A History of Windham

By Stuart Strothman

Windham is a mixed gender team dancing the English traditional Cotswold/border Morris style known as Lichfield in Brattleboro, Vermont since 2010.

In the fall of 2010, experienced Morris dancer, banjo maker and musician Will Fielding floated the idea of a new, ‘kick ass’ Morris team that would re-create the excitement and greatness of the Lichfield tradition, which he had known well as a member of Marlboro Morris and Sword. Morris styles are named after towns in England, and before a division within the Marlboro team led to changes in personnel and traditions, the style of the team had been Lichfield, a dramatic, aerial tradition with large “capers” (a leaping dance step–Lichfield includes Lichfield, scissors, and castlering capers, in addition to large, sideways leaping “galleys”). For over a decade, nostalgia for the Marlboro men’s former tradition had led to discussions about forming a new group, particularly between Will and Tony Barrand, the accomplished local Morris dancer and singer who originated many of our regional events and teams, including Marlboro Morris and Sword and the Marlboro Ale.

Will made this happen in the fall of 2010, with high standards. He began to carefully hand pick local people, some chosen by experience and ability, some simply because they were tall and athletic, and formed a group which held its first official meeting at the Marlboro College dance studio on February 20, 2011. That group included Tony (as advisor), Will, Michael Einermann, Josh Engle, Alex Koumjian, Davey Leland, Louisa Pugh, Rafe Rosen, myself, Dave and Daniel Sullivan (both had danced with the Marlboro Men), John Todd, and Matt Wojcick. Four of these folks (Michael, Josh, Alex, and Davey) were new to Morris dancing. Over the next year the group met, generally at the Stone Church, with Dave, Louisa, and sometimes Heather Taylor serving as musicians, and Will as foreman. From the beginning, he wanted high quality dancing, and began each session with muscular training and stretches, before beginning to school us in the specifics of the Lichfield tradition, which was new to all of us except Will and Daniel. The ethic Will put forward was summarized by Tony in a 2003 interview with Jennifer Cutting: “I wanted it to be American dancing, and if we were doing it, to be the best dancing it could be. Because that was my interest, aesthetics, and I wanted that to be an investment that one had to learn out of the nature of the tradition, not to [strictly] imitate, but to draw on the tradition as a reservoir from which to learn. And one of the things you had to learn was that the dancing had to have integrity…I had always also realized, there’s a whole other level of fun: When you’re doing things really well, you kick into a level of enjoyment and pleasure that you don’t get just when you do it casually.” Will was able to craft a team which would impress experienced dancers.

The first fall-spring practice season saw very few public performances, which started in Putney–at the Pierce’s Hall contra dance on November 26, and the grand opening of the Putney General Store on December 10, 2011. By this time, the team name and kit had already taken shape; Will expressed his early ideas in an email on November 21, 2010, including “the two [names] I like best: Windham Flying Eights (like the flying aces or the flying burrito brothers), [and the] Southern Vermont Sky Kings (sky king is from an early TV show). These are both classy names that will suit us for years to come. Both project an image of high flying dancing….also the kit possibilities are very cool. I’m picturing light and dark blue vests over whites, with a glint of silver. White silk scarves for those cold early May mornings. Bomber jackets and leather helmets with goggles de rigeur.” In early January 2011 he also shared images of a related kit from a Northwest clog morris team he admired, Loafer’s Glory, and our present kit–black pants and shoes, white shirt, blue tuxedo vest, and blue and silver arm ribbons evolved. The team name was pared down to “Windham,” and after many others referred to us as “Windham Morris,” there was a bit of humor in the self-referent “Windham NWMJW (not Windham Morris, just Windham).”

It is perhaps notable that in the November email, Will had strong feelings about a ‘team drink’ as well: “The preferred drink of the squad will of course be the sidecar. Luminous, golden-straw color, the perfectly controlled sweetness, the jazzy high notes of the citrus against the steady bass of the brandy. This is a drink whose suavité is beyond question. It’s so easy, in fact, to be seduced by this clever old roué that a word of caution would not be out of place here. These gents have a way of stealing up on you and – bimmo! Next thing you know it’s 8:43 on Monday morning and you’re sitting in the backseat of a taxi idling in front of your place of employ. In your skivvies.1 1/2 oz cognac, 3/4 oz Cointreau, 3/4 oz lemon juice. Shake, pour into a cocktail glass.” In the early years, Will and others often brought beer to practice. Rafe Rosen was nominated as our first squire, and Josh Engle served as first ‘bagman’ (treasurer).

Many Windham dancers were present at the 2011 Marlboro Ale, and some Lichfield appeared in pickup dancing. Windham released some Chippendale-style business cards and its first team photo, which included Arthur Davis and Will Quale, set in an historic image of the Estey Organ factory in Brattleboro.

Team photo

First official Windham photo(shop), 2012. By Heather Taylor (?). Clockwise from top left: Josh, Michael, Rafe, Will F, Stu, John, Will Q, Davey, Arthur, Dave, Louisa.

