Morris dance has been around for centuries and is a folk style English dance. There are variations on the varieties of Morris dance. They are named based on the village they came from. The first recorded information about Morris dance is from the 15th century, although it is believed the dance predates that time period. In 1899 Cecil Sharp had been touring the countryside to document dance and songs of the time so that they didn’t get lost when he discovered Morris dance at Christmas time in Headington Quarry village. In 1907 he published a book of the various dances he discovered including Morris dance.
In the 1800’s there were teams of dancers from each village. In the 1950’s and 1969’s there was a revival of interest in these dances and new teams were formed. Morris dance now has clubs performing the dance in Europe, Australia, The United States and New Zealand. In the United Kingdom there are 3 supervising bodies in the United Kingdom for Morris Dancing, they are: The Morris Ring, The Morris Federation and the Open Morris (this group represents women’s groups as well as mixed women and men groups, the others are for men only.).
Historically it was only men that performed the Morris dance. There is usually a central feature in the dance that is usually an animal – man. This figure can be the central part of the dance or blend in with the rest of the troupe. The dancers perform a choreographed rhythmic stepping. They usually have bell pads on their shins and carry objects like swords, sticks and handkerchiefs as part of their dance. There are six styles of the dance. The Cotswold Morris are mostly dances from an area around Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. In this style dance there are usually 6 to 8 dancers and they use sticks or handkerchiefs. They sometimes perform a single or double jigs in their performances. There is the North West Morris style of dance. This style is a more military style dance and is like a processional. There are mixed female and male sides in this tradition. They usually wore either boots or clogs for dancing. It developed in the mills of North West England in the 19th century. Dances were often called “maze” or “garland dances”. There is Longsword morris style dancing. This style is from Yorkshire and South Durham. This style is performed with long metal or wooden sword. It is usually performed by 6-8 dancers.
The Molly Dancing style is from Cabridgeshire. This dance was a feast dance that was performed to help collect money for the winters. One dancer would be dressed like a woman. The Ploughstots style of dancing was from the East and North of Ridings of Yorkshire. These dances were also performed to help collect money for the winter. The dancers usually hold flags to show their hand movements and sometimes wear rattling bones instead of bells. In the East Midlands there was another style similar to Ploughstots but they danced with swords. The Brittania Coco-nut dancers are a group that is named after a mill that is close to Bacup. This group is unusual since they use sawn bobbins to make the notice and a brass ensemble accompanies them.
Sometimes Morris teams would rehearse for a few events or holidays, and sometimes they prepared for one large event. Today, many teams rehearse throughout the year and then perform in the Spring and Summer.
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