“Whither the Morris?” – the results of the Morris Census 2020

Morris Census bannerThe results of the Morris Census 2020 were presented by Jack Worth, a morris dancer with Headington Quarry Morris Dancers and statistician, at an online event on 20th March 2021 hosted by the Joint Morris Organisations and attended by 45 participants.  The video recording of Jack Worth’s presentation is at: https://youtu.be/MCIDxJYasrg (30 mins)

Jerry West writes:

Wither the Morris?

“I am writing this on Census Day 2021 when the Office of National Statistics attempts to capture a snapshot of the state of the nation – how big is each household, what do we do as a job, how old we are, what sort of education we have had, how we describe our sexuality, and so on.

“In 1996, as it approached its 20th Anniversary, the Morris Federation published the results of its first “Morris Census” and raised the question “Morris Dancing – is it a forty-something activity that will lead to a recruitment crisis?”.

“Nearly twenty years later, in 2014, Jack Worth, a statistician by training and now Lead Economist with the National Foundation for Educational Research, offered to run another census for all three Morris Organisations. Little did he know what he had let himself in for.  Jack ended up running another census in 2017 and again in 2020, just as we all went into the first pandemic lockdown.

“The Findings from the 2020 Morris Census have now been published; the highlights are:

  • Morris is firmly gender balanced; long gone are the days when “I didn’t know women were allowed to do this”. 50% of all Morris Dancers are female and about 50% of all teams are mixed.
  • The number of morris dancers in the UK has continued to grow, from 12,800 in 2014 to 13,600 in 2020.
  • UK morris sides recruited around 2,200 new dancers in the past two years, 63% of whom were female.

“But if we were worried about the age of dancers in 1996 (when the largest age group was between 35-44 and the second largest 45-54) we might be more worried now:

  • The average age of a UK morris dancer is 55, up from 52 in 2014.
  • Seven out of ten morris dancers are aged 50 or over and just one in ten are aged under 30.
  • New recruits are, on average, aged about 45.

“For comparison, in 1996 about 30% were aged 50 or over, though only one in eight was under 24. We don’t have data on individuals, but one assumption must be that those who were between 35-44 (the largest age group) in 1996 are between 60-74 now … good news – we’re living longer, remaining fitter (or fit enough!) and able to continue dancing longer than our forebears – but should we be asking “Morris Dancing – is it a fifty-something activity that will lead to a recruitment crisis?”.

“The Morris Federation is interested in opening a conversation with teams (and other interested parties) about the future of Morris.  It will come as no surprise that less than one per cent of UK morris dancers are of non-white ethnicity.  Morris dancing increasingly fails to reflect the reality of British culture.  Perhaps, of course, it always has – an eccentric fringe, at best “mostly harmless”.  Social groups come and go. Something remains relevant if there are people interested enough to continue with it, their circumstances allow it and the context permits it.  Perhaps we should be more worried about the apparently inexorable evolution of the public house from community venue (and performance space) to just another form of restaurant – a trend quite possibly accelerated by the pandemic regulations that forbade the service of alcohol without a “substantial meal”.  Or maybe pubs are passé, we can always perform at festivals … but does that exclude those with family commitments, or who do not drive, or who cannot easily go away for a full weekend, or who just don’t like folk music!

“Is the ‘demographic time-bomb’ something the Morris Federation should be worried about? Should we just accept that things change? Would it matter if the census of 2120 reports: “It’s Morris, Jim, but not as we know it?”

by Jerry West, Notation Officer of the Morris Federation, and member of Berkshire Bedlam and Windsor Morris.

The video recording of Jack Worth’s presentation is at: https://youtu.be/MCIDxJYasrg (30 mins)

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