West European men's group dances

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Traditional Ilmington Morris men

Grand Union Morris men

These dances are for a group of men who dance fixed pattern figures holding either sticks, swords or handkerchiefs. The dances in England are under the generic name of “Morris” and include Morris dances of the Cotswolds and of the Welsh borders, Molly dances of east Anglia, plus the processional dances of north west England. Of these only the processional and Cotswold have been a continuous tradition, but any ritual element has been long forgotten leaving a meaningless custom remnant.

These types of dances are wide spread across Spain and north Portugal, some examples with similarities to English Morris are; Ochagavia in Spain, near the French border, where two sticks are held, the Piciayos of Cantabria in Spain, the Ribagorza of Ainsa in Spain, the Pauliteiros of Portugal, Catalan Miranda stick dances, the ritual dancers in white with sticks at Meseta in Spain, and the Basque Pueblo de Guzman sword and stick dances.

In Spain these dance types co-exist with the hilt-and-point sword dances and the Morrisco dances. The Morrisco dances were created more recently to show the struggle with and expulsion of the Moors. In these dances the figures represent fighting with swords and are not derived from earlier ritual dances.

The possible origin of the name “Morris” from the Spanish “Morrisco” has long been debated. The Morris dance appears to be closer related choreographically to the ritual derived dances that exist in Spain but not under the title of Morrisco rather than to the Spanish Morrisco. Does this mean that English Morris traditions are either remnants from ritual dances from an earlier period, or arrived in England from Spain at some point in more recent history, or was this dispersal possibly added to a previous tradition existing in England, but has at some point in time taken its collective name from the Morrisco?

Stick dances in Iberia and central England have many similarities to the East European dances. In particular the Transylvanian Căluşerii has similar costume, formation, tempo, and basic steps to the English Cotswold Morris. The differences between the east and west European types can be summarised:

  west Europe east Europe
Choreographic structure: column formation, although some figures in circles called "rounds" exist travelling in circle with figures in place, although some figures in columns
Figures: spatial position based figures, figure of 8 "hey" step combinations in place
Stick use: mostly held in right hand for travelling and some clashing sequences mostly held in right hand for travelling, can be used as a prop in place


© Eliznik2005, First issue Jun-05, Last updated Aug-06