The Morris dancing is an ancient tradition from the time of our forebears. They danced the dance of their ancestors before them and these ancestors took those steps from those who were there antecedents.
So in a way, you can say the Morris tradition has been going on forever. If you have taken the time to attend a Morris festival, you would see that the dance steps have changed very little from the time of inception. The dance you see today is the culmination of 500 years of undiluted tradition.
The dance had been well known before the founding of America and was already waxing strong before the Gun Powder Plot. Here we aim to trace the etymology of the Morris tradition as a foundation for those who would develop an interest in the way of life of this historical dancing tradition; a tradition that has been a part and parcel of English heritage. There are a lot of questions which the new comer is more often than not to ask such as:
Why the name Morris dancing?
What is its origination?
How old is this tradition?
Well firstly, the term “Morris” is likely to have originated from France. Specifically from the French wording morisque – which means a dance, or the dance, this later went through many variations and became “morisch” in Flemish, and transformed into “moryssh” in English until the later dictions and pronunciations turned it into “moris” and eventually “morris”.
It is pertinent to know that the city of Flanders back in the 15th century was a cultural potpourri and heavily influenced the general European traditions. The earliest authentic recollection of a morris dance performance dates back to England in the city of London on the 19th of May, 1448 when a group of morris dancers were paid the sum of 35p for their dancing.
By the Elizabethan Age, the morris dance was already renowned as an historical dance and was acknowledged in a lot of Shakespearean plays. Some of these dance required a performance from the lead dancer. One of the most famous dancers of that age was Will Kemp and legend has it that he made a wager during the Lent season of 1599 that he would dance from the city of London continuously till he got to Norwich – he began the dance on the first week of length and finished at Easter, and was cheered by a huge crowd of spectators who turned out in large numbers to confirm his progress.
Throughout the dynasty of England, the Morris dancing culture has undergone huge transformations. Half a millennium ago, it was a dance for not up to three people but now, it accommodates more than four or five. Stories about the Morris culture abound throughout the English continent thus making it a nationwide heritage.
However, this dance was later to face its trials with the decline of enthusiasts from members of the gentrified class, the changing views on the culture, and the interests in other leisure activities. All these factors contributed to the gradual loss of influence and decline in this great tradition.
Albeit, hope was not to be lost as the dance was persevered in a few local villages who kept on passing this ancient culture from parent to child. Now in this present age, with the advent in technology and more modern resources, the morris dance has been encouraged amongst the public once more, taught to both children and adults, and there are many festivals and events which annually celebrate the authenticity of such an ancient English heritage dance style.