Brochure written for the 196? Ring Meeting, Kingston, Surrey, UK

Item for garteryng of IIII dozen bellys : IIId.
Item for IIII plytes and a quarter of laun for ye mores garmentes : IIs. XId.
Item payd for mete and drynke for the mores dancers on the fayre day : XIIIId.
Item for bellys for ye dauncers : XIId.

These are entries in the Kingston Parish Church Churchwardens' Accounts Book for the years 1507 to 1509

Morris dancing was in those days very popular in the Royal Borough. At the dancing and also at the local mysterious Kyngham game it was the custom to make 'gaderings' or collections of money to pay for food and drink. Also from this money, payments were made to the Churchwardens for the repair and upkeep of the nave of the church, a responsilibity of the congregation.

The Morris is England's traditional men's dance. Its origins are lost in the mists of antiquity. The dance and the three characters associated with it - the Fool, the Hobby Horse and the Man-Woman - are relics of customs in these islands before Christianity reached us. By the Middle Ages this dancing had become associated with religious holidays, particularly Whitsuntide. It later formed part of the secular games such as the Maye Game and the Robin Hood Game which were the main entertainment of the people in those days of little or no education or relaxation. At Kingston-on-Thames, Hocktide, the second Monday after Easter, was the chief festival of the year.

The heyday of Morris dancing was the Tudor period when it was practiced all over the Midlands and from Surrey to Cornwall. Some of the earliest references, if not the earliest actual record of the Morris dance being performed, are mentioned above. With the growth of puritanism the games fell into disfavour and at Kingston there is no record of the games or dancing after 1579.

The Industrial Revolution caused changes in conditions which adversely affected the Morris and by the beginning of this century it had all but died out. There were one or two villages in the Cotswolds where it was kept up. Cecil Sharp, by chance, encountered the Headington team dancing at Christmas time in 1899. He was very interested and at once set about collecting details of the dances and the music. It is largely due to his efforts that we know as much as we do about Morris dancing today.

Why 'Morris' dancing? There is no certain answer. It is thought that early dancers used the simplest disguise, blacked faces, to hide their identity and so were called Moors or Blackamoors. Hence the dancing was described as Moorish. It has been said that 'The faces were not blacked because the dancers represented Moors but rather the dancers were thought to represent Morris because their faces were blackened'

Today the Morris is back in the Thames Vallay. The Thames Valley Morris Men, the local team, is one of a hundred clubs dancing throughout the country. They dance the Morris because they enjoy doing so. In watching them, you are taking part in the dance and they hope thereby some of their own pleasure will be conveyed to you.

This handout was printed and distributed by TVM as part of the Ring Meeting they hosted in 196? The date of 1507 mentioned in the handout is not, in fact, the earliest written record, the earliest now identified is from 14??.

Another change since 196? is that the Morris is now danced by Men's, Women's and mixed sides, there having been a lively argument about the tradition of this during the 1970's and early 1980's.