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Papers from a conference held at Cecil Sharp House, London,

25 - 26 March 2017, organized in partnership by Historical

Dance Society with English Folk Dance and Song Society and

The Morris Ring, The Morris Federation and Open Morris.

Edited by Michael Heaney

English Folk Dance and Song Society & Historical Dance Society

London 2018

This Girl Can Morris Dance:

Girls Carnival Morris Dancing and

the Politics of Participation

Lucy Wright

pp. 295-312


English Folk Dance and Song Society

Cecil Sharp House

2 Regent's Park Road

London NW1 7AY

Historical Dance Society

3 & 5 King Street


West Yorkshire HD6 1NX

Copyright 2018 the contributors and the publishers

ISBN 978-0-85418-218-3 (EFDSS)

ISBN 978-0-9540988-3-4 (HDS)

Website for this book:

Cover picture: Smith, W.A., ca. 1908. The Ilmington morris dancers

[photograph]. Photograph collection, acc. 465. London: Vaughan Wil-

liams Memorial Library.



Introduction 1

The History of History

John Forrest

How to Read The History of Morris Dancing 7

Morris at Court

Anne Daye

Morris and Masque at the Jacobean Court 19

Jennifer Thorp

Rank Outsider or Outsider of Rank: Mr Isaacs Dance The Morris 33

The Morris Dark Ages

Jameson Wooders

Time to Ring some Changes: Bell Ringing and the Decline of

Morris Dancing in the Earlier Eighteenth Century


Michael Heaney

Morris Dancers in the Political and Civic Process 73

Peter Bearon

Coconut Dances in Lancashire, Mallorca, Provence and on the

Nineteenth-century Stage



The Early Revival

Katie Palmer Heathman

I Ring for the General Dance: Morris and Englishness in the

Work of Conrad Noel


Matt Simons

Pilgrimages to Holy Places: the Travelling Morrice, 19221939 133

Roy Fenton

Destruction not Inscription: How a Pioneering Revival Side



Elaine Bradtke

Morris Tunes Collected by James Madison Carpenter 161

The Later Revival

Sue Allan

Merrie England, May Day and More: Morris Dances in Cumbria in

the Early Twentieth Century


Derek Schofield

A Different Sort of Revival: The Life and Times of the Manley

Morris Dancers


Sean Goddard and Ed Bassford

Consequences of Bringing North-west Morris to the South-east of

England: The Chanctonbury Ring Effect


Robert Dunlop

Morris Dancing at Kirtlington Lamb Ale: Heyday, Decline and




Women in Morris

Sally Wearing

What to Dance? What to Wear? The Repertoire and Costume of

Morris Women in the 1970s


Val Parker

The Womens Morris Federation from Start to Finish 279

Lucy Wright

This Girl Can Morris Dance: Girls Carnival Morris Dancing and

the Politics of Participation


Material Culture

Chloe Metcalfe

Why do Morris Dancers Wear White? 315

David Petts

Materializing Morris Dancing: Tangible Aspects of an Intangible



The Histories of Morris (EFDSS/HDS 2018), 295-312 author & publishers

Lucy Wright

This Girl Can Morris Dance: Girls Carnival

Morris Dancing and the Politics of Participa-


I come to know them first while pouring over photographs in morris

dancing archives: crinkle-cornered black-and-white film blushing in-

to Kodachrome as I flick forwards through the contents of scrap-

books, travelling in time. Some snapshots reveal a performance in ac-

tion: teams of girls in matching uniforms carrying crepe paper pom-

poms, marching high-kneed in street parades and dancing in for-

mation on crowded carnival grounds. Other photographs are more

formally posed: troupes cluster around a glut of trophies or a hand-

painted shield, wearing waistcoats heavy with medals and grinning

proudly for the camera. Later on, I attend weekly competitions host-

ed in out-of-town sports halls and suburban community centres, and

am almost overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of dancers, the wide

mix of ages, the precision and vitality of this female-led tradition,

conducted largely under the radar of the English folk movement in

which I came of age. As time goes on I take new photographs of my

own, attend troupe practices and events, and even occasionally join

in. I have spent more than three years researching and making work

about girls morris dancing and I have barely scratched the surface.

Girls morris dancingsometimes called carnival or fluffy mor-

risis a highly competitive team formation dance, performed in the

North-west of England and parts of North Wales. Its predominant

participants are primary- and secondary-school-aged girls and

young women, organized into lines by age and ability, as part of

troupes that compete weekly as members of dedicated local and

cross-county organizations. Distinguished by short, embellished

dresses with wide bell sleeves, white lace socks, pom-poms (shak-

ers), and precise, synchronous footwork to recorded pop music, the

performance might appear at first glance to be incongruous in rela-

tion to, if not wholly unconnected with, the morris performances of

the English folk revival.

296 Lucy Wright

However, look again and you begin to see the similarities. For those

of you who havent seen it beforeor perhaps not recentlythere is

a short excerpt of a video I took at the 2016 End of Season champi-

onships, for the English Town and Country Carnival Organisation,

held at Pontins in Southport (Figure 1). The dancers are members of

Orcadia Morris Dancers from Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, who

were named Troupe of the Year in 2017.

Figure 1: From a video recording of Orcadia Juniors performing at ETACCO champi-

onships, Southport, 2016 (photograph by Lucy Wright, reproduced with permission

of Orcadia Morris Dancers).

Girls morris dancing holds a curious status in the canon of English

morris-dancing history. On the one hand, it operates at a fundamen-

tal remove from the conventional spaces and narratives of the Eng-

lish folk revivals. More closely linked to the popular town carnival

movement of the late nineteenth and mid twentieth centuries, today

girls morris is performed almost exclusively indoors following a

community-wide shift away from the street parade and the carnival

field in the 1990s. It has, as Mike Heaney states, almost no literature

and its performers rarely self-identify, nor are straightforwardly

This Girl Can Morris Dance 297

identified as folk dancers.1 Indeed, most performers dont relate to

the qualifier carnival morris: instead, it is simply morris dancing, of-

ten the only form of morris dancing that many people in the girls

morris heartlands of Wigan, Oldham and Prestatyn are really famil-

iar with. I remember a group of secondary-school-aged dancers from

a troupe near Liverpool dissolving into giggles at my ridiculous

suggestion that men engaged in morris dancing at all. Do they wear

lace socks like ours? they snorted, imitating men clumsily lifting

their knees and pointing their feet. However, the lack of awareness

perhaps runs in both directions, potentially reflecting something of

the continued hermeneutic disconnect between scholarly and popu-

lar interpretations of folk. Girls morris is acknowledged by most

contemporary scholars as coherent with any defensible definition

of folk dancing, and was described by Roy Dommett as heir to the

richest of the English dance traditions2 why then has girls morris

dancing become, to borrow Ruth Finnegans phrase, such a hidden


There are, perhaps, three broad areas for interrogation. Firstly, and

in relation to the history of the morris-dancing revival there is the

question of whether girls carnival morris can or should be consid-

ered as part of the English morris traditionor even as a folk dance

at all. This is not just about dealing with hierarchies of authenticity

still at play within some areas of folkloric discourse, but also about

considering whether or not the girls morris dancing community

would welcome enfranchisement of this nature, because it is perhaps

possible to suggest that girls morris dancing has evolved the way

that it has precisely because it has avoided too much outside atten-

tion. Secondly, the participation of women and girls in morris danc-

ing needs to be examined with reference to the changing role of

women in social and public life including changing attitudes to-

ward womens physical activity more broadly. We know now, as

1 Mike Heaney, An Introductory Bibliograph