"Morris" Dances Explained
Largely owing to the excellent work done by the members of the Esperance Girls' Club, many delightful old English dances and singing games have been successfully-revived and introduced into various pageants which have been arranged for charitable and other purposes.
In other directions, too, these Morris and country dances and the singing games of children, which in the Middle Ages and the fifteenth and six-teenth centuries were so popular, have been usefully revived in many towns and villages as a means of healthful exercise. They also teach children graceful movements, as well as giving much pleasure.
Those who have seen these interesting revivals will understand how valuable a pictorial and artistic asset the dances and fairy-like gambols of children can be at bazaars, garden fetes, and the like. In the smaller towns and villages of our land a revival of Morris dances and singing games is admirably calculated to provide an artistic, healthy, and interesting amusement for the children who take part in them, and also a very easy means at the same time of raising money for charitable and other objects.
Photos, Clive Holland
Indeed, few more delightful and graceful amusements for boys and girls can be imagined, and their introduction into some of the girls' high schools, as well as on a smaller scale into the elementary schools in different parts of the country, has proved an unqualified success.
Amongst those of Northern nations no dances are more historically and pictorially interesting than the country and Morris dances of England. In the names applied to the dances of Anglo-saxon times, such as Hoppan, Tumbian, and Saltian, which are words meaning respectively to hop, to tumble, and to leap, we gather that in those far-off days the pastime of dancing was of a far more energetic and less graceful type than that of modern times. The professional dancers of the Middle Ages, for instance, were called tumblesteres, or saylors, from the Latin salio, to bound or spring, and were also called sauters from the French verb sauter, to leap.
One of the most popular of the ancient dances which have in recent years seen a revival was one known as the " Carole," performed generally by strolling minstrels, jugglers, and tumblers - the latter a kind of acrobat - a very accurate description of which is given by Chaucer in his "Romaunt of the Rose." There he says regarding the parish clerk's accomplishments : "In twenty manners he coude skip." This "Carole' was also one of the domestic dances of that day, usually performed by ladies and gentlemen alternately, who held each other's hands and danced in a circle.
In the fifteenth century there was a considerable revival in dancing, and many new measures were introduced, some of them of a much more active and exciting description than those of former times. In Wright's "History of Domestic Manners" one reads of a character in a certain play, that shall both daunce and spring. . . ."
It was this revival, and the extravagance to which dancing was afterwards carried, that caused the more zealous moralists and teachers to condemn the practice, and admonish more particularly young' girls to dance, if at all, with moderation and modesty.
It is little to be wondered at that with the revival of dancing, and the popularity which as an amusement it seems from very ancient times to have enjoyed both in England and other lands, that the country folk whose cottages did not afford sufficient room for the pastime indoors should have in the course of time invented measures and practised them in the open air.
The dances which came to be evolved in this way are to a large extent the Morris dances which have survived in some of the most remote country districts down to the present time, in many cases without having lost their chief distinguishing characteristics. We cannot enter into a learned disquisition regarding the origin of Morris dances in the present article. But it may be said that the Morris dance was very probably introduced into England about the middle of the fifteenth century, and was distinctly connected through the Fool, one of its chief characters, with the gleemen of Saxon times and the Norman jongleurs. The name, which does not seem particularly fitted to these dances, is said to have been derived from the word Morisco, which was a dance of Moorish origin.
As a general rule, the characters the Morris dancers represented were taken from some old English legend or romance, and were frequently " Robin Hood," " Little John," "Maid Marian," "The Fool," "Tom the Piper and his Son," "St. George and the Dragon," and the "Hobby Horse." In olden times the dancers were dressed up in gilded leather and silver paper, with coats of white fustian spangled over with stars, with purses at their girdles and bells attached to their garters. In some cases the dancers wore as many as thirty or forty bells tied about their knees.