A Brief History

By Phil Starks

Everything you wanted to know about Morris Dancing but were too afraid to ask!

At the Potties Festival 2018

What is Morris Dancing?

Morris is a form of ritual and ceremonial dance whose origins go back many hundreds of years. It is widely believed that it may have been associated with such things as fertility rites, warding off evil spirits, the triumph of good over evil, and so forth, but the records are scanty and nobody can be certain – even the origin of the word “morris” is not known beyond all doubt.

Styles of Morris

There are several styles of morris danced today. Most people associate morris dancing with the Cotswold tradition, where there are usually 6 dancers with either handkerchiefs or sticks, and the dances often feature intricate gyrations and footwork.
North-West Clog.

North-West Clog

The traditional style which the dancers of Fiddlesticks perform is North West Morris, originating mainly from Lancashire and Cheshire, where many places had their own particular dance form. This began as a processional dance as part of the traditional rushcart ceremony during Wakes week in late summer when fresh rushes would be carted to the church to renew the floor covering each year. Nowadays, the dancers usually remain on one spot when performing the dances. They are accompanied by a band playing a wide variety of instruments, which inevitably includes a drum or two. The music is full-blooded and rhythmic.

North West is characterised by the wearing of traditional wooden – soled clogs, its robust stepping, and the use of plaited slings or wooden objects. These would have originally been commonplace articles from the cotton mills, such as bobbins. For some dances brightly coloured floral garlands are used.

'Sword' Dancing

Another form of morris is where the dancers perform very intricate interweaving movements, linked together by “swords”. Rapper uses relatively short lengths of very flexible steel with a handle at each end, whilst for Longsword a much longer “sword” is used which remains straight during the dance. Border morris, from Shropshire, Worcestershire or Herefordshire, is characterised by the dancers’ brightly coloured rag jackets and blackened faces. Finally Molly dancing, mainly from East Anglia, can be recognised by the performers traditionally dressed as old time farm labourers with waistcoats & jackets decorated with ribbons and wearing heavy boots. Here the stepping will appear very deliberate, almost clumsy by comparison.