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What is morris?

Morris dancing is a form of traditional English folk dance. There are many different groups of both morris and traditional dance originating from areas around the UK, who each perform in a variety of styles.  The styles include Appalachian, Border Morris, Clog Step, Cotswold Morris, Longsword, Maypole, Molly, Mumming, North West Morris, Rapper Sword and Stave dancing.

The Morris Federation also includes members who perform similar forms of traditional dance or customs from the UK and further afield.

See our YouTube ‘Buzzing Britain’ video playlist showcasing different styles of morris and sword dancing

Appalachian (#AppalachianClog)

Feet FirstRelated to English clog dancing, but with a distinct exuberant style, are the Appalachian clog dances from the USA, now performed by many teams in Britain.

Border Morris (#BorderMorris)

Orginating in the Welsh border counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, this style is often looser, more energetic and just a little bit wild. Performers wear tatter coats and often paint their faces or use other forms of disguise.

Clog Step (#ClogStep)

A dance style with percussive footwork and fine timing. In England it is thought to have originated in the northern industrial towns where workers wore stout wooden clogs. These later developed into leather clogs with a wooden sole and later still into leather clogs with a distinct wooden heel and toe piece. Related to English clog dancing, but with a distinct exuberant style, are the Appalachian clog dances, now performed by many teams in Britain.

Cotswold Morris (#CotswoldMorris)

Windsor Morris in Buxton 2013 - Photo by Charlotte DoverPerformed with hankies and sticks, often in costumes of white with ribbons, baldrics or waistcoats and decorated hats. This style, originating in the villages of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, is often what first comes to mind when the words ‘morris dancing’ are heard.

Longsword Dancing (#LongswordDance)

From Yorkshire. The swords are rigid and have only one handle. They usually feature six or eight men dancing together in a circle. Together they perform various figures involving the interweaving of men and swords, but never breaking the circle until the climax of the dance when the swords are locked into a six or eight pointed star which is held aloft. Many Yorkshire villages had their own unique dance.

Maypole Dancing (#MaypoleDance)

Mayole topMay Day was originally part of the celebrations to welcome the arrival of spring. One of the traditional dances of this celebration is the maypole dance, in which a group of dancers circle a tall pole with ribbons, wrapping these ribbons around it in different directions and patterns.

Molly Dancing (#MollyDance)

7 chaps pwhiteFirmly routed in the Cambridgeshire Fens and areas around the Wash. It has developed alongside Ploughboy/Plough Monday celebrations at Epiphany and in some sites Straw Bears. It is recognizable by striking costumes and pronounced footwork.

Mumming (#Mumming)

Mumming or mummers’ plays are a type of folk play performed by troupes of amateur actors known as mummers or guisers (also by local names such as rhymers, pace-eggers, soulers, tipteerers, wrenboys, and galoshins). Known in many areas of Europe but particularly common in England, Scotland and Ireland, plays combine music, dance, and sword fighting in episodes involving the death and revival of a character or characters.

North West Morris (#NorthwestMorris)

2013_0525 Chippenham Folk Festival 055The original dances were inspired by workers in the cotton weaving industries in the North West of England.  The patterns danced represented the designs and working of the looms and shuttles. Many were associated with rushbearing celebrations which led to the processional nature of the dance.

Rapper Sword Dancing (#RapperSwordDance)

This is widely believed to have originated in the North East of England. It probably developed  from longsword dances. The dances were originally performed during winter and as part of a longer production featuring a play. The advent of high quality flexible steel to replace the rigid structure of the longsword has led to the dance developing greatly in complexity – many of the figures involve interweaving movements that would be impossible with more rigid swords.

Stave Dancing (#StaveDance)

A style of folk dance from the South West of England, especially Somerset, Dorset, and Wiltshire, where teams of dancers carry long decorated poles, known as staves, over their shoulders whilst performing. Few original dances are known, with most of those now performed originating from a small group of villages in Somerset and Dorset, notably Stourton Caundle and Fifehead Magdalen, although many new dances have been choreographed within the style.

Fools and Beasts (#FoolsandBeasts)

Rattlejag's ChoughMany morris and sword dancers are accompanied by people dressed as a ‘fool’ or a ‘beast’ such as a hobby horse, to add to the spectacle.


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