Location: Performing in many villages around Dorset.
A Very English Dance
May Day (1st May) is traditionally the start of the Morris Dancing year. The Morris Dance itself is believed to have evolved from ancient fertility rites, although the present dance is more recent. The name "Morris" may be a corruption of the word "Moorish" a reference to the way dancers black their faces and supposedly resemble Moors.
Morris dancing in Victorian England was in a general decline until a man named Cecil Sharp became interested in collecting and recording traditional folk dances and music. It is largely from his collection that today's dances and their many variants are drawn. Morris sides often choose to dance one of two styles, either Cotswold or Border. Yet vital to any Morris dance are bells, handkerchiefs and sticks; visually attractive as they are, though their true purpose is to scare away troublesome fairies and demons.
Among Morris sides there will always be lurking a curious animal figure invariably a 'Obby Oss' usually appearing on May Day, and even dragons and peculiar bull-like animals!
"It was my hap of late, by chance,
To meet a Country Morris Dance,
When, cheefest of them all, the Foole
Plaied with a ladle and a toole;
When every younger shak't his bells
Till sweating feet gave fothing smells;
And fine Maide Marian with her smoile,
Shew'd how a rascall plaid the roile:
But, when the Hobby-horse did wihy,
Then all the wenches gave a tihy:
But when they gan to shake their boxe,
And not a goose could catch a foxe,
The piper then put up his pipes,
And all the woodcocks look't like snipes,
And therewith fell a show'ry streame..."
(From Cobbe's Prophicies, his Signes and Tokens, his Madrigall, Questions, and Answers, 1614)
Below: Traditional Folk Dancing performed by the Wessex Morris Men