By Nicola Rolfe
A Morris dancing group based in St Nicholas-at-Wade will celebrate its 40th anniversary in January.
Offcumduns is a vibrant young Border Morris Dancing group, meaning 80% of the members were not even born when the group started up in 1983!
The word “Offcumdun” is a phrase from the North West of England, meaning a person who is out of his or her usual place; they have “come from off”. Morris Dancing groups are known as ‘Sides’. Offcumduns have always been based in the South-East, but until 2016 members followed a very traditional Morris Dancing style known as North-West. In this tradition, dancers wear clogs and can be seen moving slowly in strict formations, carrying garlands or short sticks with bells on the end.
With an aging member population and an all-but-certain prognosis of developing some clog-related ailment, a decision grew to change styles and adopt the Border tradition.
Offcumduns ditched the clogs and donned Tatters – waistcoats or jackets decorated with ribbons and strips of fabric. The Border dance style is much more fluid and dynamic, with dancers moving at speed, tracing elaborate shapes and patterns around each other. You can recognise the style by ear thanks to the heavy drumbeats and whooping.
Some things have not changed, though. You can still recognise them in bottle green, black, and white, however the inclusivity of Offcumduns is what sets them apart.
Where many Morris Sides take pride in adherence to traditions on gender and uniformity, Offcumduns welcomes diversity. Every member is encouraged to put their own stamp on the Side, from the logo, to the dances, to whatever variation on the kit they feel like wearing that day. Fun and laughter are more than ideals, they are policy. Friends and couples dance and play alongside families, one of which now sees its third generation dancing as an Offcumdun.
The new tradition is holding strong and the group continues to attract new members, and have grown their very own Festival of Dance which will run for the third year in May.
In 2019 their newfound success was recognised when they won the Green Man shield at Rochester Sweeps Festival.
The Side have suffered some tragic losses in recent years with the deaths of musicians Eddie and Aaron, though this has only strengthened their resolve to keep the untraditional traditions of Offcumduns alive, to maintain their legacies, and to push the Side on to bigger, brighter things.
This year has already seen them help celebrate the turning on of the Christmas lights at the Margate Christmas Fair. Later on in the year you will see them join the Margate Carnival. An invite from the prestigious Chippenham Folk Festival is on the table, and you can catch them at Broadstairs Folk Week and Sandwich Folk & Ale.
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Absolutely brilliant to see this most English of traditions being kept alive in this increasingly cynical and woke world we live in today, and by a many of our younger members of society. Well done guys and gals, you are always great fun to watch.
As for you, REAL WORLD, get a soul as yours must have gone walkabout. Have you ever actually sat and watched the tradition that is Morris dancing on a warm afternoon, perhaps with a pint in your hand and taken in the atmosphere and sense of fun?.
If not, please do so at your next opportunity. You may come away with a smile of happiness on your face.
I love Morris dancing! I’ve attended a couple of Tenterden Folk Festivals, and they have dozens of Morris groups there, all with their own different customs and costumes.