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For the Press/Media

We understand that covering any niche activity can be challenging, with numerous competing priorities and levels of knowledge amongst your audience. The information provided below is designed to make it easy and accessible to write about and cover morris dancing in the media.

If you would like a more in-depth chat, answers to questions not covered here, or help contacting a local or specific side/team, please contact us.

Terminology

  • ‘Morris’ is often used to cover a number of allied, but distinct, English folk dance traditions:
    • Cotswold morris
    • Border morris
    • Mumming
    • North West morris
    • Rapper sword dancing
    • Clog Step
    • Longsword / Yorkshire longsword dancing
    • Molly dancing
    • Garland
    • Appalachian (which came to England from the USA)
    • Stave
    • Maypole
  • See: an overview of different styles of morris and sword dancing
  • Morris groups are known interchangeably as ‘sides’ or ‘teams’; not ‘troupes’.  ‘Troupes’ is a term used by girls’ Carnival Morris, which is a separate branch of dancing done primarily by girls in the North West of England.
  • “Morris men” should not be used as shorthand for all performers of morris; use “morris dancers” (although morris men / morris women is obviously fine for specific teams). Participation in morris is split roughly 50:50, male:female in the UK.

Photos of Morris & Sword

Here are photos you may use – please credit the photographer:

Facts, figures and other info

A ‘Morris Census’ was taken in 2014, 2017, 2020, and 2023, see: Morris Census results.  For a comparison see the Findings from the 2020 Morris Census.

Information below taken from the 2023 morris census:

  • There are around 770 teams in UK, with 12,600 active dancers/musicians between them; the average UK morris side has around 18 members.
  • There are also over 100 sides in the USA; more than 20 in Australia; over a dozen in both Canada and New Zealand; as well teams in more than a dozen other countries, including Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong and Netherlands.
  • In 2020, Morris participation in the UK was split 50:50, male:female.  In 2023, for the first time in history, there are more women morris dancers in the UK than men.
  • The average age of participants is 55. The average age of new recruits is 45.
  • Morris dancing does not receive any national (eg Arts Council) funding.
  • Full face black makeup (‘blackface’) is no longer used by any morris teams in UK who remain part of the Joint Morris Organisations, following votes to stop the practice in 2020 and 2021.

