What is morris?

Morris is the name given to some traditional dance styles from south-east England. In the strictest sense the term ‘morris dance’ refers to only those traditions from the Cotswold region. Like many other oral traditions the origins of the dances and tunes are unknown. Morris may or may not have originated in England, Spain, Germany, or somewhere else entirely. It may or may not have been part of seasonal pagan rituals. An ongoing debate still surrounds the role of women in morris dance.

The morris was first formally collected in the Victorian era by Cecil Sharp, a music historian, and Mary Neal, a social reformer and suffragette. Their work helped to create the first revival of English traditional song and dance, encouraging new clubs and societies who took up the performance of these neglected art forms. Beyond the steps and the music, the often fractious relationship between Sharp and Neal set up many tensions that have remained in the morris; between tradition and evolution, inclusivity and exclusivity, and the nature of authenticity within a ‘living history’. Their work and memory are continued by the Mary Neal Project and the English Folk Song and Dance Society.

The second revival of morris in the mid-twentieth century produced another wave of new performers and new collectors. In 1974 Lionel Bacon published A Handbook of Morris Dances which is now known fondly as ‘the Baconry’. Most of the Australian morris scene traces its origins to this period.

Black Joak are largely a traditional dance side, and we base most of our dancing and tunes on the Baconry. However, we are inclusive, and perform many morris-adjacent traditions, such as Mummers’ Plays, May Pole dances, and the Abbott’s Bromley Horn Dance.