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The Ravenswood Morris Web Page: The Informative Stuff

So just what is Morris dancing?

Morris is an English traditional folk dance form. It includes several different types of dance from different regions of England; Cotswold Morris from southern England, Border Morris from along the English-Welsh border, Molly Dancing from the southeast and Northwest from...well from the northwest. Other forms include Longsword, Rapper, and Clog. When the term "Morris" is used without qualifiers, it is likely that the speaker means Cotswold Morris. While there is great variation in things called Morris, one common feature is that Morris is spectacle dance rather than social dance.

In Cotswold Morris each village has its own style and its own repertoire of dances; this is referred to as the village's tradition. Morris dancers form "teams," which are sometimes called "sides." Most Cotswold Morris dances are for a set of six dancers, although other configurations do occur. Cotswold Morris dances are done with either handkerchiefs or sticks, and the dancers dress up in a team uniform which is called the "kit." Kit will vary by team, but usually includes white pants ("trousers" for those of you in the UK) and shirt, black shoes, leather pads covered with large bells tied around each leg below the knee, and brightly coloured ribbons attached at various places. A vest, double-baldric, or suspenders is usually worn over the shirt.

It's Max!Border Morris is similar to Cotswold Morris, but a bit more primal and less refined (some might say a bit more crude, but I won't!). Dances are often for multiples of four rather than six, and are usually done with sticks. The energy of a Border dance always makes me think of Maurice Sendak's fabulous book, Where the Wild Things Are. "Let the wild rumpus start!"It's wild!

There are numerous web sites containing information on Morris dancing. Here are a few of them:

And how did this weird stuff get started?

There were things with names like "moresca" or "moresche" going on in Europe as early as 1149. Morris in England dates back at least to the mid-fifteenth century, and could be older still. Over the centuries Morris evolved continuously until nearly dying out in the latter part of the 19th century.

In its modern form Morris owes a lot to the work of Cecil Sharp, who collected information on Morris around a century ago. Our Morris is therefore firmly rooted in the style of the past century, but it continues to evolve, as is proper for a living dance tradition.

The true origin of Morris is not really known, but three theories are popular:

  1. It originated with the Moors of Spain, taking its name from them -- Moorish, get it?
  2. It was pretty outlandish, and so was named after the Moors of Spain, who were also pretty outlandish (at least to the mediæval English).
  3. I don't know where it came from, but I don't like either of the other theories.

For humourous recitations on the origin of Morris courtesy of Lemon and Capers Morris, jump here (Note: A different "answer" will appear each time you visit).

OK, enough of this. Take me back to the main Ravenswood Morris web page

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This page was last updated on November 24, 2001 by Gary Plazyk.

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