A brief timeline of morris

  • 1448: First historical reference to morris dancing is payment of 7.s. to ‘the Moryssh daunsers’ in the accounts of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths for the annual St Dunstan’s Day feast on 19th May 1448. It is likely at this time to have been primarily a form of lavish court entertainment.
  • 1507: The parish of Kingston-upon-Thames sets up a team of morris dancers, marking the beginning of the rapid spread of the dance in communities across England.
  • 1600: Shakespearean actor, William Kemp, morris-dances from London to Norwich, an event chronicled in his Nine Daies Wonder.
  • 1630s-50s: Whitsun and other festivals, many of which involved morris, are suppressed by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans.
  • 1660: Morris dancing returns upon the Restoration of Charles II.
  • 1700-1800s: Morris continues to be popular as a rural, working class activity largely unnoticed by the higher levels of society. Regional styles develop:
    • In the Cotswolds and surrounding areas dancing continues in community festivals known as “Whitsun Ales”, in a style largely based on older forms, comprising mainly six-person dances and complex steps;
    • In the west midlands simpler dances using sticks are created, but the custom became primarily a means of raising money to relieve dancers’ hardship when out of work or on strike;
    • In the North-west community festivals when rushes were brought to strew in churches become very popular, and the rushcarts were often led by teams of dancers 20, 40 or even 80 strong, often dancing in clogs. The practice continued into general wakes-week holiday celebrations in industrial Lancashire.
  • Late 1800s: Except in the North-west, Morris has by this time declined due to social changes brought on by industrialisation and other factors and is largely only a local memory.
  • Late 1800s: May carnivals become popular, involving the crowning a ‘Queen of the May’ and harking back to an innocent pastoral Merrie England’.  The morris dances are often devised by theatrical and provincial dancing masters.
  • 1890: Leyland Morris Men (near Preston) are formed to participate in their local May carnival, learning the dances from the older rushcart-based Godley Hill team from Stockport, and are the spur to the creation of dozens of immensely popular similar teams in the North-west, in which large numbers of adults and children of both sexes participate.
  • 1899: Cecil Sharp sees the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers on Boxing Day and notes down some of their tunes from their musician, William Kimber.
  • 1905: Sharp puts social worker Mary Neal in touch with Kimber and he begins teaching morris dances to the Neal’s Esperance Club, an organisation for working girls in East London. Their public performances of Cotswold morris dances spark a huge revival in which Sharp becomes the leading proponent.
  • 1911: Sharp founds the English Folk Dance Society.
  • 1923: Oxford University morris men initiate dancing after the 6 a.m. hymn-singing from Magdalen College tower on May Day. They say: ‘We are dancing for the pleasure who have deserved well by rising early … and in obedience to the Shakespearean dictum “A Morris for May-day”.’  This was the first conjoining of May morning celebrations with early-morning morris dancing.
  • 1934: The Morris Ring is formed to encourage performance of men’s morris, to maintain its traditions, preserve its history, and bring into contact all the men’s morris clubs or teams.
  • 1950s and 60s: Explosion of new morris dance sides as part of the British folk revival, many of which are still around today.
  • 1960s: Interest in the neglected North-west dances grows and members of the Manchester Morris Men conduct extensive research, collecting many dances.
  • 1970s: Enthusiasts research and revive the predominantly stick-based Border morris dances of the west midlands. The first dedicated border team, the Shropshire Bedlams, is founded in 1975.
  • 1971: Women festival-goers at the Sidmouth Folk Festival are refused admission to a ‘ritual dance’ (morris) workshop on grounds of their sex. Unofficial counter-workshops are arranged leading to the formation of Bath City Women’s Morris in 1972.
  • 1975: The Women’s Morris Federation is formed, initially to support female morris sides due to continued hostility and controversy around women dancing morris from some male sides, despite there being evidence of women dancing morris stretching back to the 16th Century. Within three years it has over 70 member teams.
  • 1970s-80s: Many women’s teams focus on North-west dances, on grounds of historical precedent and to avoid confrontation with men’s teams dancing predominantly in the Cotswold style. Their research recovers more North-west dances.
  • 1979: Open Morris is formed as a loose organisation originally of East Anglian dancers, to find local friends and sympathisers for the few mixed morris sides.
  • 1980: The Women’s Morris Federation allows mixed sides to join. In 1982 it allows sides of any gender to join, and changes its name to The Morris Federation the following year.
  • 2003: John Bacon, working with representatives from all 3 morris organisations, gains an exemption for “morris dancing” from the restrictions on entertainment introduced by the Licensing Act 2003.  To celebrate it, the first National Day of Dance is held in Trafalgar Square with teams from all three morris organisations invited.  The three morris organisations continue to work together on items of common interest as the Joint Morris Organisations (JMO).
  • 2018: The Morris Ring removes all references to gender from its constitution, allowing teams of any gender to join.
  • 2020-21: the membership of all three morris organisations vote to ban the wearing of full face black or similar skin-tone makeup amongst its members. There is now only one traditional dance team in the whole of the UK still using this type of makeup; they are not affiliated with any of the morris organisations.

Morris in the Media

Story ideas

If you would like to cover morris in your local area but are unsure of what angle to take, here are some generic ideas. If you have anything else in mind and would like an informal chat, please contact us.

  • Attend a practice session
    Practice season tends to run September-April. Teams will generally be looking to recruit around the start of this period, so it’s a good time to go along and give them some publicity!
  • Publicise summer programme
    By April most teams will generally have an idea of when and where they will be dancing over summer. This is usually a list of pubs, but could also include charity events, summer fairs, festivals, etc.
  • Highlight attendance at a particular event
    Many teams attend festivals across the UK and even overseas. These tend to be large folk festivals which can draw in thousands so can help promote the area the team are from.
  • Tell the story of a particular dancer
    Many teams will have interesting stories to tell about their dancers; from those that have been dancing for decades to keep fit; to new dancers who are just starting their morris interest; or teams that have multiple members of the same family.
  • A team anniversary
    5, 10, 20, … 50 years dancing – all make for an opportunity to tell the story of the side, how it came about, and what it does now.

For more information please Contact Us.


Last Updated: 10th April 2024

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