Key findings
  • Cotswold morris is the most common style of morris performed by morris sides, followed by Border and North West.
  • Border has grown rapidly in the last 20 years, whereas North West is in relative decline.

Morris dancing is typically performed within teams ('sides'). Sides are organised as clubs, with a distinct culture and membership and perform one or more styles of morris regularly (main styles) and others more informally (other styles). The most prevalent main style of morris is Cotswold, which conforms with the stereotypical image of morris dancing in the public consciousness with whites, handkerchiefs, sticks and bells. However, sides perform many other styles regularly, including Border morris and North West.

Some sides also perform other styles less frequently than their main style. Most sides do not perform other styles, choosing to focus on their main performance style(s) throughout the year. The most common other style is Border morris: many Cotswold sides perform Border morris during the winter months when it is preferable to wear a warm jacket outdoors than an open shirt! 

Interestingly, Morris Census data shows that there are more sides performing Mumming and Longsword, Rapper and Molly dances infrequently than there are sides that perform them regularly.

Comparing the styles performed by sides formed in different decades shows the rise and fall of the popularity of various styles. Cotswold's long-standing position as the most common style of morris dancing comes from the many sides that were formed before the 1980s. Since the 1980s the variety of styles performed by sides has increased: the number of Border sides has grown particularly rapidly. In contrast, the heyday of North West sides forming was the 1980s and the formation of new sides has all but dried up since. The popularity of the Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT) has undoubtedly fuelled the recent increase in new Rapper sides.

How do sides describe themselves?

The Morris Census asked sides how they would describe themselves in three words. The question was completely open response, encouraging the responder to qualitatively describe their side's culture. The word cloud below shows the variety of responses, where the size of the word corresponds to the frequency. Words such as 'Cotswold', 'fun' and 'traditional' stand out.

A more detailed analysis of the words used shows some interesting patterns. Side identity is most commonly associated with the main style of performance: e.g. as 'a Cotswold side' or 'a Border side'. Linked to the finding that two thirds of morris dancers are age 50 or over, another common description is of being 'ageing'. This is particularly common in the Morris Ring, where three quarters of members are over 50. 

Morris Ring sides are also likely to describe themselves as 'traditional' and 'male', whereas Morris Federation and Open Morris are more likely to describe themselves as 'fun' or 'enthusiastic'. Since recruitment is seen as a big issue, it is perhaps surprising that relatively few sides describe themselves as 'inclusive' or 'welcoming'.

How would you describe your side, and how does that differ from sides generally?

Please leave a comment below.


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