What is Morris?
Morris or Moorish dancing has origins in pagan ritual, but it has had many influences over the centuries and is still developing and changing. It had become an established entertainment by the sixteenth century, often accompanying the seasonal celebrations of spring, Maytime, summer and the autumn harvest. Sides can also be seen on the shortest day of the year in some areas.
Some dances were confined to their own village or particular geographical areas for hundreds of years, albeit with variations locally in step or in tune. Morris nearly died out in the late nineteenth century as villagers moved to town, and in 1899 Cecil Sharp - the founder of the English Folk Song and Dance Society - started to retrieve details of the dance from oral tradition. His work was carried on in the twentieth century, although much had been lost. During World War 1 (1914-1918) - many dances only survived because women and children carried on the old dances while the men were at the front.
A national organisation was formed in 1934 to keep the tradition. Known as 'The Morris Ring of England', it only permits male dancers despite the important role of women in World War 1. Samhain Morris is not and can never be a 'Ring' side, but it does belong to the more liberal 'Morris Federation', which permits all to participate.
Recording, video and modern technique have safeguarded the tunes and dances today, and the upsurge of Morris in the 1950's-1960's has seen many dances taken out of their old home areas to be performed all over the country and beyond - but their origins can still be detected.
Good Morris dancing is known to bring good luck, bumper crops, good weather and fertility - what more could one ask!!
As a general pointer:-
a) Sticks, hankies and bells developed from Cotswold village dancers
b) Ribbons and hoops garland and processional dancing and well-dressing rites with hedgerow flowers and healing weeds
c) Black faces and disguise were 'Moorish' and a direct challenge to the Vagrancy Acts of 1824!
d) Tattered coats were from the borders of England and Wales, and from ancient rites of nature.
e) Clogs and drums were from Northwest England and Cornwall and were loud noises to drive away evil.
f) Swords, longsword and rapper were from Yorkshire and the North East.
g) Morris Beasts. Some sides have larger-than-life Beasts derived from prehistory, early fertility rites and mediaeval guild giants, to ward off evil from the dancers.
As well as dancing out at festivals, fetes and hostelries, evenings can be arranged explaining the tradition with dance and song - just ask!
Morris is kept alive by a varied band of individuals who usually take part for the pleasure of dancing and the joy of keeping the tunes and dances alive. However a free cider or beer is always traditionally welcome, and a coin in the collecting box helps to swell the donation to the side's chosen charity.
Samhain Morris' green and yellow costume reflects the colours of nature and the forest; small bells ward off any lurking evil spirits! Foliage and flowers, disguised faces and tattered ribbon coats are all part of Morris history, as are the sticks and hankies. The side's name comes from Celtic for Hallowe'en as this was loosely when the side was first formed. Sometimes a 'participation' dance is done, and if you enjoy this, new dancers and musicians are always welcome in the practice season (October to April). Over 14 is preferred, but not essential, and the side has a core of dances from its first teacher, Bob Swallow, which it is happy to teach to beginners to keep Morris alive.
In Britain there are now over 1,500 sides and occasional tours are arranged or invitations to 'feasts;' - dance suppers- are enjoyed.
Contact us on email@example.com, Julia, 023 8067 8918 to learn more.
The delivery of the traditional tunes varies with the style of dance and region from pipe and tabor to fiddle, accordion, guitar, concertina and melodeon. Some sides use drums and some clog Morris use a full brass band ensemble!
The instruments accompany individual jigs, two- three- or four-hand dances, and more usually six- or eight-hand displays. Processional dances are for as many as will, so that many can enjoy the catchy rhythms from times long past.
Dancing towards the musicians is 'up' and away from them is 'down': and in at least one of our dances the musicians end up as a token sacrifice, which they probably deserve!