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Morris Dancing ~ What’s it all about?

Morris Dancing is a celebration, a display of dance and music performed at seasonal festivals and holidays to banish the dark of winter, celebrate the warmth and fertility of summer and bring in Autumn’s golden harvest.

A more technical definition is that Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It’s based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers.

Morris men and women usually wear colourful costumes with bells at their knees or shoe and dance with sticks, swords or handkerchiefs. Many sides have a Fool or an Animal to amuse the audience.

The earliest known and surviving English written mention of Morris dancing is dated to 1448 and records the payment of seven shillings to Morris dancers by the Goldsmiths’ Company in London. While the earliest records tend to mention “Morys” in a court setting, and a little later in the Lord Mayor’s Processions in London, it had assumed the nature of a folk dance performed in teh parishes by the mid 17th century.

Cecil Sharp was one of the main collectors of Morris dances and tunes in the early part of the 20th century, and as such, the Morris world hold him in very high regard.

Also key to the survival of the Morris Tradition were Mary Neal and the Suffragettes, who, during the same period, kick started the Morris dancing revival. Without them, it is highly likely that virtually nothing of Morris would have survived.

The majority of contemporary Morris sides have been formed in the last 90 years or so. Each side will have its own costume derived from traditional forms. Clubs are autonomous so they can make their own decisions as to when, where and what to dance. They’ll have a Squire who is responsible for the performance and the sides leadership, a Foreman who teaches the dances, and a Bagman who acts as secretary. Sides generally practice during the winter months and give public shows during the summer.

About Exeter Morris

Formed in 1951, Exeter Morris is the oldest established side in Devon and are members of the Morris Ring of England. Each summer, in our distinctive outfit black top hats, green waistcoats and black britches or skirts, with bells at the knees or on our shoes, Exeter Morris dance in towns and villages throughout Devon and travel to other parts of the country as guests of other Morris sides.

As well as appearing at major folk festivals in Britain, we have performed at festivals throughout Europe. Regular fixtures include the Exeter Craft Festival held each year on Exeter Cathedral Green and the Colyford Goose Fayre.

With effect from the Autumn of 2022, Exeter Morris became a mixed side, the first in Exeter, and welcome new members, both men and women.

The form of dance that Exeter Morris perform is known as Cotswold Morris. The side has a repertoire of about 70 dances, mostly from the villages in the Cotswolds region of England such as Adderbury, Bampton, Bledington, Ilmington and Lichfield.

To the hundreds of you that follow Exeter Morris on social media, and those that we have entertained over the years, we’re very grateful for your support.

Come and join us

If you enjoy music and dancing and having fun, then Morris Dancing with Exeter Morris could well be for you.

Dancer or musician, novice or experienced, young or old, we woudl love to hear from you.

You too could soon be helping to keep alive one of England’s oldest traditions for future generations to enjoy. It really is great fun, good exercise, and gets you to some of the best pubs in Devon!

So, if you live in or near Exeter and you’d like to come along and see what Morris Dancing is all about, we would be very happy to see you at our practice nights which are held most Thursday evenings at Ide Memorial Hall (EX2 9RQ) on the Western outskirts of Exeter.

And if you do want to give Morris Dancing a try, bring your partner, son, daughter, parent, best friend with you too. You never know, they might enjoy it as well.

For any experienced Morris Dancers or musicians who have recently moved to the Exeter area, who are looking for another side to join, you would be very welcome too.

Please contact the Squire or the Bagman or speak with any member of the side when you see us out and about. A warm welcome (and a cold beer or cider) awaits any new member.

Be warned though, this could be a life changing decision – a wonderful one !