A Very Happy St George’s Day to One and All!

This is a day to celebrate all things English – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Beefeaters, afternoon tea and cricket.

All quintessentially English idiosyncrasies that make one proud to salute St George.

Sadly, however, one glorious pastime that once coloured this green and pleasant land of ours from Landsend to Marshall Meadows Bay (the northernmost point in England) is the wonderful world of Morris dance.

At Karen Hardy Studios we appreciate all forms of dance and we teach all styles of Latin and Ballroom.

So, being St George’s Day we took the opportunity to explore Morris dance in all its splendour.

For no less than 550 years this remarkable form of folk dancing has brought pleasure and good cheer to Englishmen (and women) in equal measure.

Once popular amongst royal courtiers in the 15th Morris dancing later became a popular performing art among the lower classes.

There are six recorded styles of the dance;

Cotswolds Morris
This style is normally danced with handkerchiefs or sticks to accompany the hand movements. Dances are usually for six or eight people, but solo and duo dances (known as single or double jigs) also occur.

North West Morris
More military in style and often part of a procession. The North West Morris developed out of the mills in the North-West of England in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Border Morris
Originating from the English-Welsh border, this is a simpler, looser, more vigorous style, traditionally danced with blackened faces.

Longsword Dancing
This comes from Yorkshire and south Durham and is danced with long, rigid metal or wooden swords usually with six or eight dancers.

This style hails from Northumberland and Co. Durham, and is danced with short flexible sprung steel swords, usually with five dancers.

Molly Dancing
Cambridgeshire is the home of Molly Dancing. Traditionally danced by people from, or in support of, the farming community to collect money during harsh winters. One of the dancers would be dressed as a woman, hence the name.

Like many other forms, Morris Dance has its own terminology, which refers mostly to the moves and the people involved.

Here is a quick run down:

Side or Team – These are terms for a Morris troupe of dancers.

Set – The number of dancers in a particular arrangement for a dance eg. Six, eight etc.

Jig – A dance performed by one (or sometimes two) dancers, rather than by a set. Its music does not usually have the rhythm implied by the word jig in other contexts.

Squire – This varies but in some sides the squire is the leader, who will speak for the side in public, usually lead or call the dances, and often decide the programme for a performance.

Foreman – This officer teaches and trains the dancers, and is responsible for the style and standard of the side’s dancing.

Bagman – They are is traditionally the “keeper of the bag” — that is to say, the side’s funds and equipment.

Ragman – Manages and co-ordinates the team’s kit or costume. This may include making bell-pads, ribbon bads, sashes and other accoutrements.

Fools – A fool will usually be extravagantly dressed, and communicate directly with the audience in speech or mime. The fool will often dance around and even through a dance without appearing really to be a part of it.

Beast – A dancer in a costume made to look like a real or mythical animal. Beasts mainly interact with the audience, particularly children.

When you begin to look beneath the surface, beneath the hankies and bells, there is a wonderfully endearing patchwork of heritage and ritual in Morris dance.

Long may it continue to be a charming feature within the English culture!

How are you spending your St George’s Day? Tweet your pictures to us @karen_hardy, we would love to see and share them!

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