What is Morris Dancing?

(from an Albemarle Morris Men flyer distributed to our audiences in the 1980's)

Morris is a term applied, rather loosely, to traditional English folk-dancing that is done as a performance rather than as a social event.

There are many kinds of Morris dancing. The Albemarle Morris Men dance a type of Morris called Cotswold Morris, named for the southwestern region of England from which the dancing comes. The origins of the Cotswold Morris are obscure. Some scholars think that Englishmen on crusade in Europe in the 14th century saw, and perhaps participated in a Spanish dance which was a reenactment of the driving of the Moors from Spain, hence the term "Moorish", or "Morris". Morris dancing was incorporated into existing seasonal festivities and was handed down from generation to generation.

Many villages in the Cotswold region had their own team or "side" of Morris dancers. The typical arrangement of a team was six all male dancers, one musician, and one or more comic characters such as a fool. The dancers decorated themselves with rosettes, ribbons and/or cross sashes called baldricks; bells were also worn.

A combination of the Industrial Revolution and the leveling of the Witchwood Forest in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire resulted in a tremendous destruction of traditional English country life. As a result, Morris dancing had all but died out. Fortunately, the dances were revived by several English antiquarian, most notably Cecil Sharp and Mary Neal. They visited the remaining dancers, who by that time were very old men, and recorded the dance steps and music. Furthermore, they encouraged those handful of sides still dancing to continue.

The Albemarle Morris Men use as the basis of their dance style the dances collected in the village of Bledington, Gloucestershire. The costumes we wear are our own individual design but they reflect the tradition of the Morris dance attire. We have been dancing in and around Charlottesville Virginia since 1978.

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Last update: July 22, 2015
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