For those who think morris dancing a quaint survival it is a remarkable fact that there is probably more morris danced today than at any time in its past history! On a Saturday in late April residents and visitors alike are able to watch exponents of North Oxfordshire's own contribution to ‘World Dance’ performing round the village. It is a great spectacle but why in Adderbury?
A Little History
Morris dancing is a traditional or 'roots' dance form which belongs especially to the Midland counties of England. Nobody is quite sure when and where it started but there is no evidence at all to link it with pagan customs or fertility rituals!
Researchers largely believe that it began in Spain in the 12th century as a performance to celebrate the liberation of Spain from Moslem occupation, hence the term 'Moorish Dancing'. It became popular in the royal courts of Europe and eventually arrived in England as a courtly entertainment in the late 14th century. Eventually it fell out of fashion in Royal circles but was taken up in the 15th and 16th, centuries by civic authorities who included Morris dances in their processions and pageants.
The church was not slow to see the fund raising potential of the spectacle of Morris dancing and many parishes kept their own sets of costumes in church to be brought out for the annual Whitsun Ale celebrations.
By the start of the 17th. century Morris dancing was in decline, a process hastened by the rantings of puritan sects who condemned it because of the associated rowdy behaviour and drunkenness.
At this point it seems to have gone underground and almost vanishes from history for 200 years. In fact Morris dancing had migrated to the rural communities where there were few people to record its passing. Because of the social conditions prevalent at the time dancers were usually male although there are records of female dancers participating too. By the early years of the 20th. century Morris was once again about to transform itself.
During the mid-nineteenth century most local villages would have had their own team of morris dancers performing a programme of dance unique to their community. By the end of the century morris dancing was losing support in the face of competition from other, less demanding, forms of popular entertainment and the carnage of the First World War all but delivered its death blow. Fortunately the tradition was maintained in one or two out of the way places and information about other dances was recorded by early students of folk-lore. In the early years of this revival people got hold of the idea that morris dancing was a survival of some kind of pagan fertility ritual and only danced by men. History reveals no evidence for this at all and the flowering of morris dancing in the twentieth century has seen new teams formed some for men, some for women and some mixed.