In the UK, the Morris Dancers are quite proud to say that their dances are a lot older than cricket and most other sports. As in other sports, their passion is an important part of their life, but with this difference that the dancers, thank God, are not professionals.
The origin of this dances is without doubt pagan. They are related to certain seasonal customs and fertility rites. By beating sticks, waving handkerchiefs and jingling bells, evil spirits were to be chased. Furthermore they stamped their feet to try to stamp fertility out of the ground.
Actually the Morris tradition only remains in the UK. About half of the existing groups are member of the “Morris Ring”, an organization that aims to protect the traditions.
We can distinguish different types of Morris Dancing:
* The “Cotswold Morris”, where the dance group is composed of 6 dancers, a musician and a fool. The accompanying musical instrument is the violin, the concertina or the accordion. Typical at the performances is the collection-box in which the spectators can put a coin according to their appreciation for the dancers. Music, steps and dances vary from region to region. This type of Morris Dances also includes dances with daggers and sticks and “jigs” for solo dancers. The most typical dance is the “Abbots Bromley Horn Dance”, where the dancers hold reindeer antlers in their hands. This dance is performed each year in September and the antlers are traditionally kept in the church.
* The “Derbyshire Morris” with sets that can be composed of 16 dancers, while the dance style has characteristics of reel and country dances. Originally the dancers did not wear bells.
* The “Lancashire and Cheshire Morris” originates from the industrial centers and knew its broadest spread around the middle of the 19th century. This type of dance has many similarities with the “Derbyshire”, with the emphasis on “stepping”, which is raised by the special footwear: “clogs”. The costumes of the dancers are, in comparison to others, very colourful. The most typical dance is the “Mossly”, danced with at least 9 men. One of them is the leader, who is not so much dancing himself, but calls of the figures that have to be performed and indicates the changing of figures by means of a whistle. In addition to the concertina, these dances are accompanied by a big drum.
Finally, the “Sword Dances” are another form of Morris dancing. We distinguish 2 types:
* with long swords, performed by 6 or 8 dancers
* with short swords – very flexible and with two hilts – performed by 5 dancers, which is known as the “Rapper Dance”.
A remainder of the Morris dance can also be found in our regions. The costumes and tripping-steps of the “Gilles de Binche” refer to a form of the Morris tradition.