What is Morris Dancing?

The Betley Window (image by permission of the V&A)

Morris Dancing is a style of traditional English folk dance. No one knows exactly how far back the tradition goes or where it began, but it continues to thrive today around the world. The dances as we practise them today were primarily recorded by folk collectors such as Cecil Sharp beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. St Albans perform Cotswold morris which is characterised by hankie and stick dances.

Typical forms are named after the areas of England where they are considered to have originated:

Cotswold – with people waving handkerchiefs or clashing sticks. Lots of these dances originated in villages in the Cotswold Hills (of Southern England). Academics have pointed out that this should more appropriately be called “South Midlands Morris”, as the area extends well beyond the Cotswolds.

Border– more rowdy, generally, than Cotswold. Lots of stick clashing and blackened or painted faces. The “border” referred to is that with Wales – i.e. Shropshire, Herefordshire, etc.

North West – the “cloggers” from Lancashire and Cheshire. These dancers wave different things about (like slings and bobbins) – but don’t clash sticks or wave handkerchiefs much.

Individual dances are usually known by a combination of the specific dance-name and the place of “origin”. The place name indicates the style of dancing in many subtle ways.

Additionally, there are Longsword and Rapper (danced with different types of “sword”). and Molly Dancing. There is a wealth of further information on the internet, including an electronic discussion list for morris dancers worldwide and Facebook groups, such as Celebrating Cotswold Morris and How many Morris Dancers are on Facebook?

There are three UK national morris organisations:

Click here to see if there is a morris club in your area.