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Morris Dancers, by Unknown Artists, circa 1909
The Morris Dance History title

            English Morris dancing has a great and mixed history when compared to other dances. The name is derived from the Morisco (môriskoz,) a dance peculiar to the Moors and shows that the dance did have a Moorish beginning. The Morisco which it was often called was a Spanish name for a Moor or Moorish (Africa) or Spanish Muslim (Spain,) who after the country was re-conquered after the legendary Charlemagne and Tamer lane battle (Christian Re-conquest 11-15th. Century) remained there and became Christian (Moorish period.) The Moors who had become subjects of Christian kings as the re-conquest progressed to the fifteenth Centuries were called Mudéjares.

      The Morris dance (Tripudium Mauritanicum) was the most frequently mentioned of all the dances of the fifteenth century. In Renaissance writings it is almost always mentioned that a Mouresca, Morisque or Moresque (Arab Lambra,) or Morisco was danced and was said to be brought to England from Spain by John of Gaunt (1340-1389) brother of Edward, 'the Black Prince' during the reign of his father, Edward III (1312-1377) around 1360 AD. In the beginning, the Morris dance was a pantomime of war, depicting the struggle of the Moors and Christianity and is one of the oldest English dances to date. However, it's origin is not considered strictly English, but the modern version is.

      Originally, it was done as a celebration type dance whose participants acted out the original battle (initially, hundreds of people would perform.) It was generally performed on May Day, and introduced several characters, varying in numbers, designation, and dress, according to taste or local customs, many diverse features being added over time. The Dance originally only used a solitary musician which would play a flute, bagpipe, violin, or accordion and a Tabor. The dance eventually quieted down and became enormously popular around 1500 A.D.

      When the legendary Robin Hood (1160-1247) was the foremost figure of the dance in Elizabethan times (1533-1603,) the birth of spring on May Day would send the folk of England into the woods to collect flowers, boughs and blossoms and wait for the sun to rise, a symbol of the full opened year. They would return home in the sunlight, flower-laden, dancing and capering around an ox drawn cart which bore the May Pole thus the Masque of Morris dance which Robin Hood danced with Marian.

      In the early forms of the English Morris, five men, one being known as the "foreman of the Morris" and another as the "Fool," and a boy who was dressed up to characterize "maid Marian," were the only performers. Accompanying these were a piper and/or a tabourer; with the sound of this melody, the clashing of staves and the jingle of small bells fastened to their costumes (garters,) they danced to the lively measures being played. Soon after, the characters of the "Merry Men of Sherwood" were introduced, Tom the Piper with his pipe and tabor, the Dragon (no mention before 1585) and of course Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and Little John became conspicuous figures of the dance.

      Historically (pre 1890's): There appeared to be three basic types of Morris
1) As a solo dance performed at Moorish courts, (usually with blackened face to represent the moors) and a stamping of the feet along with heel stamps.
2) As a couple or group dance which usually portrayed (see sword) combat.
3) Large scale that utilized upwards of 100-200 people in two groups, dancing/acting out a dance battle pantomime. This as a rule, would last 4-5 hours using a single musician.

      England was a principal originator of this folk dance by helping it to grow, making it more of a dance than a celebration, by adding distinction to the dance, with bells, waving handkerchiefs, real and fake horses (hobby horse) and black amoors were a part of the dance, the dance steps were very complex and all the while keeping up a Jog-Trot pace.

      In the Morisco, the dancers held swords in their hands, with the points upwards; this custom connects the dance with the ancient Pyrrhic or sword dance, which that of the Goths did the same in their military dance. In many English vicinities the dance is performed as a sword type dance utilizing fancy costumes, swords, sabers, sticks, military marching, leaping and opposing sides. Many Choral rounds of the time were very similar to the Mourisca with the British reviving the dance back in the 1890s. The dance does not have any turns or patterns per say, and did not glide or sway and was not danced on toe but was very intricate in its movements, (which are many.) The Mourisca was a big element of the first ballets, often called "Spectacles" of that time.

