dancing is a form of ritual folkdance that comes from the Cotswold
region in western England, between Oxford and the Welsh border.
ritual as opposed to social dance—that is, its purposes go
beyond fun, although it also is fun. These purposes are obscured
by the mists
of time, as is much about the Morris, but they have something to
fertility and the rites of agrarian society. The dancers usually
wear bells at their knees and often wave hankies (to attract and
spring and summer spirits?) or clash sticks (symbolising the eternal
battle between winter and summer?), and the dances have traditionally
around the time of major seasonal crosspoints in the calendar.
Indeed, dances of comparable form and dancers in similar costumes
in Europe and around the world, and may be thought to be part of
the universal urge to influence and honor the unknowable forces
All the dancing is done to live music, traditionally performed on instruments
such as pipe and tabor (a small drum), button accordion, fiddle, and so
on. Modern Morris dancers have been accompanied by saxophone, baritone
horn, guitar, or whatever else is handy. The songs are mainly traditional
in origin, and each dance goes with a particular tune. Since Morris is
a living tradition, new dances are being written all the time, to traditional
or new tunes.
Although the dances originated in England, there are now teams around
the world. Large ales create the opportunity for many teams to dance and
party together. There are well over 100 teams in America, as well as teams
in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Canada. This world-wide network
creates an unofficial travel club for dancers. Many teams travel to England
and elsewhere, visiting and sharing dances, music, beer, and conviviality
with their fellow and sister dancers.
This workshop is taught by Berkeley Morris—the oldest year-round
Morris team in the Bay Area, now 26 years old. We will be holding
free workshops in Berkeley on 8/19, 8/26, 9/2 and 9/9.