It’s wrong to mock Morris dancers, because this they are helping to keep alive England’s national folk dance. A Spaniard would never mock a flamenco dancer and an Italian would never mock an opera singer. So why do so many people in the media make fun of this actually quite fun national dance? They say because it’s not as skilled as other types. But that means more people can join in?
If you think that Morris Dancing is some kind of ‘Little Englander’ mentality, you would be wrong. It has an interesting history. By the end of this post if you want to join in (to watch or dance), visit The Morris Ring to ‘find a side’ (local dances).
Morris dancing has been around over 500 years, and comes from the French word for dance (‘morisque’) or possibly a Flemish variation. People would dance for local people and one of the first dancers (Will Kemp) danced all the way from London to Norwich, with people coming out to cheer him on. Back then, only one or people would perform the dance, but today it’s mostly groups of men with ‘sticks, swords and handkerchiefs’ who perform a gentle dance wearing funny trousers and hats, with socks that have bells on. The dances were also enjoyed and performed by the suffragettes back in 1905.
Most ‘Sides’ (Morris dancing clubs) practice in winter, and perform in summer. Popular events are May Day, Christmas and Whitsun (usually only referenced by Jacob Rees-Mogg, this is Pentecost, the 7th Sunday after Easter, to celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit).
There are many styles of Morris dancing, and in modern times, young people have got involved. Boss Morris is an all-female dancing side that has modernised Morris dancing for the masses (it’s only recently that they have been allowed to join in). And there are also some ‘rapping Morris dancers’ up North!
Richard Macer observes that when you look close, the dance is not gentle. The ‘bit between a hop and skip’ is accompanied by men smashing the smithereens out of each other’s sticks. He writes ‘I was never lucky enough to see a young Frank Bruno dressed as a panto dame, but the effect would have been similar’.
Writer Paul Kingsnorth once asked (from a long-forgotten quote) how we have a culture that laughs at Morris dancers? While we sip cappuccinos in chain store bars, owned by American corporations that don’t pay their tax.