Newton Bushel Morris


                           A Brief History of Morris Dancing

Before the English Civil War, the working peasantry often took part in Morris dances, especially at Whitsun. In 1600 the Shakespearean actor William Kempe famously morris danced from London to Norwich, an event chronicled in his Nine Days Wonder (1600).  The Puritan government of Oliver Cromwell, however, suppressed Whitsun Ales and other such festivities. When the crown was restored by Charles II, the springtime festivals were restored. In particular, Whitsun Ales  came to be celebrated on Whitsunday, as the date coincided with the birthday of Charles II.

Morris Dancing continued in popularity until the industrial revolution and it's accompanying drastic social change. Four current teams claim a continuous lineage of tradition within their village: Abingdon, Bampton, Headington Quarry, and Chipping Campden. Other villages have revived their own traditions, and hundreds of other teams across the globe have adopted (and adapted) these traditions, or have created their own styles from the basic building blocks of morris stepping and figures.

Several English folklorists were responsible for recording and reviving the tradition in the early 20th century, often from a bare handful of surviving members of mid-19th-century village sides (teams). Among these the most notable are Cecil Sharp, Maud Karpeles, and Mary Neal. Boxing Day 1899 is widely regarded as the signal starting point for the morris revival. Cecil Sharp was visiting at a friend's house in Headington, near Oxford, when the Headington Quarry morris side arrived to perform. Sharp was intrigued by the music and collected several tunes from the side's musician, William Kimber; not until about a decade later, however, did he begin collecting the dances, spurred and at first assisted by Mary Neal, a founder of the Esperance Club (a dressmaking cooperative and club for young women in London), and Herbert MacIlwaine, musical director of the Esperance Club. Neal was looking for dances for her girls to perform, and so the first revival performance was by young women in London.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, several  new men's sides were formed, and in 1934  the Morris Ring was founded by six revival sides. In the 1960's and especially the 1970's, there was an explosion of new dance teams, many of them women's or mixed sides. At the time, there was often heated debate over the propriety and even legitimacy of women dancing morris, though this had largely subsided by the end of the 20th century.

In addition to the Morris Ring, there are also two other national (and International) bodies providing communication, advice, insurance, instructionals (teaching sessions) and social and dancing opportunities to their members, namely the Morris Federation and Open Morris. All three now include men's, women's and mixed sides.

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