What is Morris dancing?

The term 'Morris dancing' is used to describe traditional forms of English folk dance that are performed by a group of dancers, usually accompanied by live music. The origins of the dances and styles are lost in the mists of time, but over the past few centuries several styles have emerged.

The most familiar form, danced traditionally by groups of men, originates from areas around Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and is known as 'Cotswold Morris'. Other styles include 'Border Morris', performed by dancers with blacked-up faces (supposedly to avoid being recognised by their employers) and 'Rapper', a sword dance tradition from the North-East of England.

For more information, see The Morris Federation.

What is North-West Morris?

The style we dance is known as 'North-West Morris', having originated in the mill towns of North-East England, and is traditionally danced by women.

To honour its 'industrial' heritage we wear wooden soled shoes ('clogs') similar to those that would have been worn by the mill-workers, and the sound these make on the ground during the dance, along with the patterns made by the dancers as they move and swap places, give North-West Morris its distinctive character.

Who are Blackhorse & Standard Morris?

We are a diverse group of women who share some or all of these characteristics:

  • A desire (in some cases a need) to dance.
  • A love of folk music.
  • At least a rudimentary sense of rhythm.
  • The courage to get out there and perform. (Although there's no obligation and we certainly don't push anyone to 'dance out' until they feel ready.)
  • An enjoyment of the support provided by being part of an all-female group, sharing experiences, stories, encouragement, and cake.

We perform at a variety of events, mostly local but some further afield. We enjoy sharing our love of dance with audiences of all ages, and whenever possible we like to finish our performances with an opportunity for the public to join in and learn a simple dance with us.

In modern society performance and dance can seem elitist or be reserved for those with money to spend. We feel it has never been more important to preserve a tradition of folk dance that is for everyone.

History of Blackhorse & Standard

The name 'Blackhorse & Standard' refers to the Standard pub and music venue which until recently stood on Blackhorse Lane in Walthamstow. This is where, in October 1981, the founding members of the side were planning to hold their first practice session. In fact the side fixed instead on the Lord Palmerston as a venue, but the name stuck.

The first public performance for the newly formed side was at the Essex Arms, Walthamstow in spring 1982. The original kit was a black pinafore dress over a blue blouse, but after a few years this was agreed to be hot and uncomfortable to dance in and replaced by the first incarnation of the blue cotton dresses we still wear today.

As well as the Lord Palmerston, other practice venues over the years have been the Chestnut Tree in Lea Bridge Road and the Truro Road Community Centre, before our move to our current home at St Gabriel's Family Centre just off Wood Street.

In the more than three decades since then members of the side have had the pleasure and privilege of performing at high-profile events including the New Year's Day Parade and the London 2012 Paralympics, and at iconic London venues such as Trafalgar Square, St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London. But the most important events we dance at have always been, and continue to be, the small local fetes and festivals in and around our 'patch' of North-East London.

Women's Morris dancing in London

London might seem an odd place to find Morris dancing, which is often viewed as a rural (and male) tradition. However we can trace the roots of women's folk dance in London back to the 19th century when Mary Neal, a suffragette and, along with Cecil Sharp, a key instigator of the 'folk revival', began teaching folk dances to the working class girls of her 'Esperance Club'. The club aimed to bring joy and hope into the lives of women living and working in the slums around Kings Cross.

Some morris dancers today would say, like Cecil Sharp did, that morris dancing should be performed only by men, and should adhere strictly to the traditional music, steps and styles of dancing. We prefer, like Mary Neal, to say - folk dance and music is for everyone, for the enjoyment of the dancers and musicians, and hopefully to give some enjoyment to the people who watch us.