A centuries old tradition
By John Rowlands
Morris dancing at the Boot Pub on the afternoon of the festival is a great chance to see and hear a living tradition that dates back through the centuries. The two Morris ‘sides’ or ’teams’ (as they are known in the trade) at the Boot are two energetic and highly entertaining dancing troupes with their mass bands of melodeons, accordions, guitars, drums and the like.
Ramrugge Clog Morris perform dances from the Northwest tradition, whilst New Moon Morris focus on the Welsh Border style.
The Northwest style is very military and structured, whilst the Border style is more freestyle and ‘wild’. You’ll spot the difference immediately in both the dancing style and the costumes and be an instant connoisseur and commentator.
A short bit of history about "The Morris”.
Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers.
The earliest known and surviving English written mention of Morris dance is dated to 1448, and records the payment of seven shillings to Morris dancers by the Goldsmiths’ Company in London. Further mentions of Morris dancing occur in the late 15th century, and there are also early records such as visiting bishops‘ “Visitation Articles” mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities, as well as mumming plays.
While the earliest (15th-century) references place the Morris dance in a courtly setting, it appears that the dance became part of performances for the lower classes by the later 16th century; in 1600, the Shakespearean actor William Kempe, Morris danced from London to Norwich, an event chronicled in his Nine Daies Wonder (1600).
There are various regional variations of morris dances including the most popular Border Morris from the welsh borders, Cotswold Morris from the cotswolds and Northwest morris from the northwest of England. Each having its own distinctive style of music, costume and dancing.
The Cotswold and Northwest Morris dancing styles underwent a huge resurgence in the folk revival years of the1960’s and 70’s followed by some years of decline in the 1990’s. The revival of the Border Morris style in the 1990’s resulted in a new resurgence of all forms of Morris dancing with many younger people being actively involved.
John Rowlands, Kimpton Folk Festival Trustee & Committee