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The Fiddle Stix Morris Dancers held their annual practice session beneath the spectacular Jacarandas at See Park, which usually takes place each year during the Jacaranda Festival. Images: Lynne Mowbray

Folk dance fun for Fiddle Stix

Lynne Mowbray

For anyone who has ever seen a group of Morris Dancers performing, the first impression is usually – ‘what the’!

This happy group of dancers all dressed up in weird costumes, waving handkerchiefs, with bells jingling, whacking at each other with long sticks, makes you question if someone has spiked your last drink.

Morris Dancing is a folk dance which is accompanied by music and is believed to have originated in England back in the 1400s – phew!

Here in the Clarence Valley, Morris Dance group Fiddle Stix started up around the early 1990s, performing at markets, Jacaranda and other festivals including Nymboida Camp Oven Festival and Lismore’s Lantern Parade etc.

Fiddle Stix member Annie Heckrath said that her husband Geoff Welham was the original ‘squire’ (elected leader) who started Fiddle Stix.

“Geoff had previously been a ‘squire’ of Morton Bay Morris in Brisbane and Plenty Morris in Melbourne,” Annie said.

“He learnt to dance Morris back in the 1970s while living in Brisbane, from a fellow called Sid Perry who’d been dancing with the Oxford Morris Men in England – so Geoff’s been dancing for around 50 years.

“Our style (of Morris dancing) comes predominately from the southern part of England in the Cotswolds area. Every little village had their own particular dances and own particular style and was done at certain times of the year such as Solstices, May Day and festivals etc,” she said.

Morris dancing runs in the Welham family; Geoff’s mother was a Morris dancer.

Two of Geoff’s sons’ Tommy and Ken are both members of Fiddle Stix.

Tommy said that he has been around Morris Dancing all of his life but didn’t start dancing until around 2002 (for about a year), before picking it back up again around four or five years ago.

“My two-year-old daughter Maisie loves it and is definitely entrenched in it,” Tommy said.

“She gets the hankies and gets the sticks and does the dancing and loves the music.

“Maisie is a fourth generation Morris Dancer – so it’s a generational thing.

“We’re a very close-knit group.

“My mates always used to give me a bit of a ribbing; but I think they know I’m a bit weird,” he said.

Fiddle Stix dedicated members travel from Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Bellingen, Tucabia and Nymboida, to attend practice sessions at the Presbyterian Church Hall, in Wharf Street, South Grafton on Friday evenings between 4pm and 6pm (on the first, third and fifth Fridays of the month).

Anyone of any age and fitness can join the group.

At the moment there are around 12 in the group however they are really hoping to get more members.

For more information – check out the Fiddle Stix Morris Dancers on Facebook.