- What is Morris Dancing
What is Morris Dancing
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 but there are lots of theories.
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.
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 Late May 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.
An English Morris is a communal event, involving dancers, musicians, 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.
Roles in the morris
- Squire – is the club’s Chairman and has overall responsibility for the direction of the club. The post is usually held for 2 years
- Bagman – is the club’s secretary, organising dance outs and bookings, maintains our programme and organises which events we attend. So if you would like us to appear somewhere then he is the person to contact.
- Treasurer – looks after the money
- Foreman – teaches the dancing. We usually have more than one Foreman
- Fool – not all sides have a Fool but luckily we do. The fool acts as a conduit between the dancers and the public, talking to the audience, introducing the dances and dancing through the dance often taking members of the audience with him.
- Musician – plays for the dances.
- Music is a vital element of Morris dancing and is required in order to dance. Each dance has a specific tune that adds to the performance, and also helps the dancers know what to do, and what steps to follow.
- Often there are tunes with the same names but slightly different which reflects the way in which each of the Cotswold villages developed its own dance and musical individuality and style.
- Leeds Morris Men have a number of musicians that play a range of instruments. Melodeons are the main instrument in the side but you can sometimes see men playing the concertina, violin (fiddle) or pipe and tabor. All instruments are acoustic and require no amplification.
- The Leeds Morris Men kit consists of black shoes, white socks, white shirt and trousers with a baldrick in Leeds University colours of white, burgundy and green.
- Most men wear a burgundy waistcoat and many wear a straw hat decorated with ribbons, and fresh or artificial flowers, The waistcoat carries an embroidered badge showing the Leeds owl from the city’s coat of arms.
- The baldric is burgundy with a white Yorkshire rose on the front and white and green ribbons on the back.
- The bell-pads are covered with white, maroon and green ribbon. Armlets in club colours are worn at the elbows.
- Men generally dance either with white handkerchiefs or sticks of varying lengths depending on the dance.
- In the early days, Leeds Morris Men danced Longsword and Rapper as well as Cotswold Morris, but in recent decades the club has focused almost exclusively on the dances of the Cotswolds learning and performing dances from the villages of Leafield (Fieldtown), Sherborne, Bledington, Ilmington, Adderbury and Bucknell
- Other traditions we have performed include Ascott-under-Wychwood, Badby, Bampton,Bidford,Brackley, Ducklington, Headington, Hinton, Oddington, Stanton Harcourt and Wheatley. Over the years the side has taken the view that the distinguishing characteristics of the traditions become blurred if too many are attempted at once. We therefore usually dance between two and four traditions at any one time, changing about half of them each year.
- We appoint a foreman to teach each tradition we study who then makes a detailed investigation of the available sources while preparing to teach the dances. Foremen usually produce detailed notes covering the provenance and sources for the dances. Members of other clubs interested in seeing these notes are invited to email email@example.com
- This year we are dancing Ilmington and also dances from the Ruardean and Redbrook tradition. These latter traditions were danced exclusively by the Royal Forest of Dean Morris but we have been given permission to learn and perform them. We are also dancing a small selection of Welsh Border dances from the town of Pershore in Worcestershire