What is Morris Dancing?

Morris Dance

This dance form is an example of a non-partnered dance. In classes a choreographed sequence is generally taught, and demonstrations of this dance are choreographed. (Editor).

Morris dancing is a British folk dance that is often accompanied with live music. It is a lively and high-impact form of choreographed dance, which is performed through the rhythmic stepping and implementation of a series of figures by a team of dancers. It is primarily a performance dance and many teams will often include ‘fools’ and/or ‘beasts’ that will dance independently of the main group and interact with the audience.

There are many different types of Morris, with Cotswold Morris being the most common. Within these types of Morris dance there are different ‘traditions’ that share common features with each other, with their name corresponding to their area of origin. Each of these traditions then comprises of a collection of similar dances.

Cotswold Morris consists of a series of choreographed figures, with common figures being shared by all the dances within a particular tradition, and distinctive figures being what distinguishes a particular dance from another within the same tradition. Show figures are an opportunity to highlight the physical prowess of the Morris team through displays of strength and acrobatics. Chorus figures then exemplify the teams' skill through its precision when dancing as part of a group.

The usual arrangement for Cotswold Morris is a rectangular 'set' of 6 dancers, although there are exceptions, and it is more common to see a set of 8 in North West Morris dances. Morris can also be performed by a solo dancer in the form of a 'jig'. Whatever the arrangement, the dancers are uniformly dressed and are usually adorned with a variety of implements such as bells, handkerchiefs, sticks or swords.

Traditionally Morris was danced to the rhythm of a pipe and tabor, or a fiddle. Nowadays the melodeon has become much more popular, with accordions, concertinas and bodhrans also becoming common alternatives.


Popular opinion suggests that Morris dancing has pre-Christian origins and was performed as part of Pagan fertility rituals. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case, and it was not until the fifteenth century that we see 'Morys' being mentioned in early court records and then as part of the Lord Mayor's Procession in London. By the sixteenth century, Morris dancing had established strong ties with the Church as the old Pagan traditions were assimilated, and Morris became a popular performance at Christian festivals in the local Parishes.

The main types of Morris:

Border Morris:- Originally a winter dance from the region around the Welsh-English border, it is more wild and vigorous in style, with simpler and looser movements. The dancers often have blackened faces and brandish sticks that are struck together during the performances.

Cotswold Morris:- Originated from the Oxfordshire area in the nineteenth century. It was most commonly danced in the spring to celebrate its coming and the passing of winter. Handkerchiefs and sticks are commonly used to emphasise the hand movements.

Longsword Dancing:- Found in the Yorkshire region, these dances consist of a number of complicated figures that are performed whilst the dancers each hold the blade of the neighbouring person.

Molly Dancing:- Originated from East Anglia and has associations with Plough Monday festivities. It is characterised by very energetic stepping and parallel movements.

North West Morris:- Traditionally a summer dance from the Lancashire and Cheshire area. The dancers often wear clogs and dance in procession, creating a style that is more military than most. Short sticks or cotton rope are the main implements used by these Morris dancers.

Rapper or Short sword dancing:- From the Northumberland and County Durham area, these dances are performed using short, flexible 'rappers', which have handles at both ends.

Editor: Nichola Manning