Morris dancers in action.

Morris dancers in action. Photo: Andrew Ivamy

Let's be honest, morris dancing generally gets a bad rap.

“Freaky? Oddball? Yeah, I would say so,” grins Andrea Skerritt, squire of the South-East North-West group of morris dancers, who are preparing for this year's garlanded assault on the Woodford Folk Festival.

“I think it attracts a lot of different people,” she says after practice in the Roma Street Parkland, Brisbane, where the jangling of bells rings out over the quiet gardens several nights a week.

The English folk dancing tradition dates back to the 1400s and covers a variety of geographical differences. The SENW group focuses on styles from north-west England that developed in the 18th century and 19th century from the region's industrial centres. They are characterised by the wearing of clogs and the use of garlands and sticks in their routines.

Their Woodford partners, Belswagger, focus on Cotswold dances that have handkerchief as their main prop.

Andrea says it isn't the quaint routines and maypoles that draws her to morris dancing. “The thing that attracted me was the music, I love the accordion music, and if you hear it en masse, it's just magnificent.”

Sue and Jim Colchester, of Chapel Hill, accompany the dancers on the hurdy gurdy, a strange contraption related to the bagpipe. One hand winds a wheel to get air flow and the other plays a small keyboard.

“You need uncoordinated hands,” says Sue, who took up playing the hurdy gurdy after her husband in the late 1980s. “It's like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time.”

They were living in Bourg-en-Bresse in eastern France when they discovered the hurdy gurdy, which was native to this region of the country.

“Children used to play it as part of after-school activities, and I just thought learning it would be a nice thing to do,” says Jim.

Marcus Ditzel, of the Gold Coast, incorporates his love of fire twirling with morris dancing, often acting as a “fool” and interacting with onlookers during a performance.

“I think it's something everybody should try,” he says.

SENW and Belswagger will perform, teach a workshop and instruct children in maypole dancing during the festival, which they've been attending in various forms since its inception.

Andrea Skerritt describes it as being “hot and sweaty” work, but nevertheless, participation evokes a sense of being part of something big and important.

“Besides, I think Woodford without the morris just wouldn't be right.”