What is morris dancing?

Leeds Morris Men Morris Dancing Outside The Arabian Horse

Morris Dancing is not some quaint imitation of Merrie England, but something which has had a continuous (and evolving) existence in some parts of England for many centuries. Very little is known for certain about its history and much that has been written about it is necessarily conjecture.These dances are thought to have originated as pre-Christian fertility ceremonials - celebrations and expressions of delight, either at the return of Spring and new growth, or at the return of the sun following the Winter solstice. This latter type of celebration includes the sword dances of northern England, with their mock executions and resurrection of the executed person to symbolise the return of the New Year and the beginning again.The Morris Dances of the Cotswolds, which we perform, are springtime dances. The wearing of brightly-coloured clothing, the ringing of the bells worn on the legs, the waving of the handkerchiefs, and the tuneful music may now seem far removed from pagan fertility rituals. However they were all intended in their original forms to encourage and celebrate the return of new growth or to ward off evil spirits which might seek to prevent it. 

Bonny Green in Kettlewell on the Dales Tour 2012

Some of our dances show mock battles with sticks, and this again may be derived from a symbolic battle between Winter and Spring, good and evil, or life and death. It is not known when dancing became a part of these annual celebrations but clear references to dancing can be traced to the Middle Ages and by the 16th century the Morris was recognisably beginning to assume the form in which it has come down to us today. Leeds Morris Men have been performing these dances in the towns and villages around Leeds since 1950. Our annual Spring Bank Holiday tour of the Yorkshire Dales is one of the oldest morris tours in England and has become a tradition in its own right.

The Jockey Jig in Wakefield for the Rhubarb Festival

An English Morris is a communal event, involving dancers, musician, fool and animal interacting with the audience to the mutual delight of all. We hope you will come and watch one of our performances: remember that England has a vast heritage of folk song, and has more dances of the people, especially ceremonial dances, than any other country in Europe. This is a part of our heritage of which we are proud. We hope you will be too.