What is Morris Dancing?




We are asked questions like these almost every time we dance in public, especially so when we appear in our home town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, so popular with overseas visitors.

There is, however, no definitive answer. What is certain, is that the Morris is a very ancient Ritual Dance, so ancient that its origins are lost in the distant past. References to Morris Dancing have been found in literature dating back as far as the 15th century, and even then its was regarded as an old tradition.

Today it is accepted that the Morris was a Fertility Rite, danced in Spring and Summer to ensure a fat and healthy harvest in the Autumn. However this is still a theory -there is no proof, and probably there never will be.

The derivation of the word Morris even has two popular explanations, one that it is a corruption of the word Moorish, based on the fact that the first black people to be seen in England were the Moors, and the early Morris Dancers used to black their faces for anonymity. The Mummers also used this for disguise. The other explanation is that it is an Anglicised word of the Latin 'mores' meaning a social custom. The latter probably stems from the Romans, who dismissed the activities of the villages as mere social customs, and didn't bother to attempt to understand them further.

This is for many Morris Dancers is one of the attractions of the Morris: we dance for the fun and enjoyment of keeping alive one part of the fabric of Old England.

If you travel around England, you may be lucky enough to see other Morris Traditions. 'Border Morris' comes from the Welsh Marches, where the border of England meets that of Wales; 'North West Morris' is mainly found in Lancashire, with the dancers wearing the iron clad wooden clogs still associated with this industrial area; in Yorkshire, you will find 'Long Sword Dancing', (not to be confused with the Scottish variety); whilst in the North East, around the banks of the River Tyne, can be seen the lively and intricate 'Rapper Sword Dance'. For details of these activities go to Morris Ring

In common with all other Morris Dancers, we pass the hat round when we are out performing in towns and villages. This helps to defray the running expenses of the club, which are considerable, practice venues and costume being the major items. This also allows us organise free dance events for the general public during the local Festival, and ensure that we contribute to local and national charities on a regular basis. So when you are 'chatted up' by a friendly Morris dancer, dig deep in your pocket!