Morris dancing has been practised for over 500 years within the UK, although it’s largely dismissed as an eccentric, cultish pastime. Photographer Morgan O’Donovan meets the boys who’re making an attempt to maintain the custom alive
Regardless of being a 500-year-old people custom within the UK, morris dancing is extensively misunderstood. The follow – which is characterised by its ritualistic routines and loud, cultish outfits – has usually been dismissed as an eccentric pastime for rural Englanders. “It’s seen as a novelty or a nuisance,” says Bob Pierce, who has been pracising with Gloucestershire’s Morris Males for the final 46 years. “Individuals are very joyful to simply accept that the Irish, Scottish and Welsh can have their traditions. However English traditions are a joke.”
The Gloucestershire Morris Males are one of many few morris dancing teams nonetheless practising within the UK. Based virtually 100 years in the past within the Cotswolds Hills, they think about themselves custodians of the native space’s historic dancing types, sustaining a repertoire of over 50 completely different routines. They carry out on numerous holidays – solstices, saint’s days, winter festivals – all year long, however it’s arguably their outlandish fashion that pulls probably the most consideration. To enliven their crisp white shirts and chinos, these males go all out, donning jackets manufactured from torn, mismatched materials; straw hats scattered with wild flowers; and shin pads lined with bells. Relying on the chosen dance routine, they’ll then wave round handkerchiefs, sticks, and even swords. It’s a glance that attracted trend photographer Morgan O’Donovan, who has determined to seize the group in a brand new picture collection titled Morris Males.
The Morris Males aesthetic speaks to the custom’s pagan heritage, which is rooted in medieval British folklore and pastoral residing. For probably the most half, Morris members are males – usually of their 50s and 60s – who’ve been dancing collectively for many years. As an nameless member tells AnOther, its not simply in regards to the “exhilaration” of the efficiency, but in addition in regards to the camaraderie: after dancing, they play devices and songs, and socialise “for hours within the pub”. (That being mentioned, Pierce is fast to debunk the myths that each one Morris Dancers have “beer bellies”, and that they “are extra involved with consuming than dancing”).
Nonetheless, the long run for the Morris Males appears unsure. Whereas the custom might have been embraced by youthful males a couple of many years in the past (lots of the group’s present members took up the custom of their 20s), it’s now getting more durable to draw contemporary faces. In O’Donovan’s pictures, we see the complete extent of this age skew: nearly all of portraits are of older dancers, with just one younger-looking member amongst them. “Morris dancing is simply part of many traditions and native customs and we must always try to hold all of them alive,” urges Pierce. “Most customs would contain the residents of a village and in lots of instances full households. The social interplay was invaluable, and that’s misplaced right now.”
Pierce’s fellow Morris Males member, Tony Poulter, has been dancing for 51 years, since he was round 25 years previous. He echoes his buddy’s issues, however is decidedly extra optimistic in regards to the future. “We do our greatest to maintain these customs going as a result of they’re very previous and it’s vital that individuals see them,” he says. “I all the time impress upon younger those that that is their heritage. I don’t know whether or not we can hold our facet going, however I hope so. We’re very resilient.”