History of Morris Dance next 1



© 2005 Warren Fahey


[ prev . . . ]

Gail Miller, Squire of the Australian Morris Ring comments:


“Anyway, about the Australasian Morris Ring: This is the blanketing group (it is incorporated) that Morris Sides can join and be covered by that crazy 10 Million dollar public liability policy we have so that we can dance in safety. In order to keep it manageable for sides to keep performing, we split the bill between as many as will pay. Also, AMR is in charge of keeping people in contact, getting Morris people together and in some cases, settling disputes. It is the Morris Club. You don’t have to be a member, but you will probably get more out of your Morrising if you are. We are trying to get our newsletter back up and running, and I am getting contacts OS for us as well, to try and get more global communication going on so that we can leran new dances and traditions.

Some sides have their dances published online, some are very strict about who can dance dances and what not.”

   “The AUSTRALIAN” May Day 1987
click on the image for a larger view

The Australian Morris Ring stages an annual gathering at the National Folk Festival which is staged in Canberra every Easter. This is an occasion to meet old friends, make new ones and, of course, ‘contest’ the various dances. People preen their outfits and ‘sharpen’ their (wooden) swords and, for onlookers, the sight of so many outfitted dancers is indeed a surprising and jolly sight. There is also a good deal of very good-humoured ridicule aimed at the dancers by non-dancing members of the folk revival community. You will often hear jokes about Morris Dancing as soon as the bells are heard. Often these are made my singers and musicians on the stage and, in most cases, the audiences join in the fun. They are usually seen as buffoons, which, in a way, is in keeping with the tradition of the ‘fool’. It is all in good fun and the dancers participate with a certain amount of pride.

The various Morris groups operate as a ‘social club’ of sorts and, apart from the serious side of practice and public dances, also stage regular gatherings called ‘Ales’.

Here is a typical notice publicising an ‘Ale’ – (taken from the Australian Morris Ring website November 2005). Note that the ‘Ale’ is calling on existing teams and two now defunct teams – the Free Settlers and the Black Stump. Also note in ‘Coming Events’ that they will be performing at Government House, the Fairbridge Folk Festival and, at the time, were making arrangements for performances on St George’s Day and May Day.

Perth Morris Men’s Ale

20th March 2005

An open invitation to all present and past Perth Morris Men and to their wives, husbands, partners, mistresses, paramours and friends.

Also to all other present and past Morris Dancers, particularly the Fair Maids of Perth, the Free Settlers and the Black Stump, but also to any others interested in folk or Morris dancing in Western Australia or visiting from other States or countries.

What do you need to bring?
We will provide beer, soft drinks, food and some seating. If you want special drinks, eg wine, lite beer, whisky, etc., you will need to provide your own. Also folding chairs would be a good idea for those who want to sit, although we should be able to seat about a score of you. If you play a musical instrument, you may wish to bring that too.

Those that still can, will be expected to dance. Perth Morris Men are only too aware how age, infirmity, incompetence, incontinence, etc. can prevent former dancers from cutting capers, but we would still like to see you, and maybe you could entertain us some other way – singing, magic tricks, stories, sparkling conversation… There will also be the presentation of the Morris Man of the Year Cup and the Rory Thompson Award.

WHEN: Sunday 20 March. We are dancing at Government House from 11.00-1.00, so the event should start about 1.30 pm.

WHERE: At Dave Parker’s place in Mount Lawley. The address will be revealed when you RSVP, mainly because I can’t lay my hands on it right now.

RSVP: Please let me [ED: See Below] know by the end of February with the exact number of who you are bringing (including yourself of course) for catering purposes. Please pass this message on to anyone you think might be interested, since I do not have everyone’s address and there’s a good chance some of these email addresses will be out of date.

Perth Morris Men

Other Dates of interest

* Wed 2 March practice 7 pm
* Weekend 5-6 March Nannup
* Wed 16 March practice 7 pm
* Sun 20 March Govt House 11-1; ALE 1.30 till…
* Weekend 2-3 April Fairbridge
* Wed 6 April AGM and practice 7 pm
* Wed 20 April practice 7 pm
* Sat 23 April St George’s Day – to be decided
* Sun 1 May Mayday celebrations Kings Park

As a folklorist I was interested in why people danced these old formation dances and how the Australian teams had developed as part of the continuing tradition.

I wrote to as many areas of Morris as I could muster in order to get a wide perspective. I am grateful to those dancers and organisers and observers who contributed to this collection process.

At the time of assembling this study the Dance Section of the National Library of Australia had nothing related to Australian Morris and for that reason alone, it provides an anecdotal history that, hopefully, will be useful to future researchers.

Dear XYZ

I am still following through my work in documenting Morris and other British/Celtic dance forms in Australia.

I have now had confirmation that the National Library of Australia is very interested in housing the collection alongside their other dance form documentation. This is very important and, I believe, a positive step in preserving a part of our culture.

After broadcasting my request I had several enthusiastic responses from most states however, as yet, few have delivered. I am after the following:

* early and recent photographic images of Morris dancers and also Morris dancers at play.
* any printed material that includes Morris – newspaper and magazine reports, reviews, posters, newsletters etc
* jokes about Morris dancing and dancers
* personal reminiscences – how people got interested in Morris, memories of their first dance (watching or participating), memorable Morris gatherings.
* other ceremonial dances in Australia including garland, maypole, sweep, jack-in-the-green etc
* notes on music accompaniment for Morris including any photographs and tune lists.
* names of dances – I would like to compare all dance names and also, if any, any derivative or alternative names including bawdry.
* nicknames of Morris dancers.
* disused embroidery badges, bells etc that could be given to the Library for display purposes,
* any video footage.
I realise this is a large shopping list but this is a cry for help! As far as photographic and other printed materials the Library would obviously prefer the originals and they are happy to digitally copy and return to owners. Alternatively, if easier, such items could be scanned and put on disc for the collection.

Finally, thank you to those dancers who have emailed me contributions and also a reminder to those who generously offered to forward material.

Australian Folklore Unit
Warren Fahey