      The Mourisca or Morris dancers do the dance differently in different parts of the world, and can be done as a solo or group; however the basic idea of the dance is as follows:
1) Characteristic Form: Two rows, originally six, known as the "Los seises" ("the sixes,") but later became ten, along with a "fool" (arap) and a boy dressed as a women (Dama) who is called "Mayde Marya" (as in Robin Hood,) and another man carrying a cardboard figure of a horse (hobby horse) on his hips. All of them wear fantastic costumes hung with many bells. Blacking of the face was very common.
2) Classic Form: Is done with two rows and three dancers each. These rows move to and fro, zigging and zagging, perform in a chain or can perform opposite each other with a vast amount of variations. The classical form used dibber's (sticks) rhythmically when opposing sides would meet (a type of ring dance called bean sitting.)

      The dance formerly consisted and described as a type of "Prussian Goose-step" or later a military march with the leg kicking forward and a little skip with the other. The arms are described as swinging vigorously and the bells were used to accent the kicking or flinging of the leg. The dance also used leaps that are about a foot high. At the conclusion of the dance the participants sometimes engaged in shouting. Swords and Sabers (originally wooden) are often times used to portray battle when both sides meet. Sticks (like the stick dance) were used rhythmically thru-out the dance as well. If someone was killed (acted-out) they were buried on the spot with no priest present.

      Morris dancing does go by many various names, some are known as Moresque, Morisque, Morisco, Morrisk, Morrice and Moorish, however the dance was essentially the same and was mainly a male only dance, while on the other hand the Zambra, a Flamenco/ Spanish dance is of direct Moorish origin, performed by women only (moras and moros) and was only danced to flutes and oboes. The Sarabande also is a Spanish dance of Moorish origin when the moors invaded Spain. Of the Portuguese dancers, in their ceremonies usual on conferring knighthood fights with the Moors were replicated, and thus the form called Mourisca was originated. In the Azores it was still preserved under a dramatic form called Mouriscadas. There was also a dance known as the Moor's Pavane in the 16th. Century. As a side note the Puritans saw the Morris dance as a heathen form and prohibited it from being done until Restoration marked a half hearted revival.

      Fernaão Lopes, describing the character of King Pedro I, says of him that he was a great votary of the Morris dance. Dances such as the Baixa, Chacola, Mourisca, and Villão were usual at all Court weddings in the sixteenth century. The Baixa is a distinctive kind which includes other dances. Religious festivals gave most opportunity for the dance as it is pretty much an exhibition (not-social) type dance.

      In 1599 William Kemp (actor), danced the Morris dance from London to Norwichin nine days (took him over a period of four weeks) which he wrote about in 1600 titled "Nine Daies Morrice," in this writing he called himself "Caualiero Kemp, head-Master of Morrice-dauncers." He took three people with him on his quest, Thomas Slye his Taberer, William Bee his servant and George Sprat.

      Today the Morris dance is a festival or show dance, done by performers of the traditions, rather than a social dance and is considered firmly English. In the simple form it consists of three men, usually dressed in white, carrying handkerchiefs and or sticks with small bells attached to their legs, and Baldrics (ribbons) worn on the shoulders. However, there are different "Traditions" or styles of Morris dancing, which can have all male, all female or mixed with number of performers being 3, 5 or 8 etc. and can have a certain amount of overlap of styles.

      There are different styles or "Traditions" of Morris dancing in different parts, with some being called North West Morris, Bampton Morris, Bedlam or Border Morris, Headington Morris, Adderbury Morris, etcetera. In Morris speak the styles consist of an Ale (gathering of dancers), Caller (basically a choreographer), Chorus (Set or Corner), Kit (Costume), Set (Number of dancers), Team (Organized group.) These dances or sets may utilize a "Fool" (usually the leader), a "Hobby Horse," "Sticks," "Bells," "Swords," "Jigs," "Hornpipes," etc. and "May" is still the favorite month of the year for this dance as was in olden times.

      There is much debate over the history of the Morris dance, with some ignoring its roots of the Spanish Moors while others embrace it, whatever the history of this dance, it is as fun to watch today as I am sure it was back in the day of its creation. Also see: Sword Dance for more info.


Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

Spain / England 1100's / 1360 Moors Exhibition / War

Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

Sheet Music Covers


Ossie Morris Theatre Bill [1953] 1898 - Morrish Dance  
      1905 - Moorish Serenade  
Song Preview (click arrow to hear sample) Song Preview Various Morris Music Titles Song Preview (Click MP3 for more info or purchase)
Song Preview Abbott's Bromley Horn Dance [MP3] Song Preview Ladies Of Pleasure [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Serenata Morisca (Chapi)[MP3]
Song Preview At The May Dance Celebrations [MP3] Song Preview Lads a Bunchum [MP3] Song Preview Shepherds' Hey, (4th version) [MP3]
Song Preview Bacca Pipes Jig [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Leap Frog, 2nd version Song Preview Sherborne Jig [MP3]
Song Preview Banks of the Dee [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Mock Morris [mp3] (Grainger) Song Preview not availabe atm Shooting [MP3]
Song Preview Barkshire Tragedy (Game) [MP3] Song Preview Month of May (Stick Dance) [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm $ Staines Morris [DVD] (Playford)
Song Preview not availabe atm Berkshire Dance Song Preview not availabe atm Moorish Dance (Marini's) Song Preview Step Back / Maid of the Mill
Song Preview not availabe atm Bobby and Joan Song Preview Morris dance medley (C. Sharp) [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm The Battell: The Morris [DVD]
Song Preview Bonnets So Blue [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Moorish March (Carr) Song Preview not availabe atm The Captain's Song (Earsdon Sword)
Song Preview Brighton Camp (Corner Dance)[MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Moresque (1550) Song Preview The Maid of the Mill [MP3]
Song Preview not availabe atm Castleton Garland Dance Song Preview not availabe atm Morris Dance (German) Song Preview not availabe atm The Queen's Delight
Song Preview Constant Billy (Improv) [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Morris On Song Preview Trunkles [MP3]
Song Preview not availabe atm Dearest Dicky [MP3] Song Preview Neil's morris [MP3] Song Preview Upton Handherchief Dance [MP3]
Song Preview not availabe atm Fandango [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm None so Pretty Song Preview not availabe atm Wheatley Processional
Song Preview not availabe atm Grenoside Sword Dance Song Preview Old Molly Oxford [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Winster Processional
Song Preview not availabe atm Hampshire Singing Game Song Preview not availabe atm Old Rogers Dead (Game) Song Preview Winster Morris Dance (Handkerchief) [MP3]
Song Preview not availabe atm Heel and Toe Song Preview Old Tom of Oxford [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Winster Morris Reel (Handkerchief)
Song Preview Highland Mary [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Old Woman who carried a broom(Linked Handkerchief) Song Preview not availabe atm Wyresdale Greensleeves Dance
Song Preview not availabe atm Idiot, the CD A Touch of Morris
Song Preview I'll Go and Enlist for a Sailor [MP3] Song Preview Pershore Stick Dance [MP3] CD An English Folk Music Anthology
Song Preview Jenny Lind Polka [MP3] Song Preview Princess Royal [MP3] CD Magic of Morris Vol.1
Song Preview Jockie to the Fair [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Princess Royal, (3rd Vers) CD Magic of Morris Vol.2
Song Preview Kings Morisco (c.1555) [MP3] Song Preview not availabe atm Ronny Green CD Plain Capers-Morris Dance Tune
Song Preview not availabe atm Kirkby Malzeard Sword Dance Song Preview not availabe atm Room for the Cuckoo CD Sheepskins (Kirkpatrick)
    Song Preview not availabe atm Saturday Night CD Sweeps (Morris Compilation)
        CD Traditional Morris Dance Album
Morris dance video clip Morris dance video clip Morris dance video clip

Night Clubs, etc.

The videos above shows three different
aspects of Morris dancing.


Esperence Club Building Albaycin Quarter (Moorish Nobles Abode)
      Baleric Islands


New Empire Theatre (5/11/1953)   Bulgaria
        Charlemagne & Tamerlane

Churches, Cathedrals etc.

Sevilla   Italy
Toledo   Rumania,
Whitsuntide   Spain, Portugal
        Valley of the Rhone

Films / Movies with Morris dance


Ballets / Stage

5/6/1932 - Pathe Newsreel: "The Padstow Hobby Hoss" n/a 1377 - Spectacle of Charles IV
      1400's - entree de Morisque
1935 - The Moor's Pavane       1665 - Corpus Christi Procession
1950 - The Moor's Pavane (Limon DVD)       1912 - Passing Show
1966 - Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery [DVD]       1953 - Ossie Morris
1967 - Entre las redes       bailes de Los morose
1968 - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang [DVD]        
1970 - Doctor Who (TV)        
2003 - Calendar Girls [DVD]        
2004 - Pride and Prejudice [DVD]        
2010 - Morris: A Life With Bells On [Trailer]        


