John Price's Pages 11

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Betley Window - Some Foreign Connections

Having elsewhere on this site touched on the subjects of John of Gaunt and the morris/Moorish connection, and given the similarity between the Betley Window figures and the van Meckenem engraving, it is difficult to leave this subject without briefly considering the connection between morris dancing and other European dances.

A search of the Worldwide Web using a character string like "moris" throws up more references than you can shake a stick at to characters and dances which appear to a layman either to be related to "English" morris dancing, or to be from the same origins. (But given the strong views of Professor Alun Howkins, expressed on an earlier page , a laymen should take care!) One of these references is the web site of the Moriskentaenzer group from the Technischen Universität München.

Morisken This group was inspired by a set of sixteen wood-carvings which Erasmus Grasser created in 1480, ten of which survive today in the Munich city museum.
Roughly translated, their synopsis of the kind of dance they do says that it "was originally from North Africa and spread over southwest Europe in 15th Century. It was differently interpreted in different countries - e.g. in Spain and Portugal ("morisca"), in Italy ("moresca") and Yugoslavia ("moreschka") as well as in England as "Morris Dance" and on the island of Corfu as a fertility dance. It belonged to the most popular entertainers at that time, and was drawn into local festivals."

This may or may not be true: but even if it is, my personal view is that it doesn't make our dances of today less English than English people themselves or than the English language itself. All have been based on earlier influences and turned into "English" over several centuries by assimilation and evolution. One might also add, patriotically "- and all the better for that!".

And that's what I, as an English morris dancer, say to enquiring members of the public.


Arrow Guided Tour: That's the end of the tour. If you followed it all, congratulations - and I hope it was worth it for you. Please feel free to send me any comments, particularly where you can correct or add information for future updates.

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