The MorrisWhen it began:
The Morris, which includes many different styles of dancing, is one of the oldest customs of rural England. Its origins are unknown, the dancing traditions going so far back we cannot be certain of how and when they began, but Morris was active and recognised in the 15th Century, but exactly where and how much is not known.
Early records suggest a connection with May and Whitsun festivals, with Morris dancers involved in events set by the Church calendar, possibly as a way of bringing a popular entertainment under ecclesiastical control. For example, the style called "Molly Dancing" from the Eastern counties of England was always associated with the Church's Plough Sunday celebration and Plough Monday.
Over time the custom spread to other times of year, and in the 16th Century Morris became a fashionable entertainment for the Court and the aristocracy, with teams sponsored by the wealthy. From this upper-class popularity, the Morris spread more widely among the gentry, out of London and up the Thames Valley into the Cotswolds, and so further afield, becoming a pastime based in the villages, closely allied with village events.
What’s in a name?
The name "Morris" may be a corruption of "moorish", referring to either a style of dance, or to performers with blacked faces bringing an exotic style back to England in the time of the Crusades, though only certain styles of Morris have blackened faces.
There are other views, but whatever its origins, the Morris has been subject to many influences, changing and developing over the years.
Styles of Morris & Traditional Dance:
Different types of dance persist in different regions of the country, from the Sword dances of North East England and the Processional Clog Morris of the North West, to the Welsh Border counties of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire, and the familiar South Midlands style known as Cotswold Morris, probably the most commonly performed.
Rapper Sword Dancers
Where modern Morris comes from:
Many Cotswold village teams had their own dances, but by the end of the 19th century Morris was in decline and many dances were lost as teams died out. It was only traditional music collector Cecil Sharp's chance encounter with the Headington Quarry men on Boxing Day 1899 which sparked a revival, as Sharp and later his colleagues noted dances and tunes from old dancers in the villages, and published them in a deliberate attempt to revive the tradition. The English Folk Dance Society, now the EFDSS, organised training and teaching during the first decades of the 20th Century.
The Morris Revival:
New teams began to appear under this initiative before 1939, but the major expansion came from an upsurge of interest during the Folk revival of the early 1970's, which led to the hundreds of all types of team dancing today.
North West Morris
Most of the men's teams like Anker Morris Men belong to the Morris Ring, formed in 1934 to further the fellowship and traditions of the Morris. Every year the Morris Ring sponsors several Meetings where usually ten or twelve teams get together to display the Morris to the public.
The revival produced many teams of women dancers, and mixed teams, who have their own national organisations, the Morris Federation and the Open Morris. Most teams join with others around the country for days and weekends of dance, as well as appearing at local venues as we do, and the Morris organisations co-operate to present a joint display annually, where teams from all three perform.
A Living Tradition:
Morris is not some sort of re-enactment frozen in time, for though it is based on firm traditions, researchers continue to collect and publish even now, and the dance continues to evolve as a living tradition, with new dances being created - it is not just a museum piece.
We hope you take pleasure in watching us and sharing in a living part of England's heritage.