Morris dancing has a long history in England. There is debate about exactly how long but certainly hundreds of years. Some Cotswold Morris sides can see their history go back before 1800! Many traditions ended after world war 2. Many of the clubs that exist now are revived clubs. They studied the early books of the style of dance and began to reinvigorate the dance style. These clubs meet regularly for practice and give public shows. Historically the sides would just meet for a short time and practice then perform one or two dances. As part of the side (the dance troupe) there is usually a Squire or a Captain, a secretary or a bagman and a foreman who teaches the dance. Each side will have their own style of costume that comes from the tradition in their area. In addition to the Captain, Squire, bagman, and secretary many sides have a for or an animal figure to entertain the audience.
The Morris Ring (The National Association of Men’s Morris & Sword Dance Clubs) was formed in 1934 which helped slowly begin a revival. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the revival grew larger. From this time to the present Morris Clubs in the United Kingdom swelled from 80 to 800 clubs. There are also two more organizations that help promote Morris Dance in the United Kingdom: The Morris Federation (which was formed originally as the Women’s Morris Federation in 1974 and the Open Morris which formed also in the 1970’s. The Morris Federation formed after there were more women Morris sides forming in the 1970’s. Women had been shunned from Morris dancing for decades. It was thought to be a Male Only dance and women were treated negatively for trying to perform Morris. The Carnival Morris of the NorthWest was one of thinly teams that had girls. In 1973, in an effort to support the women sides, there was a conversation about creating a group to help the sides. In October of 1975 The Women’s Morris Federation was officially formed. They helped promote the historical importance of women in the group and the idea that Morris was evolving and should include women. Initially the organization was for female sides only, but in 1980 it welcomed mixed sides and in 1982 it was open to any Morris side regardless of gender. In 1983 the organization dropped the word Women’s from it’s title and became “The Morris Federation”. The Open Morris organization began in 1979 to help bring together the mixed Morris sides. At the time there were very few mixed slides and a lot of animosity between the Women’s Federation and the Morris Ring. Thus they formed the Open Morris to support groups that would welcome both female and male dancers into a group. Eventually the women’s federation did allows mixed groups. The three organizations now work together.
Morris dances is a fun traditional dance that is really great exercise. Dancers use sticks, handkerchiefs or swords throughout the dance, they make music with bells on their clothes. It is a lot of fun for all involved. If you are interested in learning Morris Dance you can explore learning it in a few ways. There are schools to learn Morris dance throughout the United Kingdom. You can sign up and take classes at the school. You can also find programs you can either view or purchase online to help you learn. This is something to consider if you are far from a Morris Dance school and want to see how you like it. Keep an eye out on future posts that will go into more detail on where you can learn Morris Dance.