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Mumming in the New Year in Philadelphia by Will Quale

A few months ago, Bill Quern asked at practice if the side wanted to be in the Mummers' Parade this year. I was definitely interested, and several others were possibly interested, but Rik, our musician, was going to be out of state visiting family for New Year's. On the way to our cars, Bill asked me if I could play "Nutting Girl". I said sure, I could learn it, and so, with the two of us definitely interested, he registered us for the parade as the "Morris Polar Lander".

Lots of illness and my being in the Philadelphia Revels disrupted practice in early December, so just after the Revels was over, Bill came by Swarthmore for a practice of the "Nutting Girl" jig, and to give me my costume. He brought me a spare rag suit, and one for himself, and we donned them and practiced for a while. Between then and the parade, Gary Undercuffler and Jan Alter decided to join us, making three dancers and a musician.

On New Year's Eve, I went to the RSCDS Delaware Valley Branch Hogmanay, and danced Scottish country dances from 9 pm until 3:30 am. I came home, and stayed up the next four hours chatting with friends who came to town for the ball and were staying with me, and then, at 7:30, I tried to drive into Philadelphia.

The fog was so thick I could not see twenty feet in front of my car. I couldn't even see traffic lights until I was upon them! And I definitely couldn't see any of the highway and exit signs from the Interstate. Eventually I found a parking garage near the parade route, and it wasn't too hard to find three guys in rag suits.

The Philadelphia Mummers' Parade is a rare holdover from a gone-by era. These days, one expects a big city parade to be like the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, or the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York -- lavish corporate-sponsored floats, brass bands, very professional. The Mummers' Parade is a bunch of folks from the city showing off their dancing, strutting, costuming, musicianship, or comic talents, for their friends and neighbors; a day-long festival in the streets; a pageant of, for, and by the people.

I never realized the city could be such a friendly place, but every time we danced for a clump of watchers, we'd then go over to the sidewalk and shake hands with everyone, and they'd wish us happy new year, and ask all sorts of questions about our dancing, and we'd chat briefly, and then walk on another block or half block and perform again. We were near the beginning of the parade, which was quite disorganized -- the next group behind us was over a block away, and the next group in front of us was nearly as far -- so we had plenty of time for this. Some folks even remembered us from having seen us before around the city on our Spring Tours, which impressed me to no end -- I'd always envisioned cities, Philadelphia included, as containing faceless crowds, not individual people who remembered you like that.

We made our way up the ten blocks to City Hall, performing maybe ten or twelve times along the way, and then as we moved around City Hall, we came to the section that the television cameras were recording, a block before the judging stands. We gave it our all, and midway through the second of the two verses in our jig, the loudspeaker annoucer said "That's Kingsessing Morris; all right, that's enough, move along." We were quite happy that they knew our name, and didn't mind being troublemakers, as we finished the jig before advancing onwards. Besides, there was no one behind us for ten minutes.

Everything went smoothly when we danced for the judges, and then we were technically done, by about ten o'clock in the morning. Finding lunch took us nearly two hours, as the few pubs in the area were closed, and while the doorman at the Sheraton Hotel let us in, the hotel security attempted to kick us out! We made our way back to the food court at the Galleria, had a good lunch, and Jan had to leave.

Bill, Gary, and I decided to take advantage of the nice day, the waiting crowds, and the huge gaps in the parade, so we found a big gap, joined in, and walked the length of the parade again, performing along the way maybe another ten times. We got all the way up to City Hall, and then that was it, and we said our goodbyes, and headed for our cars. I had to walk back down the parade route, having parked at the other end, and I played my box as I walked, still in my rag suit, which almost made me blend in to the public carnival more than it made me stand out. The entire way, people came up to me and said nice playing, parents brought their children up to see the accordion man, and everyone said "great costume". (Those compliments should go to Bill Quern, who made it.)

After getting in an afternoon nap, I watched my videotape of the televised live parade coverage, and discovered they had only shown large groups, and thus didn't show us at all! Monday's _Inquirer_ listed the results, and "Morris Polar Lander" finished 7th in Comic Groups (I'm guessing there were perhaps 30 of them, but I don't know).

Even though we didn't win, we had a blast, got to dance a _lot_, and gave perhaps a thousand people a positive exposure to Morris dancing, and made them happy in the process. It doesn't get much better than that. I just hope we can find an open pub next year!

--will

2000 Will Quale

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