            1/1991 - Dance Magazine
            12/1992 - Dance Magazine

Other Related Dances Over Time

Adderbury Morris Cotswold Morris (c.1750-1850) May Pole Dance Oddigton Morris
Bacchu-Ber Flamborough Sword Dance Mime Pyrrhic Dance
Ballet Handkerchief Dance Mooris at the Red House Saber Dance
Ballo (see Ballet) Headington Morris Moorish Schimmelreitermaske
Bampton Morris Hobby-Horse Dance Moresque Shepard's Aye
Bedlam/Border Morris Horn Dance Morisco Stick Dances
Cathedral Dance Ilmington Dances Morisque Sword Dance
Choral Dance Jig, Reels, Hornpipes Morrice War Dances
Church Dances (cossies & cavalets) Joc de callusari (choral) Morrisk Zamalzain
Lambra Mouresca Zambra
Contre Dansa Mallorca Mouriscadas  

Dancers, Choreographers etc.


Adelaide Dickey (1914) Miss Florence Warren (1910) Cardinal Ximinez (c.1490s) [Los Sesies]
Cecil J. Sharp (1859-1924) Robin Hood (1160-1247) Charles I (1600-1649)
English Folk Dance Society Tadjik Dancers (Asia) Edward III (1312-1377)
John of Gaunt (1340-1389) Toledo Choir Boys Edward VIII (1939-)
Jose Limon (Moors-1940s) William Kemp (c.1599) Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Maid Mariyan   James I ( IV) (1566-1625)
Mary Neal (c.1910s)   Phillip II & Mary I (c.1555)

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...

Title Author Date Publisher
Maestro de Vega de Vega, Lope 1594 n/a
$ Nine Daies Morrice Kemp, William 1600 E.A for Nicholas Ling
Punch and Judy Magazine (Cartoon) n/a 1909 n/a
Esperence Morris Book, the Mary Neal 1910 Espernce Girls Club (London)
Modern Dancing and Dancers (Morris Revival) Flitch, J. E. Crawford 1912 J. B. Lippincott Company
Mentor Magazine Overton, Grant 1926 Magazine
$ World History of the Dance Sachs, Curt 1937 Norton & Co.
$ Dance Encyclopedia Chujoy, Anatole 1949 A.S. Barnes
$ Moriscos of Spain, the: Their Conversion and Expulsion
Lea, Henry Charles 1968 A Greenwood Press
$ Histoire des Mores mudejares et des Morisques; ou des Arabes d'Espagne sous la... Chircourt, Anne Marie Joseph & Albert 1972 Farnbourgh England Gregg
The Morris Book: a description... Sharp, Cecil James
1978 Charles River Books
$ History of Morris Dancing, the (1438-1750) Forrest, John 1991 Toronto Press
The Morris: A Living Tradition, Englands Glory Ladies Morris and ... Cripps, Peter S.
1991 Vale Pub.
Morris and Sword Dances of England
Peck, Arthur
n/a The Morris Ring



Poets / Writers

American Symphony Orchestra Bernard Picart (1673-1733) Alfred Noyes (1880-1958)p
Carr, Benjamin (1768-1831)     Cecil J. Sharp (1859-1924)w
Chapi, Ruperto (1851-1909)     Cervantes, Miquel de (1547-1616)w
Foster (1900)     Mr. Peck - (Memoirs of Milton)w
German, Edward (1862-1936)     Stubbles (1595)w
Grainger, Percy (1882-1961)     Will Shakespeare (1564-1616)wp
Marini's Hawaiian Trio (Moorish Dance)      
Purcell, Henry (1659-1695)      
Schmelzer, Johann Heinrich (1623-1680)      
Sharp, Cecil      

Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

Albaycin Quarter Malkin Oxfordshire, Chesire
Bag Pipes (Pipe and Tabor) Mauresque Padstow
Dama, Diablo May Day Robin Hood
Derbyshire May Pole Saxon Times
Fore-Capers Moresca Seigniorial culture
Heathens Moresche Sun Ritual (Rumania)
Hobby Horse Mudejarismo Sundry Boys
Lancashire, England Mummers Velvet Knee Breeches
Lanes, Hamlets, Copses Norman Jongleurs Welsh
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March 22, 2013

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