Border Morris, HerefordshireThe Border Morris is a tradition within the greater fraternity – and (whisper it softly) sorority – of the Morris Dance. It is called Border Morris as the dances and the sides that perform them are from the marcher counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire , though others from counties further afield have formed their own Border Morris sides adopting similar ways.
While falling within the embrace of the Border Morris tradition, great variations in dance type, music, numbers and costume can be found in the sides from Malvern , Pershore , Upton-upon-Severn , Cookley, Knightwick, Bromsberrow Heath and so on.
There is thus no specific model for Border Morris, but certain elements are more or less typical of the custom, if not constants. Many sides wear tattered shirts or coats, or at least those garments with rags or ribbons sewn on. The focus for dances is Christmas rather than the summer – the history of the thing would generally have Border Morris dancers in centuries past generating a bit of extra income by dancing for the better-off and pubs, ideally for the better-off in pubs. A good few of the sides blacken their faces – nothing to do with any racist strand as some would have it, but to disguise themselves (fancifully because of bloody awful dancing, more probably so this form of begging would not cause them problems later); or explained by the Morris being derived from Moorish dancing, (one is reminded of the very wonderful Bacup Coco-Nutters ). Musical accompaniment is a bit more extravagant than elsewhere – often sizeable bands that may include a tuba or sousaphone. And the dancing tends to involve much clashing of sticks, and sometimes a good bit of whooping.
Even if, as some claim, the Morris owes more to the 60s and 70s folk revival than deeper antiquity, it would still be a true folk custom, and should be celebrated.
More British Folk Customs?