So what is Morris dancing all about?
Nobody really knows for sure. It is probably based on an ancient need to perform ritual dances, perhaps to encourage the sunshine and good crops or maybe just to celebrate being here! The Morris has always been a little spooky and a little on the darker edge of life. Part of their magic is that they have always been at large and accepted as part of the country’s way of life yet never being fully understood.
What is the origin of Morris dancing?
Your guess is as good as ours! It is possible that pagan origins have been adapted over the centuries by taking on newer dance influences. The tradition has been handed down to successive generations by word of mouth. This will have contributed to its evolution.
Why is it called Morris?
Another difficult one to answer. One theory is that the word is a derivative of the word “Moorish” which was maybe used to describe the blackened faces of the dancers. The performers disguised themselves by rubbing soot into their faces so that they could go about their high jinks without being recognised by the gentry who were often worried by a perceived subversive element in the Morris.
Why do it?
Well somebody has to! Morris dancing has been an intrinsic part of English life for many centuries.
As William Shakespeare put it:
“As a pancake for Shrove Tuesday, a Morris for May Day” (All’s-Well-That-Ends-Well).
He should know, as one of his mates, Will Kemp, was a Morris dancer who, in the year 1600, danced from London to Norwich. He is commemorated on the statue below.
It is an oddity of life that the English often question their own traditions, but never ask why dancers from other countries do what they do, and will even join in with them when on holiday abroad.
Why should I put money in the collecting tin?
Traditionally the dancers are regarded as the bringers of luck, ensuring sunshine and good crops. In return for this service to the community, contributions of money are collected during the dancing. The collection allows the onlooker to share in “the Morris luck”.
Why wear such an odd costume?
Originally almost every village that had a side of Morris dancers kitted out in its own distinctive costume. This was usually white shirts crossed with coloured baldrics (sashes) and white trousers or black breeches. In the Forest of Dean, however, the dancers have traditionally worn “rag jackets”. The current Forest of Dean Morris costume is based on the Ruardean kit of the 1880’s. One theory for wearing the rag jackets is that it represents the leaves of the forest. You will have to ask one of the dancers for the real reason.
Does Morris dancing have a future?
Although only a handful of village sides survived through to the end of the 19th century there is probably more Morris dancing now than ever. Revivalist sides have sprung up all over the UK. Many of these are female teams. Morris dancing has now even spread across the world, from New York to New South Wales.