Morris dancing is a type of traditional folk dance from England. The dances include rhythmic stepping and are usually performed in groups, although there a few solo jigs. Usually, morris dancers wear bells on their shins, and often dance with sticks, hankies or sometimes even swords.
There are several styles of morris dancing, known as traditions, which originated in different parts of the country. Most of the dances danced by Jenny Pipes are Cotswold dances, from the southwest midlands, or Border dances from Herefordshire, Shropshire and Gloucestershire.
When did morris dancing begin?
The earliest known written reference to morris dancing is from 1448, and is a record of the payment of seven shillings to Morris dancers by the Goldsmiths' Company in London. These early records of morris dancing refer to it taking place in a court setting, and then later as being a part of the Lord Mayor’s Processions in London.
By the mid 17th century, morris dancing had transitioned from London courts to being an established folk dance in rural areas in England. However, the history of morris dancing is hazy, with limited evidence to show how it moved from the courts in London to rural parishes throughout England. There’s also speculation about where the name ‘morris’ came from, with some suggesting that it originated from ‘moorish’.
Development of morris traditions
The dances became as varied as the places in which they were performed. Some took inspiration from agriculture, for example molly dancing developed in the Cambridge Fens alongside Plough Monday, when the plough was decorated in ribbons and wheeled from house to house around the village, before being taken out to the fields to be used.
The moves in one of the Cotswold dances danced by Jenny Pipes, called ‘Bean planting’ from the village of Brackley, show dubbing the hole to plant beans, and shooting the crows to prevent them from eating the newly planted crop.
This video documentary provides an overview of the history of morris dancing, including the unknowns. Look out for both Jenny Pipes Morris and our neighbours the Leominster Morris side.