London History,  Things to Do

Morris Dancing in London: How to See English Folk Dance

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For those of us from North America, London might not seem so foreign. Both Canadians and Americans have special historic and cultural bonds with England and the United Kingdom, and for this reason, London is a great destination for your first international trip – or if you’re just looking for somewhere new to visit that’s relatively easy and makes sense.

Given all that, there are some aspects of life in London (and England) that definitely didn’t translate over to the colonies or through the Commonwealth. One example? Morris Dancing. You’ve got to see it to believe it, but this is a decidedly un-stuffy, energetic activity that you can’t find anywhere else in the world! (There are some English-based groups in other countries, but its roots definitely start in Britain.)

Morris Dancing is a uniquely English activity, and you can potentially experience Morris Dancing in London. If you’ve heard of this term and are curious to learn more, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find the basics of what Morris Dancing is, whether you can find it in London (yes!), and how to do so.

Ready to kick your “Foot Up” and have a truly unique cultural experience during your London itinerary? Read on and you won’t end up as the “fool” if you attend an event…

What is Morris Dancing?

Morris Dancing is a type of energetic English folk dance that has been getting more attention in recent years. It’s not known when it was invented, but the earliest records date back to London in 1448.

The traditional basic dance includes rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures set to the music of the pipe, accordion, drums, fiddle, and/or melodeon. Dancers were usually in costume, wearing bell pads.

However, the dance has been going through a renaissance, and modern versions of Morris Dancing set to Beyonce’s “Break My Soul” have emerged on platforms such as TikTok. It’s become so relevant these days that there was even an article about Morris Dancing in The New York Times in August 2023!

History of Morris Dancing in England

The earliest record of Morris Dancing associated the dance with the English court and aristocracy in the 15th century. By the late 16th century, it had spread to the lower classes, and by the 17th century, the working peasantry would have Morris Dances on the Pentecost (Whitsun). Each village would have its own version of the dance. Not much is known, however, about how the dance spread across the classes and the changes it may have undergone along the way.

Morris Dance was popular until the Industrial Revolution and, by the late 19th century, had become almost a memory for most people. This decline continued until D’Arcy Ferris (or de Ferrars) of Cheltenham, along with Cecil Sharp, made efforts to revive the dance in the early 20th century.

Despite his efforts, Morris Dance remained so unpopular with younger generations that in 2009, The Daily Telegraph predicted it would disappear within 20 years. (This prediction was probably based at least in part in the fact that the activity is, generally speaking, not representative of London/England’s diversity.) Thankfully, this prediction has turned out to be false!s & Groups in London

Photo courtesy of Westminster Morris Dancers via Facebook

Some London Morris Dancing Groups include:

  • The Westminster Morris: their calendar of Morris dancing in London events runs primarily in the summer, so do check back in 2024 to see where they’ll be performing next.
  • Northfields Morris: their last event in London was in October 2023, with no future events listed, so do click through to their website to check for updates of new happenings.
  • The Belles of London City: No future events are posted on the website of this female group at the moment, but you can watch YouTube videos of their past performances there.
  • Blackheath Morris Men: This active, men-only group performed in Blackheath South East London on two occasions in December 2023.

When & Where to See Morris Dancing in London

Unfortunately, Morris Dancing events in London happen on an irregular basis. There are no dates for events in 2024 yet, so your best bet would be to check the websites linked above before your trip and take as a guide the events that took place last year for dates.

Do you have any questions about Morris Dancing in London? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

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Zhen fell in love with London when she first visited at the age of 4. After that, she was lucky to have the opportunity to live in UK for 11 years, 7 of which were spent in London. (She particularly adores the areas around Kensington, Southwark and Baker Street!) As someone who loves both food and travel – don’t we all? – you can find her sharing her Asian food recipes over at greedygirlgourmet.com.