Tradition

Origins
 
Morris dancing was clearly regarded as a very ancient custom in Shakespeare's time - he mentions it in several plays - and although the first written reference dates only to the 15th century it seams likely to have roots in Anglo-Saxon or Celtic times.
 

The origin of the name Morris is uncertain but might have come from dancers blacking their faces as a form of theatrical disguise - and to prevent the local priest learning who was taking part in pagan rituals and generally leading to revels. The only black people known to the population of the times were Moors, hence Moorish dancing or Morris Dancing.
 
 
  Anyone from America may like to know that the first Morris dancing there was probably in 1583 when Sir Humphrey Gilbert took on his voyage there "entertainment for the solace of our people and the allurement of savages". Apparently the "cavorting of Morris dancers, hobby horse and jack o'greens" went down with the audiences!
 

Cotswold Morris
 
The "Cotswold" tradition, most commonly seen is far removed from any origins in pagan fertility rites, having been sanitised by the Church, the Puritans and the Victorians, leaving the handkerchiefs and bells to "chase the devil". The Cotswold dances were in the main collected from the villages of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire by Cecil J. Sharp. Each village has it's own dances and tunes. The dances are of two types, set dances for six men and occasionally eight men and a musician; and jigs for one or two men and a musician. These give great scope for a dancer to show his skill and individuality.
 

Northwest Morris and Stave Dance
 
Northwest Morris developed from the same ancient roots as the Cotswold Morris. However, in the nineteenth century it became associated with the annual rush-bearing ceremonies, when the floors of the churches were re-laid with fresh rushes. The day became a holiday for the village and townsfolk and the Morris dancers led the rush cart to the church; thus many of the dances are processional and show a strict regimentation. The dances are usually done in a set of eight with a leader and a large band of musicians to carry the sound of the music above the noise of the dancers clogs.
 

 
 


 

 

Kit
 
There are two aspects of our kit which merit further examination.
 
Firstly, when dancing "North West", we wear clogs, as per tradition. These are "Duck Toed" in shape, black in colour, have beech soles and are shod with metal 'irons' on sole and heal. The leather is scrolled to our own team design.
 
Secondly, the backs of our waistcoats are decorated with the royal coat of arms.
 
This is because John O' Gaunt was Duke of Lancaster and the current Duke is her majesty the Queen.
 
We have permission to use the royal coat of arms.
John O' Gaunt, born Ghent 1340 & died 1389, was one of the richest and most powerful men in Europe. The fourth son of Edward III, though never king himself, was father to a king of England and grandfather to another. He had nine children from two marriages. In 1362, at the age of twenty-two, he became Duke of Lancaster, despite this he probably spent no more than a total of nine days in the city itself, 21st & 22nd September 1385 & later, seven days in 1393. His body lies in old St. Paul's Cathedral. Information on John O' Gaunt provided courtesy of Lancaster Museum. http://www.lancaster.gov.uk/tourism/itourism.htm
 

Morris Music
 
We dance two different styles of the Morris.
 
'North West', from our own North West of England, is danced in clogs, to tunes which are usually 6/8 or 4/4 time. It is a case of the more musicians we have the better, as they are then able to rise above the sound of the clogs. It is especially helpful if, like us, a side dancing out has a drummer. Our musicians also play concertina, melodeon, whistle, bodhran. In the past fiddle and accordion were used. Where it is possible, the inclusion of some brass instruments greatly enhances a 'North West' performance. The tunes used are often well known, such as Cock O ' the North or British Grenadiers but basically any tune that fits is OK.
 

'Cotswold' is the other tradition we dance. The music for this differs in that, by tradition these dances are accompanied by a solo musician and each dance has its own relevant tune, used exclusively for that dance. The different sections of a tune are called 'A' music, 'B' music, 'C' music etc. so that instead of continuously playing the tune through, the musician has to carefully watch the dance, listen to the calls and play the relevant 'A' or 'B' music. For a particular dance a musician will have to learn the tune and also learn that the different parts of that tune have to be played in a sequence of perhaps two 'A' music, then two 'B' music, then two 'C' music, all repeated twice! This might sound complicated but is more so in explanation than in the execution.