I play recorder for Cotswold and Border Morris, two different types of the dance. That's me with my back to you, playing as part of Fools' Maze for Sue to dance "Between the Wars"
Some people don't realise that they have morris dancing in their area. Others think that the morris from their area is the only type. I recently met a man in Skipton who didn't realise there was any other sort of morris than the dancing he's used to (he was relieved to discover that Cotswold Morris doesn't use clogs, since he didn't see how southerners could wear them with any degree of conviction). Equally, my grandmother was scandalised to discover that I was playing for a morris side: in her area it's a competitive dance performed by young girls.
The truth is that there are many types. Morris seems historically to have been a term used for any type of street performance related to the local style of dance - in Hampshire (as opposed to New Hampshire) it certainly once meant a Mummers' Play, which normally didn't have a dance with it at all. Virtually all morris performed in the UK is revived: the form had almost died out by 1899, when it was "discovered" by the folklorist Cecil Sharp, whose work was the catalyst that popularised the efforts of a number of other collectors such as Mary Neale, Maud Karpeles and Ella Leather. Sharp found his first Cotswold Morris side on Boxing Day 1899. Ironically, if the dancers hadn't needed the extra cash, they wouldn't have been out dancing until after Easter, Sharp would have missed them and I probably wouldn't be writing this page now.
For a long time after the start of the revival, "Cotswold" was considered the archetype of Morris. It comes from the relatively affluent and relatively rural Cotswold hills in the south of England. The dance uses either sticks or handkerchiefs and the dancers traditionally wore costumes based on white clothing such as was worn by village cricket teams. Most dances are for six in a standard country-dance set, and sides had a large repertoire of dances, normally with similar choruses. Cotswold Morris was sometimes competitive and the collected dances include a large number of show dances, including solo dances. Nowadays, most teams dance a selection of dances collected from a number if different village teams.
As the term implies, this style of dance comes from the north-west of England, primarily Lancashire and Cheshire. This was an industrial area and many of the dances are designed to fit in with processions. It seems likely that originally each team had a single dance, which may have varied year by year. Most modern teams wear clogs with the wooden soles shod either with iron for use outdoors, or with rubbers which are kinder to church hall floors. Modern teams also usually dance more than one dance, to maintain the variety and keep the dancers interested during the practice season.
The term "Welsh Border Morris" was coined by Dr Chris Cawte to denote dances from the Welsh border counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. In reality these are a diverse group of dances linked by a number of characteristics. The area buts up against Cotswold Dances to the east and North-West dances to the North, and at these edges the dance form is clearly influenced by the other styles. The collected dances are usually fairly simple, partly because by the time collectors were active in the area the tradition had become a form of begging. The villages are more isolated than in the Cotswolds, and each team normally had one or two dances. Most, but not all, teams blackened their faces, emulating a tradition which goes back many hundreds of years. Modern teams use different coloured face-paints, including black. Virtually all the dances are performed with sticks.
Carnival, sometimes known as "fluffy" morris, may be a relatively recent evolution of the dance, but it's possibly closer in feel to the traditional dance teams than much of what is performed as "Cotswold" or "Border" dance. It's a competitive dance form similar to American "majorettes", the name "fluffy" referring to the pom-poms or "shakers" held by the dancers. In some troupes, dancers start as young as eighteen months and in general the teams are very much "owned" by their local communities. I've been to a number of places where there was a real feeling of celebration if the "home team" had done well in a competition. The whole performance, including costumes, getting on stage and getting off, is part of the competition.
Other "Bedlam" Morris
Throughout the country, there are other types of morris with the many of the same characteristics as "Border". These have been discovered and reconstructed by people wanting to perform dances from their local area. Two examples are Molly Dancing from East Anglia and the Plough Stots from Yorkshire: it's possible that this was the standard form of dance throughout England until the evolution of the distinctive Cotswold and North-West forms.
Many sides who call themselves "Border" sides are making up dances in a "bedlam" style using elements of local dance forms. Some use modern dance styles and music to good effect, just as the original teams would have done.
Another style of dance adopted by some teams as their local material, is Stave Dancing. Dancers carry staves on their shoulders - originally these were the staves of a Friendly Society. For the most part, the choreography of the dances is similar to that of Cotswold, with a figure - chorus - figure structure. The staves are used to make arches and stars. All of the extant choreographies come from the Somerset area, although there are descriptions of dancing in North Worcestershire and Lincolnshire, so once again the dance form may have been fairly widespread.
Sword Dancing was once common throughout Europe. Two forms have been revived in England - longsword and rapper. Both were once common in the north of England. Dancers are linked in a ring holding the swords and the dance form is distinctive for its fast, elegant weaving figures, dancers passing over and under the swords whilst remaining linked. At times the swords are interlinked into a woven knot, known as a lock or nut, which is strong enough to be held up by one of the dancers, then returned to all the dancers who grab the sword handles, unlink the swords and continue the dance.