Morris Dance has been part of English life for at least six hundred years and may be much older.
It is often used in celebrations for towns and villages and the tradition and costumes of each area is passed down from generation to generation.
In today's world of entertainment we will put in a team (usually 6 or 8 + a musician and a Fool - see below for details) of Morris Dancers, for example for a Medieval Event or outside event as it is a really good fun and exciting form of dance to watch!
We have even used Morris Dancers in an evening of a Generation Game theme, where guests joined in (very good fun!)
The History of Morris Dancing
Morris dancing is a traditional or 'roots' dance form which belongs especially to the Midland counties of England. Nobody is quite sure when and where it started but there is no evidence at all to link it with pagan customs or fertility rituals!
Researchers largely believe that it began in Spain in the 12th century as a performance to celebrate the liberation of Spain from Moslem occupation, hence the term 'Moorish Dancing'. It became popular in the royal courts of Europe and eventually arrived in England as a courtly entertainment in the late 14th century. Eventually it fell out of fashion in Royal circles but was taken up in the 15th and 16th, centuries by civic authorities who included Morris dances in their processions and pageants.
The church was not slow to see the fund raising potential of the spectacle of Morris dancing and many parishes kept their own sets of costumes in church to be brought out for the annual Whitsun Ale celebrations.
During the mid-nineteenth century most local villages would have had their own team of morris dancers performing a programme of dance unique to their community.
By the end of the century morris dancing was losing support in the face of competition from other, less demanding, forms of popular entertainment and the carnage of the First World War all but delivered its death blow.
Fortunately the tradition was maintained in one or two out of the way places and information about other dances was recorded by early students of folk-lore.
In the early years of this revival people got hold of the idea that morris dancing was a survival of some kind of pagan fertility ritual and only danced by men. History reveals no evidence for this at all and the flowering of morris dancing in the twentieth century has seen new teams formed some for men, some for women and some mixed.
The Morris Fool
The Morris Fool is traditionally one of the side's more experienced dancers, who can mess about without messing up the dances. His role is often to liaise with the audience and keep the show going. The current Leicester Fool also usually acts as announcer as he has a loud voice (the rest of the side would probably call it a big mouth!). The Fool also tries to pick up hats that are blown away, dropped hankies, broken sticks and free beer!