At the heart of Swanage Folk Festival
are many dance sides who come from all over the country to perform and
entertain. Swanage is lucky to have a few other dance sides outside of the
traditional ‘Morris’ that add variety. Look out for belly dancers!
To the uninitiated, Morris dancing may
be seen as all the same but with different costumes. Here follows some
guidelines as to some of the different styles and traditions.
COTSWOLD : This is probably the first traditional style of Morris to
come to people’s minds. Dancers are usually dressed in white with crossed
bands or waist bands in colours, fancy hats, and bells on legs and feet.
They often dance with white hankies to accentuate hand movements. The
Cotswold dances are most commonly displayed by a team of six dancers,
although some feature eight. Sometimes sticks are used instead of the
hankies. You will see modern variations of this format, but all based on
dances from an area mostly in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire; an
established misnomer, since the Cotswolds overlap this region only
BORDER: Border Morris, as its name implies, originates from counties
along the Welsh border, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Shropshire. The
tradition involves blackened or painted faces, costumes of strips of rag
(tatters), bells are optional. Sticks are used predominantly, although you
will see hankies on occasions. The dance patterns tend to be simpler than
Cotswold Morris but carried out with vigour and energy. Today’s Border sides
often favour top hats with long feathers round the crown which, together
with blackened faces, create an impression of height and size, quite
formidable when wielding big sticks.
NORTH WEST MORRIS : The North West tradition is named after the North
West region of England and has always featured mixed and all female sides.
Although originally danced in work boots or clogs, modern sides tend to
favour clogs. The dances have a military air to them, often with a marching
theme and processional. The dances historically were often called 'maze' or
'garland dances' as they involved a very intricate set of movements in which
the dancers wove in and out of each other. Some dances were performed with a
wicker hoop (decorated with garlands of flowers) held above the dancer's
head. Modern variations on this use hoops or arched bands, some sides use
hankies, decorated plaits, or short beribboned sticks with bells on.
MOLLY : Molly dance, which is associated with Plough Monday,
originates from Cambridgeshire and is a parodic form, danced in work boots,
and with at least one Molly man dressed as a woman. The dance steps are
almost robotic and precise. The largest Molly Dance event is the Whittlesea
Straw Bear Festival, established in 1980, held at Whittlesey in
Cambridgeshire in January.
SWORD DANCING : Usually regarded as a type of Morris is the sword
dance tradition, which includes both rapper sword and longsword traditions.
In both styles the "swords" are not actual swords, but specifically
made for the dance. The dancers are usually linked one to another via the
swords, with one end of each held by one dancer and the other end by
another. Rapper sides consist of five dancers, who are permanently linked-up
during the dance. The rapper sword is a very flexible strip of spring-steel
with a wooden handle at each end. The longsword is about 2'6" (0.8 metres)
long, with a wooden handle at one end, a blunt tip, and no edge. Longsword
sides consist usually of five to eight dancers. In both rapper and longsword
there is often a supernumerary 'character', who dances around, outside, and
inside the set.
APPALACHIAN: Not a true 'Morris'
style, Swanage welcomes several Appalachian dance sides, demonstrating
lively footwork American style
Information for Dance Sides Visiting
Swanage Folk Festival
Swanage Folk Festival
welcomes over 50 dance sides each year. As well as regional 'regulars',
the festival welcomes other Morris dance sides from around the country and
extends an open invitation to any Morris dance side, clog dancers, rapper,
and molly dancers who may wish to join the festivities.
David Blakeley on email:
register for 2014.
Please note change of email address!
Dance sides (performers) will be sent tickets for their members attending
the festival, including band members, and these are to be exchanged for
wristbands on the Sandpit Field on arrival in Swanage. There is no need
for performers to purchase a weekend season ticket for the festival. Performers
wristbands entitle the wearer to free entrance to all paying concerts apart
from the Saturday night Mowlem concert. It entitles the wearer to a reduced
price entrance ticket to the Saturday night ceilidh.