I had always believed that Morris Men were part of ancient British traditions, and that the costumes, music and dances associated with them were full of mystic symbolism and folklore.
Although some of this is true, much of it is not – and it was down to Mike Garland, ex-Squire of East Anglian Morris Ring and our speaker on the subject for September, to clear up some of these misnomers.
The oldest known records of Morris Dancing date from the 15th century and are associated with East Anglia. Caister in Norfolk has a medieval tapestry showing Morris Dancers, and there are cups from Bury St Edmunds with Morris Dancers on. At the Royal courts in Tudor times Morris dancing was enjoyed and performed, and Queen Elizabeth I even joined in energetic dances of this kind! Churches allowed Morris Dancing, and Craftsmen’s Guilds used it in their ceremonial processions. Even agricultural labourers performed dances in their villages, and sometimes for the local lord at the manor house, in order to boost their own wages by passing the hat round at the end!
Other known records of this style of dance come from the European courts of the fifteenth century when “moreys daunce” was a regular court entertainment. This may have been the dance form known as “morisco” on the continent, and it is easy to see how the name was changed over the years to what we now call “Morris Dancing”.
Over the years and down to the nineteenth century, English Morris Dancing had all but died out, but the Victorian revival of folk songs, traditions and stories also included a new interest in it, and concerts were held in which both boys and girls performed dances which had been collected from researchers travelling the country to discover them. The many kinds of Morris Dancing countrywide included different costumes, different footwear (such as clogs), and using sticks, swords or handkerchiefs to show off the various moves and emphasize the rhythm of the music. Musicians played on the fiddle, the tambour, a three-hole pipe or an accordion.
Mike Garland’s talk not only told us about the origins of Morris, he actually performed one or two dances for us, including a very lively jig using handkerchiefs! It certainly proved that the dancers have to be fit! He was accompanied by his fellow Morris member Mick on the melodeon accordion.
Essentially, people enjoyed both taking part as well as watching these folk dances, and it was all in the name of FUN! No mystic connections or symbolic meanings – just simple fun and enjoyment that everyone, young or old, could appreciate! And that’s it – so why not find out where you can see Morris Men performing somewhere and go along to watch! For more info check this website: www.eastsuffolkmorris.com