Grand Union Morris

A Bit of Background to The Morris


In many cultures, traditional performance dancing is an important part of the national heritage, and England is no exception. English Morris Dancing was rarely written about in history so the roots have been lost but we do know that Will Kemp, one of William Shakespeare's actors, was a morris dancer and Samuel Pepys writes about it in his diaries. It certainly dates back to the Middle Ages.


The Cotswold Morris, in which style we dance, may be recognised by the dress or costume of the dancers. This is usually breeches and white shirt with baldrics (crossed coloured bands worn on the chest and back), a waistcoat, bell-pads worn just below the knee and 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.


The dances that we performed and their tunes originated or are inspired by various Cotswold villages such as Adderbury, Bledington, Oddington and Fieldtown (now known as Leafield) and also from surrounding areas such as Lichfield, Moulton, 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 dance intricate steps and patterns, waving their handkerchiefs and ringing their bells. 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.


The music comprises both traditional and more modern tunes associated with a particular dance. The tunes were commonly played on the pipe and tabor (a small drum); nowadays we have a melodeon or fiddle.