morris dance



  • A traditional English folk dance. It is related to similardances performed by the Basques of southern France, the Calusari ofRomania, and other ethnic groups in Europe and India. The name suggestsMoorish influence (see moresca) and this may explainwhy some dancers perform with blackened faces. The dance is oftensaid to have its origin in pre-Christian fertility rituals, although theevidence for this is slender; the English version seems to be more directlyassociated with local traditions surrounding harvest and May Day,with its Robin Hood folk theater.

    English morris dancing was in danger of dying out until thefolklorist Cecil Sharp led a revival at the beginning of the 20thcentury. The morris men wear white clothes decorated with small bells,flowers, and ribbons; they hold white handkerchiefs or staves, whichare struck together in some dances. The best-known groups are thosefrom the Cotswolds, but other regions have their distinctive traditions.Derbyshire morris dancers wear distinctive hats and are accompaniedby a King and Queen and a black-faced clown; Lancashire groups oncepulled a rush-cart while being driven on by a 'whiffler' carryinga whip. Some groups are accompanied by a joker who bangs the headsof the audience with an inflated pig's bladder on a stick. The dancewas previously an all-male preserve but a number of women's groupsnow exist. see also hobby horse.

    then march these heathen company towards the church and churchyard,their pipers piping, drummers thundering, their stumps dancing, their bellsjingling, their handkerchieves swinging about their heads like madmen, theirhobby horses and other monsters skirmishing amongst the throng...
    Philip Stubbes: The Anatomie of Abuses (1583)