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Martha Rhoden's Tuppenny Dish performing at Sidmouth 2023. Credit: Dorset Morri'arty

10 reasons to join a morris team

Ever tinkered with the idea of joining a morris team? September is the best time to do it. James Merryclough explores the reasons why.

Actually, much like planting a tree, the best time to do it was 10 years ago. But the second best time is September, the time when teams head back to the practice hall after a summer of performances. Get yourself to your local side at this time of year and there’s a good chance you’ll be lucky enough to don bells and crack out the hankies at 4:30am on May Morning, 2024.

So, if you are one of those folkies who for some inexplicable reason aren’t already part of the morris community, here are some reasons you should immediately rectify the situation (if you are physically and logistically able to do so, obviously).

The great thing about morris is that it is a living tradition, not a historical reenactment

The friends we made along the way. Credit: Dorset Morri’arty

1. Making new friends

It’s a cliche, but for me the biggest impact morris has had on my life is the friendships I’ve made along the way. 10 years ago, as a newly-single mid-20s guy living in Sheffield, I didn’t have a huge social network, having largely left my school and university friendship groups elsewhere. A decade later and (despite their best attempts otherwise), more or less my entire social scene has been built from my fateful decision to join a morris team. And what’s more, morris tends to be one big national – and international – family, so you end up meeting people from all over.

2. The support network

Of course there are exceptions, but you’ll struggle to find a friendlier bunch than morris dancers. Perhaps there’s something about strapping on bells and waving hankies around as a pastime that strips away all pretentions, but the result is that the morris scene tends to be non-judgemental and welcoming and there’s usually great camaraderie between members of sides. This often means morris teams act as support networks for a range of issues; my team has a separate Whatsapp chat for the new dads in the team to ask for advice, for example.

3. The Après-Morris

To most Morris sides the ‘Après-Morris’ is just as, if not more important than the dancing itself. Whether it’s tea and cake at practice, a campsite BBQ after a day of dancing, singing or music sessions in the pub, walking holidays or just a Whatsapp group to share jokes and chat, the bits outside of the actual dancing usually take more time than morris itself.

Teams will often have their own unique social selling point and appeal; many are family affairs with large contingents of kids and partners who all attend festivals together, whereas others might focus more on evening events and be kid-free zones.

4. Festivals

Until you join a Morris team and the invites begin rolling in, you don’t realise just how many festivals and events take place every year. There are few finer ways to spend a summer weekend than touring pretty towns like Warwick, Shrewsbury, Whitby or Sidmouth – to name a few – performing to appreciative audiences before retiring to a concert marque or beer tent.

Morris teams get free tickets, free camping and a discount for partners and kids – a great way to have some cheap weekends

What’s even better is that morris teams get free tickets, free camping and a discount for partners and kids. A great way to have some cheap weekends away to places you might otherwise never visit and see some great bands along the way.

5. The dancing

Yep, we’ve got to point five before mentioning the actual dancing. Learning complex dances and understanding the nuanced differences between different traditions can be immensely rewarding and a fantastic mental workout.

Fieldtown? Upton? Hinton? Once you start dancing you’ll be identifying different dance traditions with ease. Clausentum Morris. Credit: Dorset Morri’arty

And as any performer will tell you, being part of a group of people working together to provide a spectacle to an audience is a great buzz, particularly if you might have surprised or changed the opinion of an audience about morris dancing.

6. Continuing traditions

Whether you want to dance Cotswold, North West, longsword or rapper, there’s no doubt you’ll be helping to continue a tradition that’s been undertaken by mostly normal, working people across the country for generations. If you want a direct connection with the past, putting on the same dance kit that can be seen in photos from the 1800s is quite something.

Handsworth Sword Dancers 1909
Handsworth Sword Dancers at Sidmouth 2023

7. Evolving traditions

But the great thing about morris is that it is a living tradition, not a historical reenactment, so it can be changed and adapted to suit the desires of those dancing it (like the inclusion of buckets, for example). Change and evolution has been a part of morris since the start, so while some might want to perform dances exactly as they were recorded by the dance collectors 100 years ago, it’s equally legitimate to want to put your own stamp on the tradition. There’s room for everyone.

8. It keeps you (relatively) fit

While the stereotype of morris dancers might be beer-bellied men wheezing around a set while barely getting off the ground, spend any time at a dance event and you’ll see this is far from the truth. Ok, not everyone will be up to a performance of Swan Lake, but you don’t see many 70-year-old ballet dancers whereas there are plenty of pensioners who are still active because of a lifelong participation in morris dancing.

9. It’s interesting on your CV

Nothing tells potential employers that you’re not hung up about what others think of you quite like having your morris team listed under ‘other interests’. Plus, you can more or less guarantee they won’t be interviewing another morris dancer, so they’ll tend to remember you. (Also applies to Tinder. Probably).

As you grow up the opportunities to dress up a bit silly tend to diminish. Not for morris dancers…

10. The hats…

…and the outfits in general, really. As you grow up the opportunities to dress up a bit silly tend to diminish. Not for morris dancers. And, actually, some of the kits can look quite dashing.

Did I mention the hats? Credit: Dorset Morri’arty

Feeling inspired? Check out the morris map to find your nearest morris team and get yourself down to the practice hall!

Apologies for the lack of morris content over summer. What with dancing at various festivals, a young family, family weddings and my actual job to do, output has somewhat dipped. But I’m still here and hoping to bring you more writing over the coming months.