Morris Dancers Perform in Rye One of the oldest “revival” sides in the “Morris Ring” are the East Surrey Morris Men. They were one of the six sides who founded the Morris Dance Ring in 1934. Mainly performing dances from the Cotswold’s tradition they dance for their own pleasure and that of their audiences on the village greens and on alehouse forecourts throughout Surrey.
Rye is an exception, this year saw the Forty-Second annual visit over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Since 1958, the programme has included a weekend tour of Kent and East Sussex, based at Rye, over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend to which guest sides are invited. Green Sleeves Morris Men have a permanent invitation to this weekend and other sides recently attending include Barnsley Longsword and Bedford Morris Men.
The origins of Morris dancing are uncertain but is believed that the dances derive from pre-Christian pagan rituals held in honour of Mother Earth to ensure prosperity, fertility and good luck to the community. The derivation of the word Morris is just as unsure. One theory is that the dances were brought back from Spain and North Africa at the time of the Crusades and that the word is a corruption of “Moorish”. Another popular theory is that the word originated from “mores”, Latin for “custom”, which would indicate that the dance was traditional in Roman times.
It is clear from contemporary accounts in 15th Century England that, at that time, Morris dancing was considered an ancient and primitive activity. By the 19th Century the dances had developed into the form we know today. A lot of the Cotswold villages had a side dancing their own subtle variations and it was Cecil Sharp who collected many of these dances around the turn of the century, before the drastic social changes of the early 1900s could sweep away the traditions. It was the work of Cecil Sharp undoubtedly which led to the great revival of the Morris. Traditionally, the dances are performed by all-male teams, each being identified by its own distinctive costume. Apart from the dancers and musicians, most teams are accompanied by at least one Fool or other character. The leader of the team is the Squire; the officer performing the role of secretary and treasurer is called the Bagman.
The East Surrey Morris side was formed in 1926 and was one of the six sides that founded the Morris Ring in 1934. Since then, gatherings of Morris men, known as Ring Meetings, have been held annually in all parts of the country and the Morris Ring now comprises over 300 individual clubs. The East Surrey perform dances from the Cotswolds traditions in sets of six or eight men. Occasionally a Jig danced by one or two men will be incorporated into the programme. Collections, apart from bringing good luck to the audience, enable donations to be made to local charities. Those that have benefited in recent years include; Macmillian Cancer Relief, The Royal Marsden Hospital, St Raphael’s Hospice, British Heart Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis, Rye Church and The English Folk Dance and Song Society. In addition the East Surrey sometimes arrange specific performances for charitable causes.
“Rye’s Own” July 2004
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