Key findings
  • Tradition is important to many morris sides, particularly Cotswold and Longsword sides, though less so amongst Border and Appalachian sides.
  • The importance of preserving tradition has declined in popularity, in favour of a more self-written and contemporary repertoire.

Morris dancing is synonymous with tradition, as the steps and figures are largely based on what people have done in the past. Some see morris as a form of historical re-enactment, whereas others are less committed to preserving the tradition and take the dances they have learnt as starting points for further development. 

The Morris Census asked sides about the extent to which their repertoire was formed of traditional, self-written or contemporary material. The data shows that traditional (as collected) material is the most prevalent, particularly among Cotswold, Mummers, Longsword and Clog Step sides where there is a lot of information on the dances and plays originally collected. Border, where there is limited information on how the dance was performed in the past, and Appalachian, where dances are more free-form tend to have less traditional material.

The Morris Census also asked about the importance to the side of preserving tradition. The picture is fairly mixed, with 47% agreeing that preserving tradition is an important goal of the side, and 23% disagreeing. Again, the former view is more prevalent among Cotswold, Mummers, Longsword and Clog Step sides, and less prevalent among Border and Appalachian sides.

Morris Census data suggests the importance of tradition is in decline. Agreement with the statement that ‘preserving the tradition as it was originally collected is an important goal of the side’ is stronger in sides formed before the 1980s and has weakened among sides formed in every decade since. On a scale of 2=’strongly agree’ to -2=’strongly disagree’, average agreement has dropped from around 1 among sides formed before the 1970s to zero in the 1990s and below zero in the last 15 years. 

Likewise the proportion of sides’ repertoire that is formed of traditional material is greater among sides that were formed longer ago. The data shows the average composition of sides’ performance repertoire by decade formed and shows a decrease in the proportion of traditional material and an increase in the proportion of self-written and contemporary material.

How important is tradition to your side? 

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