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Morris Dancing in Dorset and Devon

Morris dancerOver the summer evenings you may have happened upon an old English Tradition outside of a traditional English pub. Morris Dancing has enjoyed a bit of a revival in recent years and is very much alive and well in West Dorset.  During the summer Bridport was very proud to showcase its own Folk Festival (http://www.bridportfolkfestival.com) which featured fabulous traditional folklore and music from the British Isles as well as a wealth of national Morris Dancers.

The earliest known mention of English Morris Dancing dates back to 1448 and relates to the payment of seven shillings to Morris Dancers by the Goldsmiths Company in London. The term Morris probably relates to the exotic nature of the dance and its origins as a colorful ‘Moorish’ or Moresque’ dance style that spread across Europe as a fashion and probably entered our vocabulary via Dutch, German and French influences because they also have a very similar word for it.

source: Wikimedia

A small statue of a “Moriskentänzer” made by Erasmus Grasser in 1480 for Old Townhall in Munich, one of a set of 16, of which only 10 remain. This dancer has an appearance which would be described at the time as “moorish”, but all the other nine surviving carvings are fairer-skinned. All wear bells on their legs. (Wikipedia)

The earliest records we have of Morris Dancing are of it being performed in a court setting and at the Lord Mayors Processions in London. By this time it had taken on the nature of a folk dance and performances were enjoyed in parishes across the land. Morris Dancing continued in this manner until war broke out and our men and boys were lost or maimed probably  leading to the demise of the dancing over the next generation.

In England we now have several ‘traditions’ of dance that were collected by Cecil Sharpe and his assistants Mary Neal and Maud Karpeles.  Cecil founded the English Folk Dance Society in 1911 and over his lifetime collected over 500 dances and nearly 5000 folk songs, the first of which he saw was ‘Laudanam Bunches’ in Headington, Oxfordshire performed by Headington gone Quarry Morris Men. This became known as the Cotswold Tradition and is danced all over the country, we even have a Cotswold team of dancers local to Bridport called ‘Wyld Morris’.

Morris dancer costumeThis team, or ‘side’ wear a colourful kit to dance in, made up of light brown trousers and a white shirt. Like other sides, they wear bells on their legs attached to leather bell pads that are decorated with pieces of coloured ribbon. They also wear ribbons on armbands as well as sporting ‘Baldricks’, traditional weapon belts worn over the shoulder, usually just one  but many morris dancers wear a pair joined in the centre by a badge in team colours. Wyld Morris members also wear a hat trimmed with ribbons, buttons stand, badges and flowers both artificial and natural and buy virtually all their kit from us at Livingstone Textiles. We have also supplied kit items to Uplyme Morris and many visiting Morris Dancers on holiday in the area. If you fancy giving this fun hobby a go and also enjoy beer, and/or can play a folk instrument, Wyld Morris ( http://www.bredy.org.uk/wyldmorris/) are are running a taster session at Monkton Wyld Court next Wednesday evening, 15th November 2017, in the Pine Hall starting at 7.30 and would love to see you there.

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