago by a few dancers who had learned Morris dancing as members of the Johnny Jump-Ups, a children’s group in the area, and a few friends who were novice dancers. The group has attracted several new members since it was created, and now has about 20 dancers from all across the Valley.
And Sometimes Y practices once a week in the Shutesbury Elementary School, but the group is not affiliated with any school. The members attend a range of schools, and some are home-schooled.
Though the group does not have a teacher or a formal leader, they learned Manx dance from David Nixon, the Hadley town administrator and a member of the Juggler Meadow Morris Men who continues to work with the group.
Nixon first saw Manx dancing when he went to the Isle of Man to study the revival of the Manx language in the early 1980s. Many years later, he took up Morris dancing and learned Manx dancing on a return trip to the Isle of Man.
Rebecca Bannasch, a Johnny Jump-Ups alumna who helped found And Sometimes Y, said when she told Nixon that she would like to found a teen Morris group, he volunteered to show them some Manx dances. Nixon’s son, Benjamin Coan-Nixon, is now a member of the group.
And Sometimes Y has traveled for Morris gatherings — known as ales — in the past, but they have stayed in New England, visiting the Marlboro Ale in Vermont and the Ginger Ale in Boston. They also perform at May Day festivals and schools in the Valley.
The group is open to teenagers of all skill levels. Engram said he joined early on because he was friends with Bannasch, who also attends PVPA. He had no dance experience and he found the steps pretty challenging at first, but he soon “fell in love with the culture and dance.”
Many of the dancers said they were drawn to Manx and Morris dancing because it connected them with interesting cultural traditions.
“I like that there’s always so many new dances that you can learn, there’s a wealth of dances and culture,” said Maya Karpovich of Amherst, who is a junior at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley.
When the sun rises over Shutesbury common May 1, it will reveal dozens of Morris dancers, celebrating May Day by dancing to bring on the dawn. “If we didn’t dance, the sun wouldn’t come up,” said group member Rose Jackson. “It would be tired from shining all winter, and it wouldn’t bring spring.”
May Day dances are just one of the traditions the group is helping to preserve. “A lot of the Manx dances as well as the Morris dances are associated with rituals,” Nixon said. “Some of these dances are harvest dances, some of them are dances about the triumph of good people over evil, some of them are about bringing back the light, some are about resurrection of the year.”
And Sometimes Y plans to travel to the Isle of Man in early July, so the group can participate in one of the island’s most important traditions, Tynwald. According to Nixon, Tynwald is a political ceremony when the government gathers for a procession and formal session. When the governmental session concludes, the island holds a cultural festival, which includes dance and music performances.
Morris and Manx dancing can look relatively similar to a lay person. They both involve groups of dancers moving around each other in choreographed patterns, hopping, skipping, and tapping their feet. Dancers often bang sticks or wave handkerchiefs, depending on the style of the piece.
The members of And Sometimes Y say there are signature steps that differentiate Manx dancing, however. It incorporates Irish steps and has some that are unique to Manx, like the sand step, which is said to come from dancers on the island scraping sand from under their feet as they dance.
And Sometimes Y always performs with live music. They work with several high school musicians in the area, who play a wide range of instruments, including the flute, penny whistle, fiddle, nyckelharpa, bagpipes and concertina. It was one of And Sometimes Y’s musicians, Hope Leary, who helped arrange for the contra dance fundraiser. Leary and David Kaynor, who is a well-known contra host, will lead a band that is open to any musician who wishes to join.
The group will hold several fundraisers, including a dinner at Pathways Cohousing on Mountain Laurel Path in Florence March 23, a concert at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls in late April, and a showing of “Waking Ned Devine,” which was shot on the Isle of Man, in collaboration with Pothole Pictures at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls. More information on these events can be found on the Facebook page “And Sometimes Y Manx, Morris & Sword.”