Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
geoffwright

Origins of Morris

Recommended Posts

Still concertina-related and getting the concertina played in public - Having been a musician for the Morris for the odd-decade or two, I have always been interested in the origins of the Morris.

 

I have seen various TV documentaries about dancers in Peru with ribbons, bells, sticks, pipes and drums - each one wearing a pointed hat (representing Spanish armour) and a big droopy moustache drawn on their whitened face.

All pointing to the Conquistadors bringing the dance across to Peru, and giving a vivid picture of what the dancers looked like all those hundreds of years back.

 

Where did the Spanish got the dance from?

Who had taken control of their country and culture?

 

Not really English is it?

 

As the Morris is highly likely to have originated in Asia, shouldn't it be treated as a multi-cultural experience, rather than a quintessentially English pastime?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In 1982 I attended a Basque festival in Elko, Nevada. They had dancers wearing white with red sashes who did a sword dance, even lifting one dancer up as he stood on the locked swords! Would have been familiar to many of you! It is old with them, and their origins differ from much of Europe. Suggests a very old connection?

 

Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Morris dance (or la morisce) is originally a spanish sword dance. The name Morris comes from Morisce and it refers to the people from morocco chased back to africa. The dance visualises this sword battle to celibrate the spanish victory, if I am correct this was around 1440. The dance became popular and travelled north, via France and it became popular also in Flanders, Holland and England in the 16th century. It is also the origin of the stick dances (stokkedans) we still have in the Netherlands. Of course, in every region where it has been introduced, there are many local elements and nowadays english morris music and dancing is a typical english folk phenomenon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Quite simply, "Morris" is a "corrected" version of "Marsh", just as "Norwich" is the "corrected" version of the original vernacular name of "Nar'ch".

 

By "corrected", I mean the phenomenon whereby educated middle class people went round and rather presumptiously corrected the errors in local traditions and dialect. Many tunes were changed too, with all the quarter tones and flattened minor thirds being "corrected" to fit classical rules. It's similar in a way to "Bowdlerising" which is when all the rude (and therefore interesting) bits were removed from songs, and Shakespeare's plays. You know: "Out, damned spot" became, "Can I borrow your foundation, please?"

 

The true origin of the Morris (or Marsh) dance was in the broads and fens of East Anglia. The Marsh dancers wore bells in case they got lost in the mist that rises from the water in low lying areas. The sticks were used not only to dib the ground to see if it was firm, but also to measure the distance before leaping vigorously from tussock to tussock trying to keep their feet try.

 

Of course the sticks would get muddy and heavy, which is why they were knocked together to shake the mud off. The Marsh dancers wore broad brimmed hats bedecked with strong smelling herbs to keep away biting insects, but as this was only partly successful, they would also wave hankies vigorously in the hope of swatting or scaring the insects away. An alternative was to carry a dripping piece of offal (for example, a pig's bladder) on the end of a long pole to attract the flies away from the person holding the other end of the stick.

 

A few minutes' observation of any Morris side will show remnants of all of these original features - except pehaps the vigorous leaping.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
B) Are you suggesting that the Vikings are not responsible at all for any part of the name Norwich? :) Skoll

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you're really serious about this quest, go to mudcat.org and do a search in the forum for "morris dancing."

 

Then, next year, when you've finished reading those posts, go to the archives of English Dance and Song, and read up on it there.

 

You'll probably need a few months to do this though,

 

Happy questing - Tom

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Where did the Spanish got the dance from?

Who had taken control of their country and culture?

 

Not really English is it?

 

Only a couple of days ago I saw a documentary on TV about traditions in Austria. It was mentioned that sword dancing once was one of the styles of dancing which is more and more taken up again - they showed examples of one group and having seen that before in England it was in comparison almost the same but in a far slower way.

 

Christian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If you're really serious about this quest, go to mudcat.org and do a search in the forum for "morris dancing."

 

Then, next year, when you've finished reading those posts, go to the archives of English Dance and Song, and read up on it there.

 

You'll probably need a few months to do this though,

 

Happy questing - Tom

 

Two books to investigate if you haven't got a few months and/or don't fancy wading through Mudcat:

 

John Cutting 'History and the morris dance'

John Forrest 'History of morris dancing'

 

Cutting's is the better 'general' read, Forrest's is more of an academic treatise.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quite simply, "Morris" is a "corrected" version of "Marsh", just as "Norwich" is the "corrected" version of the original vernacular name of "Nar'ch".

...

A few minutes' observation of any Morris side will show remnants of all of these original features - except pehaps the vigorous leaping.

Beautiful
!!
:)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In 1982 I attended a Basque festival in Elko, Nevada. They had dancers wearing white with red sashes who did a sword dance, even lifting one dancer up as he stood on the locked swords! Would have been familiar to many of you! It is old with them, and their origins differ from much of Europe. Suggests a very old connection?

