MP wants to keep tradition alive

EVERY schoolchild in England should be taught about traditional English folk music and song, Colchester MP and Morris Dancing fan Bob Russell has said.

Elliot Furniss

EVERY schoolchild in England should be taught about traditional English folk music and song, Colchester MP and Morris Dancing fan Bob Russell has said.

His comments came after the Morris Ring, which links dancing troupes around the country, warned that the historic art form was in danger of becoming extinct.

Mr Russell explained that his late father had once been the national “Bagman” of the Morris Ring during its heyday but he now feared it was one of several English traditions that could be lost forever.

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He said: “The Arts Council, which is charged with promoting English arts, is already spending more money on promoting contemporary Latin American art than supporting England's folk dancing and song.

“It's quite a serious issue and Morris Dancing is just one aspect of it. There's no requirement in the national curriculum for schoolchildren in England to be taught traditional English dancing - the whole English folk culture is being ignored.”

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Arts Council East is one of the main backers of Colchester's controversial new firstsite:newsite visual arts facility, which will be the new home to the University of Essex's collection of Latin American art.

Mr Russell said that while Wales and Scotland were successful at promoting their folk heritage, English children were missing out on learning about such traditions that were far more prevalent two or three decades ago.

In the past he has challenged Tony Blair about the prospects for Morris Dancing and he has asked questions on the matter during culture debates in Parliament.

Colchester has a well-established group that performs around the county every year with its popular mascot Wilbur the Dalmatian.

There are about 200 troupes around the UK, mostly made up of middle-aged men, and the Morris Ring is planning a recruitment drive to help pass on the tradition to younger generations.

Current “Bagman” Charlie Corcoran said there was a “distinct possibility” that Morris Dancing would disappear in 20 years' time as most young people were too embarrassed to get involved.

Last night a spokesman for the Government Department for Education and said there were “no plans” to change the curriculum to include English folk culture.

A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which compiles the national curriculum, said there was scope within the curriculum to include elements of English folk traditions, if schools felt it necessary.

A spokesman for Arts Council England said it aimed to ensure that as many people as possible could experience “great art” and it supported a range of artistic activities from theatre to music, literature to dance, photography to digital art, carnival to crafts.

She said: “Over the next three years we'll invest in excess of �1.6 billion to create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country; to support this we welcome funding applications from all art forms.

“Over the last three years we have invested in traditional art forms and dance, and this is likely to increase as we receive applications for the summer festival season.”

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