The name ‘Morris Dancing’ most probably derives from Moorish Dance, and as such it has been practiced in Europe since 1485, though it undoubtedly precedes that earliest recorded event.
In 1600, Shakespeare actor William Kempe Morris danced all the way from Norwich to London In 1650 Cromwell banned Morris dancing as an affront to his Puritan values, along with theatre, Christmas and gambling.
Today, in strict, near Masonic Morris tradition, women are
refused permission to participate but there are several breakaway mixed gender
and women only troupes too.
Styles vary from region to region on what is mostly a British practice,
though there are troupes in the US and throughout the World too.
Cotswold Morris men use sticks or handkerchiefs. Lancashire Morris Men
are more likely to wear clogs. Some troupes use swords.
The activity has its critics and mockers – some audiences find Morris dancing just antiquainted and plain eccentric. John Kirkpatrick, in his essay, Bordering on the Insane - Confessions of a Shropshire Bedlam http://www.johnkirkpatrick.co.uk/mo_BorderInsane.htm is extremely scathing in his views on the lovely pastime. He is dismissive of how anyone cane find a Morris Dance an incitement to pagan rooted fertility and passion.
At the last Ring Meeting I attended (as an onlooker) the amount of energy expended was more appropriate to the bowling green than the village green. There was no passion, no fire, and no communication of joy or lust for living. Young men are given to excess. Any team I taught would have to be far more ferocious and flamboyant than this mincing middle-aged antiquated eyewash.
Despite such reservations from a few, many town and village fetes and history pageants would be incomplete without a Morris Dancing display or competition. Troupes often perform on Bank Holidays, especially Whitsuntide. When Charles 2cd, who had been born on a Whitsun Sunday, was restored to the British Monarchy, an annual Morris dance on that day became one of the festival highlights of his reign.
With the advent of electronic recording and filming technology in the early 20th century, some researchers began to capture the art of Morris Dancers on archives as the practice and tradition was dying out – the very release of such findings revived the pastime.
Musicians will often support a Morris troop, with a fiddle, accordion or another traditional instrument. Some troupes also have a fool or a mime in tow. They may also have people dressed in hobbyhorse costumes.
A Morris troupe usually has its own terminology. The overall lifestyle is just called The Morris. A costume maker / supplier is ‘the Ragman.’ The ‘Foreman’ deals with group discipline and choreography. He usually decides which routines will be performed in any given show or event. The ‘Squire’ is usually the elder statesman and leader of a troupe. He may double up as Foreman. The Bagman is the Treasurer and holder of the troupe purse strings.
Some members of the Troupe, but not the whole team apiece perform a ‘Jig’. A Set is a full-choreographed routine, worked out around the number of Morris Men involved – commonly six to eight. An ‘Ale’ is a party at which Morris Dancers entertain each other but not outsiders.
Some troupes see their activity as fun, while others, especially in competition Morris Dancing, take their craft very seriously.
In popular culture Morris Men are sometimes depicted as evil, as in The Wicker Man, The Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee) adventure, The Daemons, and Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel, Lords And Ladies.
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