The Tradition of North West Morris

North West Morris is characterised by brightly coloured costume, live music, a steady drum beat and clogs. It has its origins in the mill towns of North West England, although you can find sides (groups of dancers and musicians) throughout the country and further afield. Clogs, long lasting and practical, were worn by mill workers, both men and women, and the paved streets of developing towns were ideal for dancing. The earliest dances were processional and each area had its own dance. North West Morris is very much a living tradition with some dances based on the old ones, some heavily adapted and new ones constantly developed.

  • Wikipedia
  • The North West tradition is named after the North West region of England and has always featured mixed and female sides – at least as far back as the 18th century. There is a picture of Eccles Wakes (painted in the 1820s, judging by the style of dress of some of the participants and spectators) that shows both male and female dancers. [citation needed]

    Historically, most sides danced in various styles of shoes or boots, although dancing in clogs was also very common. Modern revivalist sides have tended more towards the wearing of clogs.[22] The dances were often associated with rushcarts at the local wakes or holidays, and many teams rehearsed only for these occasions. While some teams continue to rehearse and dance for a single local festival or event (such as the Abram Morris Dancers[23]), the majority of teams now rehearse throughout the year, with the majority of performances occurring in the spring and summer. The dances themselves were often called 'maze' or 'garland dances' as they involved a very intricate set of movements in which the dancers wove in and out of each other. Some dances were performed with a wicker hoop (decorated with garlands of flowers) held above the dancer's head. Some dancers were also associated with a tradition of mumming and hold a pace egging play in their area.

    The Britannia Coco-nut Dancers, named after a mill not far from Bacup, are unique in the tradition, in that they used sawn bobbins to make a noise, and perform to the accompaniment of a brass ensemble. They are one of the few North West Morris groups that still black up their faces. It is said that the dance found its way to the area through Cornishmen who migrated to work in the Rossendale quarries.

    Towards the end of the 19th century, the Lancashire tradition was taken up by sides associated with mills and nonconformist chapels, usually composed of young girls. These lasted until the First World War, after which many mutated into "jazz dancers". (A Bolton troupe can be seen in a pre-war documentary by Humphrey Jennings.) The dances have evolved stylistically and the dancers’ dress has changed to include pompoms and elements from other groups, such as cheerleaders and Irish dancers. However, they refer to themselves as "Morris dancers", wear bells, and are still mainly based in the Northwest of England. This type of Morris has been around since the 1940s and is also referred to as Carnival or "fluffy Morris" dancing. They take part in many different competitions during the year and end it with a "Championship" where one dance troupe is crowned the champions. This type of Morris is also found in the north of Wales, where there are many different organizations with many different troupes. In 2008 NEMDCO (North of England Morris Dancing Carnival Organization) held a large competition at Blackpool in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. The winner of this competition was Valencia, a troupe from Liverpool.[24] During the folk revival in the 1960s, many of the old steps to dances such as "Stubbins Lane Garland" were often passed on by old people.[citation needed].