Morris dancers descend on Cambridge

Beth Price 10 May 2014

More than 500 Morris dancers and 200 musicians descended on Cambridge city centre today to take part in the Join Morris Organisations’ Day of Dance 2014.

This year the Cambridge Morris Men, part of the Morris Ring, hosted the Day of Dance, an annual event where the national Joint Morris Organisations in England come together to showcase the tradition of Morris dancing.

The dancers spoke to The Cambridge Student about their enthusiasm for the English folk dance; “the traditional dance of England” according to Geoff Phillipson from King’s Morris.

The appeal of the dance is wide ranging, with the youngest performer in Kemp’s Men of Norwich aged 11 and the oldest being 78. The enthusiasm of the performers was clear, with Melanie Briggs, a melodeon player for Harlequin Morris, saying “it’s just really good fun!” Geoff Phillipson added “some people laugh, but nobody seems to hate us – I think they like Morris.”

Although the primary reason for getting involved in Morris dancing seemed to be the enjoyment, Robin Springett, the Squire of the Morris Ring, confessed to having started Morris dancing after having stopped playing rugby; “I was tired of having my face pushed into the dirt, and wanted a pastime where I could get exercise, have fun and go to the pub a lot.”

There are three national Joint Morris Organisations; the Morris Federation, the Morris Ring and Open Morris, and the tradition is flourishing. Although the Morris Ring, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, is an all-male troupe, the Morris Federation and Open Morris have a mixed membership, with the Federation originally being an all-female organisation, officially inaugurated in 1975.

Originating in the 15th century, the freedom to dance the Morris was granted by King James I in 1618 and the tradition has continued ever since, with more than 12,000 dancers registered worldwide.

The most famous form of Morris dancing is based on rhythmic stepping by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their legs and holding handkerchiefs, although sticks and swords are also used.