• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
It’s as English as afternoon tea, fish and chips, Shakespeare, and cricket.
Morris dancing – quirky and slightly more eccentric – although less well known, is deeply rooted in the country’s culture.
Stumble across a summer fete in the English shires and there’s a good chance you’ll see a troupe of dancers clad in white cotton, bells, and hats and carrying handkerchiefs or sticks that they wave to the beat of folk music, usually provided by a melodeon, a type of accordion.
There are an estimated 14,000 morris dancers across Britain, but the origins of morris dancing are clouded in history. Some think it originated from the Moors of Spain while others believe it dates from pre-Christian religious rites.
Wherever and whenever it started, morris dancing seems to have become accepted entertainment by the 1600s and has enjoyed various revivals since then.
Summer is usually peak season, although morris dancers are not averse to a little cold weather, as one troupe recently displayed in early January on a highway overpass in west London.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the elevated section of the main arterial road into the capital, 12 members of the Hammersmith Morris Men put on their fineries to dance the “Hammersmith Flyover” (a flyover is an overpass). Written 50 years ago, the jig celebrated the official opening of the half-mile stretch of road in 1962.
Morris man Dominic Moss explained: “We used to practice in a church next to the [overpass] and when it was completed one of the members composed a dance to mark its opening.
“I felt quite privileged to be able to dance it again and I know the others felt it, too.”
Fortunately for the morris men – and unfortunately for west London commuters – the overpass had been closed since the start of December while engineers repaired rusting cables.
“I feel like I’m keeping history alive. Morris dancing is an important part of English culture and I think we all feel that when we dance,” Mr. Moss says.