Morris Dancing is an English folk dance based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures. The dancers wear different clothes depending on the part of the country they come from, but most of them are dressed in white with coloured belts across their chests. There are usually six or eight dancers arranged in two lines or in a circle facing each other. The dancers may carry white handkerchiefs that they shake, or short sticks that they bang against each other while dancing. Some dancers have bells tied at their knees, which make a loud and cheerful rhythm as they dance. Morris Dancing was originally accompanied by a pipe and tabor or a fiddle; nowadays accordions, concertinas and melodeons are also used. The musicians often introduce the dance with a song. The song varies from region to region, but is often bawdy and vulgar and focuses on rural life.
The origins of the dance are unclear but there are two main popular theories. On the one hand, it may have been a pre-Christian fertility rite to scare away the malicious spirits. On the other hand, the dance may have been introduced by the Moors, prisoners of war, in the court of Henry VII during the 15th century. Morris Dancing was popular in Tudor times; however it was actively discouraged under the Puritans but was restored under the reign of Charles II. Morris Dancing was popular up to the Industrial Revolution but new forms of entertainment, rapid social change and its association with an older unfashionable culture contributed to its decline.
The Morris revival started on Boxing Day 1899, when Cecil Sharp was charmed by the music and started collecting different tunes all over the country. Later on, he started to collect dances too. He was assisted by May Neal, who was searching for dances to be performed by girls. As a result women were the first to bring Morris Dancing back to life. In 1934 the Morris Ring was founded and after that many more followed, especially in the 1960s. The Morris Federation and the Open Morris were formed because women and mixed teams were not given full membership. Now, the have the same status as all male teams. Morris Dancing is now an art performed worldwide at large folk festivals and annual feast and enjoyed by both men and women.