One of the most popular forms of morris dances is with the use of sticks and/or handkerchiefs. This type of dancing can be traced back to the medieval times. The dance was done by 4-8 men holding the sticks or handkerchiefs while performing the morris dance. The handkerchiefs are said to be adopted from the time of Richard the second where long sleeves used to be.
“It has been widely believed that King Richard the second of England actually invented the handkerchiefs. This is given reference to letters that were written by some of his courtiers mentioning the same. “
It has also been documented that some morris men, a few hundred years ago, used to tie up handkerchiefs to the end of their sleeves in order to prevent them from dropping whilst dancing.
The sticks are said to have been adopted from the Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians), a popular dance form in Latin America. It involved men who lined up in two sections facing each other and engaged in a mock battle with the sticks. The roots of this dance are nested in Spain, where the theory is that the Spaniards celebrate conquering back their land from the Moors. This is just not a common feature of morris dancing but also in the Spanish dance culture.
The earliest references of morris dancing show a dance from where 5-8 men danced around a female (a man in a female costume) in a manner that showed that each of them wanting the favour of the woman. The dance was accompanied by music played from a pipe and tabor or a fiddle. The dance was also given a mention in Shakespeare’s work.
Basically, the morris dance is derived from Moros y Cristianos’ single step that can also be seen by dance troupes nowadays. However, the Cotswold form of morris dancing evolved from the time of Galliard in the 16th century and usually involves a lot of steps. The galliard was a type of dance that was performed in the gallery of a big house (explains the name, right!). During those times (and in the present for a select few), huge houses usually had galleries with a sort of hallway in an upper storey that connected different rooms in the house. This space was usually used for dancing in festivals held in the house.
The galliard usually involved a set of complicated double steps, and was more of a social dance. It was danced by a couple and the male usually showed his skills in the dance in order to impress his partner. These double steps are now a common feature of the Cotswold morris.
Well that shows you the origins of the handkerchief, sticks, single and double steps that are a common theme in different types of morris dancing. So, next time you are watching morris dancing (or engaging in one), be sure to know how exactly each feature of the dance came into being. Happy morris dancing!