Morris Dancing is one of the oldest of English traditions
Very little is known about its origins, but as a ritual and a form of pleasure we know that it dates back at least to the 15th century and is perhaps much older. There are many theories answering the questions why we do it? where did it come from?, why is it called Morris dancing anyway? and above all, which one is Morris? these are documented well and in detail elsewhere on the web.
Morris dancing has been traced all over the English Midlands and further North, but it is particularly associated with our own Cotswold area, where the most recognised form of Morris was, and still is, to be found. Here it is performed generally by six men and a musician, accompanied in most cases by a fool and sometimes a beast. The men wear a colourful costume or “kit” often based upon white, the old sacred colour.
The dancers also wear bells, and wave hankies or sticks, some say to ward off evil spirits. Traditionally the dances are said to have been performed by the men of the village with very strong ties to the Whitsun time of year with fertility and encouraging crops to growth very much in mind.
In the past, most Cotswold villages had their own dances and tunes, but by the end of Industrial Revolution the tradition had almost died out, as the Victorians had introduced many other pastimes and sports. Fortunately, there was a great revival of interest in Morris Dancing in the early years of the 20th century, led by Cecil Sharp who was the person mainly responsible for collecting and noting the dances we perform today.
The Gloucestershire Morris Men today perform throughout the spring and summer months, dancing each Tuesday night (see this year’s programme) at some of the wonderful countryside pubs we have scattered about the county. As well as dancing we also enjoy playing music and have many singers to ensure the evenings are rounded off in the pub in true fashion. In additional we perform at various fetes, shows and other functions including TV and radio. Over the years we have formed links with many other Morris sides in England and also other dance groups within Europe. Each year we attempt to visit some of our friends either in the UK or on the occasional trip to either Germany, France, Spain, Austria or Belgium. One year we will eventually manage to organize a return visit to friends in Russia…one year! We weren’t far away in 2006 when visiting Poland. We’re always open to new suggestions and would be delighted to be invited to pastures new.
The Gloucestershire Morris Dancing Year
Our dancing year is marked by regular traditional events.
Once upon a time Easter Monday represented the first dancing tour of the Spring and for a while this was replaced by our first evening of dance on St Georges Day. However, 1999 saw us rising up before dawn and dancing as the sun rose over Painswick Beacon, a custom which has continued throughout this century and has now become a treasured tradition.
Towards the end of summer, either the first or second Saturday in September, we have a memorial day of dance in Cheltenham in order to remember those men, sadly no longer with us, who have kept the side alive throughout the years. In particular on this day we remember Pat Snelling, a gentleman, fine dancer and the mainstay of the side for many years.
The year closes on Boxing Day with dancing in the centre of Cheltenham before joining other local dancers, and the Gloucester Mummers, for a performance for the crowds gathered outside Gloucester Cathedral.
For more info – contact The Bagman