Many people usually ask what morris dancing is. Watching a bunch of people with bells around their ankles, jumping around in costumes while wielding sticks does little in explaining what this dance form really is. The history of morris dancing is more of a mystery and its roots are untraceable (although there are different accounts as to how it came around).
However, morris dancing has always been associated with celebrations and festivals and is regarded as an English folklore tradition. It is usually performed by a troupe of dancers in front of an audience at seasonal festivities and holidays.
Morris dancing has developed in England for the past 500 years and villages from different regions have created their own form of morris dancing quite different from others. These villages developed their own style of costumes and patterns while dancing and nowadays these dance styles are quite distinguishable. They range from the Cotswold dance, Molly dance (from East Anglia), border morris (from the Welsh borders), sword dancing to the North West clog dance styles. It is also believed that there are other regional variations of the dance which have disappeared over time.
Morris dancing is usually accompanied by music. The musical instruments that are used represent those that were used in the past, though there have been recent additions. The common instruments that were used in the past for morris dancing included fiddles and pipe and tabor; however other instruments such as the accordion, melodeon and concertina have been added into the bunch in recent years. The musicians in the troupe also vary depending on the form of morris dancing. Bands are usually a common site whenever the border and North West clog dances are being performed whereas sword and Cotswold dancing only require one musician to be playing.
Morris dancing nearly got extinguished in the 19th century during the industrial revolution. During this period the dance style was considered unfashionable and other dances and forms of entertainment were adapted. However, concerted efforts from those who wanted to continue the folk lore tradition and custom gave it another lifeline and it was able to bounce back into a celebrated dance in the English community. As of today, countries with English dwellers such as Australia, Britain and the US partake in morris dancing during festivals and specific events.
Nowadays, there are many morris dance troupes. They either engage in competitions or perform in front of crowds during festivals. As for their costumes/kits, each troupe has its own design which containsa white shirt and a leather pad that may be holding bells or ribbons.
The manner the kit is put on may differ depending on the form of dance. Border morris has a more rougher and wilder look with tatters sewn all over the kit whereas Cotswold morris is more couth with a colored vest, white or colored trousers and ribbons covering the arms and legs. They then cover their faces with either black paint (or other colored paints) or wear clown masks.