Background To Morris Dancing

The question of where it all started is one of the great enigmas of our time, ranking in importance with soul-searching questions such as 'What is the meaning of life?' and 'How big is the universe?'. There have been many theories expounded down the ages to try to resolve these disturbing questions but there is one answer that seems to satisfy them all - nobody knows.

Morris dancing has its roots so far back in time - well before income tax, keg beer and the Internet - that its origins, purpose, and meaning have long been forgotten and almost nothing exists as written record. It is tempting to go for the easy explanation of "it's from the Moors - hence Moorish dancing" and even more tempting to go for a link with ancient fertility rites, but that would be more wishful fantasy than fact. From what little we can glean from the records, Morris dancing had a rural beginning. What is certain is that it almost died out under the Victorians (who probably thought that music-making and dancing - not to mention drunkenness and debauchery - was the preserve of the gentry). Puritanism, migration from country to town and the industrial revolution were all factors in its decline. Then in 1899 - a simple time when acid drops were still sweets - Morris, of the Cotswold variety, was 'discovered' by a gifted musician named Cecil Sharp. Captivated by what he found he went on to devote the rest of his life to recording and reviving this long tradition of music and dance. So when you see Morris Dancing you are not just watching a group of fruit cakes - you are looking way back in time.

Apart from Cotswold Morris which is performed in the Midlands and Southern counties, there is North West (or Processional) Morris where the dancers wear clogs. In the North East, sword dancing predominates and the Welsh Borders have, well, ... Border Morris. The Border Morris dancers black their faces, presumably to save them the embarrassment of being recognised by friends. There is also a theory that Border Morris have one leg shorter than the other for dancing on hillsides but we have no direct evidence for this.

First Sedgley dance Cotswold Morris, the dances from each of the Cotswold villages have recognisable and distinctive hand movements and stepping patterns and before each dance the leader of the side will announce the dance and the name of the village it originates from. There are handkerchief and stick dances. The handkerchiefs are to emphasis the hand movements. We don't know what the sticks originally represented - we'll leave that to your imagination - anyway they make a really nice noise and come in very useful when we get a hostile audience. During the dance you may hear the lead dancer call out the different movements: back-to-back, hey, rounds, half-gyp, whole gyp, my round (this one only rarely heard).

Morris Dancing is a real-life display of one of England's oldest traditions. We also perform an important sociological function for the local community by highlighting the best meeting places - we never knowingly dance at pubs with poor ale.