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Display cabinet containing Morris dancing memorabilia at the Higgins Museum, Bedford, for the 40 Years of Morris exhibition

The Voices of Morris: An oral history project

Are you a Morris dancer? The Voices of Morris project needs you! Read on to see how you can get involved.

A photo of Redbornstoke Morris, as part of the 40 Years of Morris exhibition at the Higgins Museum, Bedfore
40 Years of Morris
Innovation and Tradition: 40 Years of Morris runs as an exhibition at the Higgins Museum, Bedford, until September 2022. Curator, Chas Leslie, and Keeper of Social History, Lydia Saul, will offer a free discussion at the museum on July 9th, followed by a Children's Morris workshop from 2pm.

Organised by Chas Leslie, the curator of the Innovation and Tradition: 40 years of Morris exhibition at the Higgins Museum, Bedford, The Voices of Morris is a new oral project intending to document the evolution of Morris dancing since the mid-1970s. However, rather than leave it to researchers in dusty libraries, Leslie is turning to the Morris community itself – recording the recollections, thoughts and opinions of those that have lived the tradition, and hoping to build a lasting digital archive. The project is being run in conjunction with the Morris Federation.

There’s no question that the Morris dancing tradition has seen significant changes over the last 40 years. As Jack Worth’s Morris Census concluded in 2020, “Morris is undergoing considerable demographic and stylistic change, albeit slowly… Stylistically, it is becoming more diverse and less traditional. Cotswold is in relative decline, while Border and Rapper are growing. The proportion of sides that place importance on preserving tradition has also fallen steadily over time.”

2017 was the year when Morris dancing became gender balanced: half of Morris dancers in the UK are women and half are men.

Jack Worth, the Morris Census

Perhaps most significantly, “The overall proportion of female dancers [rose] from 46% in 2014 to 50% in 2017. The age distribution among Morris sides’ new recruits suggests this trend towards greater female participation will continue: 61% of recruits are female compared to 39% men.”

Bedfordshire Lace Morris. Photo credit: Jenny Howard

It is the experience of, and reaction to, these changes that Chas Leslie wishes to document. “The aim of this project is to build up an archive of recorded interviews with a range of Morris dancers and musicians,” continues Leslie, “to collect, in their own words, their recollections and experiences and the part they played, great or small, in the development of Morris since c1975. The intention is to include the older generation who ‘pioneered’ these changes and the younger generation of performers who could be seen as the ‘inheritors’ of these developments.”

For The Voices of Morris project, Leslie is seeking to interview dancers and musicians who have been, in some way, involved in Morris dancing over the last 40 years, founder members of Morris sides (particularly mixed or women’s sides), and anyone who has joined or formed teams more recently – particularly those that have tried to develop a different approach.

Leslie explains, “The collected interviews will not form a representative sample but will try to reflect the range of stories of those involved in Morris dance. More importantly, it will save those stories as a social history resource for future researchers.”

Voices of Morris logo in black and white

If you’re interested in taking part, either as an interviewee, an interviewer, or perhaps by lending any digital skills you may have, head to the Voices of Morris page on the Morris Federation website or email Chas Leslie directly at chasleslie@btinternet.com.