[Morris Bells] ``Traditions'' of Morris Dancing

When the morris was originally collected from the dancers, Cecil Sharp noted that most teams had particular dance figures, arm movements, steps and variations of the tunes which were unique. He distinguished one team from another using the name of the village where they lived. To this day we continue to refer to morris ``traditions'' with these geographic names.

Subsequent research has led to the opinion that these traditions were more strongly allied to particular individuals or families than to the towns. It seems likely that many of the morris teams were based upon the small teams of agricultural laborers who worked in fields or woodlands. The organizational needs of morris and agricultural teams are similar enough to suppose that the foreman of one would be the foreman of the other.

Many modern revival teams compose new dances and include music from popular contemporary sources. Some of the drive for this innovation comes from the competitive spirit in modern ales where morris dancers from many towns congregate to recreate the ancient festivals. There is evidence that the traditional dancers modified their dance in response to the same kinds of competitive forces. This would mean that the recorded traditions are really just snapshots of a changing art form captured just before it died.

In any case there are several dozen of these traditions. Some traditions are very rich in dances and tunes, others have only one stick dance and/or one hanky dance, and a few are lost forever except in name because none of the traditional dancers remained alive.

Steve Allen <sla@ucolick.org>