MORRIS DANCING - EUROPEAN CULTURE

Des Herring (A personal view)

To consider the future place of minority dance traditions within a united Europe; I would suggest you look at the recent history of Cotswold English Morris dancing ; a dance form that is now thriving in England in small men's sides throughout the country, and perhaps some lessons can be learnt from it.
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A form of ceremonial morris dancing was known in England in the 15th century but the development of the 6 man structure and style was crystalized in the 1650's due to the suppression of dancing by the puritans, when the Royalist court moved out of London to Oxford. The Royalist Captain Dover established at Chipping Campden the Olympic games, of which Morris Dancing was a part. These were competitive games and appeared to follow fairly strict rules. Paintings and drawings of the games show 6 men, a fool, and a musician (but never a hobby horse). For 200 years the games continued, each village entering its own side and possibly winning the "favours" and the rights of collecting money. In 1855 the railway came to the area, and rioting at the games led the their suppression and closure. Most of the dancing stopped.

In 1899 Cecil Sharp, a music publisher from London, was in the area and noted some of the dances and tunes and by 1910 he and others were publishing dance notations and music.

By 1920, Morris dancing had become a curriculum subject in schools; and many dainty school teams of little boys in top hats and girls in milkmaids costumes could be seen performing on the school stage. By 1930 Sharp and others realized this was a mistake and not the dance form he had collected. A few adult male sides were formed and a few enthusiasts kept it alive.

By 1950, except for teachers, it had all but died, then suddenly the American Square Dance craze swept England and there was a revival of interest in English folk dance and song traditions, and then men's Morris sides were formed all over the country. Today, teams of mature men dance the Morris; with vigour and strength; it is only a minority interest but these teams take their place in the adult environment of the British pub beside amateur rugby and football clubs. Together with the Hobby Horse it is street theatre, and there is a danger with Morris dancing and other folk dancing that in choreographing for a modern electronic stage the true atmosphere of the dance
may once again be lost.