What is Morris Dancing?
Briefly, the Cotswold morris is a traditional folk dance which was
found in small villages around Oxford, England at the end of the 19th
century. It was a central part of annual springtime rituals
throughout the region. The dancers wear dozens of bells on each leg,
wield sticks and/or handkerchiefs, and dance to lively folk tunes.
What do we tell our audience?
When Seabright dances on the street we carry a
with text by Gereg Blaiddllwyd and myself.
(If you think it looks like your leaflet, that's probably because
we've cribbed pieces of text from somebody who cribbed them from you.)
The leaflet gives a quick (and dirty) history of the morris and invites
the crowd to support our endeavor.
What is it like?
It is a high-impact, anaerobic form of dance done to live music
by teams (or sides) of six who are all dressed in brightly colored kit.
The stepping is done in a style designed to maximize the ringing of the
bells whilst minimizing the danger of impact injury. Some dances
consist of 6 solid minutes of stepping and are more strenuous than
running for a mile. Dances done while waving handkerchiefs often
contain spectacular leaps high into the air. Dances done with clashing of
sticks could have nasty consequences to dancers or audience.
What morris is not
From Cecil Sharp's Morris Book, part I:
``The Morris is not an easy dance.... It is not everyone's dance, nor has
it ever been so regarded by traditional dancers.
In the current revival morris dancers are usually associated with a broader
These communities engage in traditional
English Country Dance and in Contradance;
both of these are more casual and social than morris.
``The Morris is not a social dance--one, that is, which is danced chiefly
for pleasure. It is, primarily, a spectacular dance; its purpose is, or was,
to provide an exhibition or pageant at holiday time for the entertainment
of the onlooker. It was, too, a professional dance.''
Morris is many things
The term morris has been applied very broadly through history. It
could be said to encompass almost any form of traditional English
performance done on the street. The Cotswold morris is typically
well-rehearsed dances done in the spring. Morris by itself most
commonly refers to Cotswold morris. Mumming is a theatrical
performance of exaggerated characters typically done near Christmas.
Welsh Border morris is a wild, usually stick-wielding dance often done
with sooty faces and in the winter. In Longsword dances the
performers link themselves by holding stiff swords. Rapper sword
dances use extremely flexible swords with swivel handles for very
tight intricate patterns of motion. Carnival morris consists
of pompom-wielding women marching along the street performing
drill-team-like precision figures. Other forms include Northwest,
clog, and molly dancing. Curiously enough, most inhabitants of any
one region of England have never seen and do not recognize forms of
morris dancing from other areas.
It is curious to note that similar forms of dance--where the dancers
dress in bright colors, wear noisemaking devices, and perform in the
streets to festive tunes before large crowds--exist in many cultures.
There are examples from north American indians, Aztecs and Mayans,
Greeks, Romanians, Africans, Asians, and more. This kind of dancing seems
to express something elemental in the human spirit.