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What is a Morris Dance?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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As an example of English folk dance with a long and distinguished history, the Morris Dance remains a popular option in many places around the world. Here is some background on the development of Morris dancing, including some of the contemporary variations of the Morris dance.

Morris dances have their origins in 15th century England. While some claim that the Morris dance can be traced back to 1448, most historians believe the folk dance actually came about in the latter part of the century. With a style that is based on strategic steps that are based on rhythm melded with the choreographed movement of groups of dancers, the Morris dance often includes the use of such visual aids. Such items as sticks, swords, and even handkerchiefs are waved about during the performance of this English folk dance.

There has been some difference of opinion on the origins of the name for the English country dance. There are many who believe that the name for the Morris dance can best be derived from the designation of the usual terrain that is found around English villages. This would mean that the Morris dance got its name from being essentially a dance that was popular along the moors of the English countryside. Over time, changes in the language led away from a designation as a moorish dance to that of a Morris dance.

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While the Morris dance is most closely identified with Great Britain, there are a number of places around the world that can boast the presence of Morris dance enthusiasts. Devotees are found in the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. A number of versions of the Morris dance are practiced currently. Among the variations is the Cotswold Morris, which is performed with the use of handkerchiefs and tends to be more loosely choreographed. The North West Morris is more formal in style, with an almost military feel and a high level of rigid choreography. The Border Morris is an example of a more free style approach; the Border is distinguished by the use of coloring on the faces of the performers.

The Morris dance has managed to survive when many other dances have come and gone through the centuries. Part of the attraction is that the Morris dance, in all its incarnations, is essentially a dance that can be enjoyed by just about everyone. With the ability to transcend race, gender and economic status, the Morris dance is certain to be around for many years to come.

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