Cotswold Morris
by Berkeley Morris

Morris dancing is a form of ritual folkdance that comes from the Cotswold region in western England, between Oxford and the Welsh border. It is 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 do with fertility and the rites of agrarian society. The dancers usually wear bells at their knees and often wave hankies (to attract and welcome benevolent spring and summer spirits?) or clash sticks (symbolising the eternal battle between winter and summer?), and the dances have traditionally been performed around the time of major seasonal crosspoints in the calendar. Indeed, dances of comparable form and dancers in similar costumes are found elsewhere in Europe and around the world, and may be thought to be part of the universal urge to influence and honor the unknowable forces that govern our lives.

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.



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