In many cultures, ritual dancing is an important part of the national heritage, and England is no exception. English Morris Dancing has a history so old that the roots have been lost. It certainly dates back to the Middle Ages and probably earlier, possibly as a memory of pre-Christian fertility rites or a propitiation of the gods.
The Cotswold Morris, in which style we dance, may be recognised by the dress or costume of the dancers. This is usually white trousers and shirt with baldrics (crossed coloured bands worn on the chest and back), a waistcoat, bell-pads worn just below the knee and perhaps a hat. The various Morris "sides", as the groups are known, choose their own colour schemes and embellishments to the basic "kit", in a heraldic tradition, as did the knights of old. The dancers are often accompanied by a Fool and also by animals associated with fertility, such as a bull. Our animal, when he can be coaxed out of the bar(n), is a horse. We, and all other Morris sides, dance to bring good luck, fertility to the soil and our fellow human beings (it sometimes works this way) and to preserve a fine English tradition. It is also jolly good fun and an excuse for a beer or three!
The dances that we perform and their tunes originate in various Cotswold villages such as Adderbury, Bampton, Bleddington, Ilmington and Fieldtown (now known as Leafield) and also from surrounding areas such as Headington, Hinton-in-the-Hedges, Lichfield and Upton-upon-Severn. Each has its own tradition, which differs from the others in the style of the steps, hand movements and figures, or shapes, of the dance.
Morris dances are usually for six men who weave their magic by dancing intricate steps and patterns whilst waving their handkerchiefs and ringing their bells to ward off the Devil. Some dances are performed with sticks; this practice is a relic of fighting with quarterstaves and also of the use of ancient agricultural implements. In some traditions the dances are for eight men, but all traditions have jigs for one or two dancers to demonstrate their prowess. For a Towersey man to get his badge (look for the badge on the front of the baldrics), he has to dance solo in a jig of his choice and be able to lead the dancing.
The music comprises traditional tunes (though one side does dance in the Ambridge style to the Archers tune!) each associated with a particular dance and has been handed down from musician to musician over the centuries. The tunes were commonly played on the pipe and tabor (a small drum) or fiddle; nowadays the melodeon or accordion are more common.
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