And I've seen a film of Basque dances where the men wore whites, had bells on their shins, danced in a set with similar formation and figures to some Cotswold Morris, and had pipe and tabor for music.

 

While a connection seems possible, and even likely, I doubt that either derived directly from the other. As noted, dance forms related to what is now called Morris (that includes sword, though it didn't always), can be found elsewhere in Europe. When I was taught a Roumanian Caluşarii dance, I was struck by its resemblance to descriptions of Lancashire Morris.

 

What seems most likely is that these dance forms -- like the Polonaise, Waltz, Mazurka, Schottische, Polka, and other couple dances of later ages -- were entertainments ("arts", if you prefer) that were popular throughout much of Europe, which entered tradition and survived in various scattered areas and with varying degrees of adaptation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The true origin of the Morris (or Marsh) dance was in the broads and fens of East Anglia. The Marsh dancers wore bells in case they got lost in the mist that rises from the water in low lying areas. The sticks were used not only to dib the ground to see if it was firm, but also to measure the distance before leaping vigorously from tussock to tussock trying to keep their feet try.

 

 

 

Sound's like the most credible explanation for Morris origin i've heard

Edited by TheFirstAdam

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Having been a musician for the Morris for the odd-decade or two, I have always been interested in the origins of the Morris.

 

I have seen various TV documentaries about dancers in Peru with ribbons, bells, sticks, pipes and drums - each one wearing a pointed hat (representing Spanish armour) and a big droopy moustache drawn on their whitened face.

All pointing to the Conquistadors bringing the dance across to Peru, and giving a vivid picture of what the dancers looked like all those hundreds of years back.

 

Not really English is it?

Well, no, I wouldn't say that the Peruvian dance is English.

 

Aside from that, I don't know what your point might be. That the English dances derived from Spanish? But I recall John Forrest saying (before he published his book, which I regret to say I haven't yet read) that the earliest evidences of Morris dance in England -- one literary, the other an illustration -- both date from the 13th century, long before the Spanish invaded the Americas.

 

Where did the Spanish got the dance from?

An interesting question. Perhaps our Spanish members know whether there's been any Spanish research into the question?

 

Who had taken control of their country and culture?

Huh?? :huh: A strange question, methinks.

Whose country and culture?

If you mean the Peruvians, the historical record seems quite clear.

 

If you mean the Spanish, I wasn't aware that anyone had (unless you count Franco). Please clarify.

 

As the Morris is highly likely to have originated in Asia,...

First time I've encountered that claim. And I've not yet heard of any similar dance forms from Asia, except for Abu Dhabi Morris Men and Hong Kong Morris, both founded in the late 20th century. Could you provide us with some supporting evidence?

 

...shouldn't it be treated as a multi-cultural experience, rather than a quintessentially English pastime?

Whatever its origins, and despite its spread to North America and elsewhere, the Morris of today is most definitely "a quintessentially English pastime"!

 

Morris dance (or la morisce) is originally a spanish sword dance. The name Morris comes from Morisce and it refers to the people from morocco chased back to africa. The dance visualises this sword battle to celibrate the spanish victory, if I am correct this was around 1440.

Originally?

Note my mention above of possible English references from well before 1440.

 

Do you have sources able to trace the chain of transmission you describe, progressing through space and time? And to account for the inclusion of bells on the shins and hankies, neither of which seems relevant to battle with swords? (I would allow for the addition of music, as a means of coordinating the movements of a group of dancers/re-enacters.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quite simply, "Morris" is a "corrected" version of "Marsh", ...

Reminds me of the Morris Minor connection ... Foggy Bottom Morris Men | Frequently Asked Questions

 

Two books to investigate if you haven't got a few months and/or don't fancy wading through Mudcat:

 

John Cutting 'History and the morris dance'

John Forrest 'History of morris dancing'

 

Cutting's is the better 'general' read, Forrest's is more of an academic treatise.

I haven't dipped into the Mudcat strings yet, but my expectation would be a high ratio of blather to reliable information, as always on the web (except here, of course!).

 

I tried to read Forrest, but bogged down around 1660, and haven't returned yet. I'm reading Cutting's book right now, and it's excellent. What a treat to read such a reasonable book on the subject! He is very careful to make clear his assumptions, and remind us of the formidable obstacles to getting a clear history of the Morris from the spotty historical record - He includes descriptions of the original source materials, a survey of the literature, an explanation of why the record is so spotty, and his estimation of what we CAN gather from it.

 

David Haimson

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Earl of Stamford Morris were claiming when I saw them recently that Morris was in fact the Lost English Martial Art. There was the sword version of course, the stick (kendo) version and as for the hankies, well, they were tipped with razor-sharp diamonds...

 

He was right, of course. Or as right as any of the other theories, because, let's face it, nobody really knows the origins for sure.

 

And as Ronald Hutton says, in the context of the ancient pagan religions of the British Isles, that gives scope for the dreamers to dream.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...