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Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two men, steps are performed near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid across each other on the floor.
English records date back to 1448, when 7 shillings were paid to morris dancers by the Goldsmiths’ Company in London.1 Further mentions of morris dancing occur in the late 15th century, and there are also early records such as visiting bishops’ “Visitation Articles” mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities, as well as mumming plays. Furthermore, the earliest records invariably mention “Morys” in a court setting, and a little later in the Lord Mayors’ Processions in London. The court records mention both men and women as dancing. It is only later that it begins to be mentioned as something performed in the parishes. There is certainly no evidence that it is a pre-Christian ritual, as is often claimed.