The future of the great English tradition of morris dancing could be under threat, according to new research by Leeds Metropolitan University.
We've all seen morris dancing taking place at summer fetes across England but Professor Karl Spracklen and Dr Stephen Henderson at the University's Institute of Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure have found that, despite a culture of inclusivity and community, the tradition remains unfashionable and white male-dominated and that there is concern about future recruitment to the activity.
The study, which involved in-depth interviews with 13 morris dancers and musicians from across the North of England, examined the culture and identity of morris dancing and how those involved see themselves as defenders of 'Englishness'. A resulting paper has been published in Leisure journal.
Professor Spracklen commented: "Morris dancing is loved and regaled in equal measures. Every weekend in the summer, one can find hundreds of morris sides out dancing across England. However many people see it as uncool or unfashionable. Far-right political parties such as the British Nationalist Party (BNP) have also tried to co-opt morris dancing and English folk music as an authentic white English tradition to protect and celebrate and with such racist ideologies, it is not surprising that the London 2012 organisers were seemingly wary of involving morris dancing in the official ceremonies. It took campaigns and persuasion to have it included as part of the closing ceremony."
"The notion of Englishness," Karl continued, "is very individual. It can be defined by symbols, traditions and authenticity. In the first revival of English folk culture, morris dancing and folk music were seen as native English traditions about to be lost. When it revived for a second time in the 1960s, folk music and dance represented working-class folk traditions. In both revivals we saw a struggle over meaning and identity."
Although all of the morris dancers interviewed had become involved for different reasons, they all identified very strongly with their particular morris sides and the wider community or scene. Most felt confident that new dancers would continue to be attracted but whilst some were committed to keeping the tradition going as it was danced in the years of yore, with some sides still not admitting women, many wanted to see tradition adapted and changed in the future.
Karl explained: "For most, it is a chance to socialise and have a sense of belonging, locally and beyond as many were involved in national campaigns for younger morris dancers, summer camps for morris dancing, travelling up and down the country to morris events, etc.
"All respondents felt that morris dancing is a legitimate part of English culture, as folk or popular culture. Several stressed that it is an important tradition that needs to keep going, as something that has been passed down from generation to generation. However they all recognised that it has a strange and contested position in English culture: that it is not fashionable, modern or part of the culture of the ruling classes."