But the grand debut of Windham came in the month of May 2012, with appearances at the Marlboro May Day tour on the 5th, our first home tour (Will’s idea) on Mother’s Day, the Marlboro Morris Ale on the Memorial Day weekend, and Jake Tuesday on the 29th. The Monadnock area’s Jack in the Green invited “the Morris Gods of Windham” to a tour on the 12th, saying “it would be quite a feather in our caps to score a dance date with the most anticipated new Morris side since the Restoration.” Windham could not manage the necessary numbers for that gig. We also danced at Josh and Louisa’s wedding on June 2.

Windham’s first Marlboro Ale came off as a grand event, with two very notable Windham performances accompanying the general acclaim from participants throughout the tours. First, after the first show dance, David Sullivan played “Nutting Girl” while his experienced, muscular son Daniel performed the Lichfield jig, astounding onlookers with the height and strength of his capers.

Daniel and Dave Sullian

Daniel and Dave Sullivan at Marlboro, 2012. Photo by Lynn Arnold.

Second, at the Newfane mass dance, Will (who generally acted as our fool), invited Tony out mid-performance to the middle of our Castlering circle for a sit-down glass of champagne, serving to honor Tony’s general magnificence, and to represent the passing of the Lichfield tradition from Marlboro to Windham.

Will and Tony

Will and Tony (and Davey and Rafe) at Newfane, 2012. Photo by ?

Over the next years the team evolved, with some significant moments that bear mention. For one, the 2013 Marlboro Morris Ale saw a rainy Windham performance of Tony’s dance I-91 (the chorus happens in a long line, representing dotted lines on our local highway) on Elliot Street, and an iconic photograph by Daniel Friedman of Windham’s castlering caper became a popular image in Morris social media sites. It has served for years as the cover photo of How Many Morris Dancers Are on Facebook, with nearly seven thousand members predominantly in England and America. On the post, Jan Elliot calls it “the best Morris photo ever,” echoed by Thomas Melendez; “the greatest Morris dance pic I have ever seen. Flying through the air in sync. Such exuberance is truly amazing to watch.”

Windham on Elliot Street

Windham on Elliot Street, 2013. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

This reputation as a “kick ass” team has followed Windham through the years, though our membership has changed significantly. One huge and influential change was inspired by Will; also in 2013, he invited Erin Hathway Weaver to join the team, making us the first (?) mixed Cotswold team (a traditional regional English dance style involving sticks, hankies, and bellpads on the shin) to perform at the Marlboro Ale, since followed by many other teams, notably the Marlboro Morris M (formerly Men), now a fierce promoter of gender inclusion and social awareness, as we also strive to be. At the time of this writing, Windham has several queer dancers on the team.

Traditions developed, such as dancing for Tony and Margaret Dale Barrand at their house, and block parties on Blakeslee Avenue and West Street. On one occasion at the Barrands’ on Prospect Street, we temporarily blocked the road with our dance Vandals of Hammerwich, leading a Domino’s delivery vehicle to register a complaint with the police. Tony greatly enjoyed the squad car’s visit, and neighbor Scott Ainslie took the lead in explaining that we meant no harm, would be done shortly, and pointing out many neighbors enjoying the performance. Since then we occasionally enjoy the appellation ‘Vandals of Prospect Street.’

Holding to tradition, Windham has made an effort to perform all the historic Lichfield dances and those invented by Marlboro, and has developed a few new ones using the traditional figures. Will himself developed the four-person jig “Max Headroom” while we practiced at Headroom Stages on Elliot Street. Of new dances within old traditions, Tony had this to say: “You’d get four or five or something, and so you’d try and make up some dances in order to have this… It’s interesting, feeling like the dances for six you couldn’t do with a gap, so you needed to make up some dances that went with that. I remember one time, we did that… it would have been around 1984 that the Marlboro Men, we went to an ale in Toronto. And the normal dances we did at that point were in a style from Lichfield, in the Midlands in England, which needed eight people, and there were six of us. So, in order to do a show dance for ourselves, we decided the one person who could play was going to play, and we needed to make up a dance for five… So we made up a Lichfield-style dance for five.” This jig was entitled Charrington Toby, named for a defunct English beer, now serving as a regular dance for Windham. Other new dances have evolved in our longtime dance spaces at Cotton Mill and now the Winston Prouty Center; four- and six-person versions of our dances came out of low numbers, and a few new dances for eight were developed including Crossing the Moon, which debuted at the Marlboro Ale in 2018. Considerable effort has gone into new dances through the intelligence and perseverance of our current squire Gil Rosenberg, who has been with the team since 2013, foreman Arthur, and our experienced musician Andy Davis. A developing group of young musicians and dancers on South Main Street has recently fed the team, building our numbers to where we have a fairly reliable set of eight or more at practices, and sometimes as many as five musicians.

In the category of major life events for Windham, the death of Will Fielding on October 21, 2014 from cancer was both a devastating blow, and a source of ongoing inspiration to strive for excellence and integrity to honor his legacy. More recently, in 2022 Tony and Margaret Dale Barrand passed on, and Tony’s life work continues to serve as incentive to continue the Lichfield and other Morris traditions in Brattleboro, Vermont, New England, and America.