Morris dancing

Known as ‘the morris’ to its devotees, morris dancing is a traditional fund-raising attraction for village fêtes. Its precise origin is unknown but it certainly has a medieval, if not pagan, flavour. Morris dancing was first documented in 1448 and Shakespeare includes a reference to it in ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ (1623) with: “As fit as … a pancake for Shrove Tuesday, a morris for May-day …”, indicating that it was by then an essential element of the 1st May celebration.

There are several types of morris dancing, with the most famous costume being all-white, adorned with ribbons, bells, hankies and flowers on the hats. The dancers have sticks or swords which they hold aloft, dance around or tap together. Accompanying musicians range from a single fiddler or piper to a full band.

Some morris ‘sides’ (troupes) wear multi-coloured or mainly black ribboned costumes with black masks or black, grey, green or red face paint and many have a mixture of white and black clothing. Some sides do not have bells and some perform fire dances which are more energetic and involve whooping and shouting. What they all have in common is their entertainment value, as in this battle of the beer trays:

(Top image: Robin Webster at / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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