Border Morris is a traditional dance form originating from the Border counties between England and Wales – Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and, to a lesser extent, Gloucestershire. It is particularly associated with winter, unlike our Cotswold Morris counterparts who generally dance out in the summer months.
Many of the tunes and dance figures are similar to those of Cotswold Morris, but the style of dancing is quite different. Border is far less intricate, and is more earthy, sometimes aggressive, and often accompanied by whoops and roars from the dancers. As a spectacle, it is very dramatic.
Most modern Border Morris sides wear ‘tattercoats’ and paint their faces. Styx of Stroud use the traditional black face paint. No one is quite sure how the black face tradition started, and there are several theories. Our preferred theory is that the original Border dancers would have been agricultural workers who would often be out of work during the winter months, and so would dance to try to earn a few extra pennies. To avoid recognition and hence prosecution for begging, they would black their faces with a mixture of soot and fat.
In recent years, there has been some concern about ‘blacking up’ and whether the practice could be perceived as racist. There are absolutely no racial connotations to this – we black our faces purely as a matter of tradition. Early in 2017 a morris dancer wrote to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to express his concern that this tradition was becoming increasingly demonised out of political correctness. To see the interesting and encouraging reply he received, together with an accompanying explanatory document from the Joint Morris Organisations, click here.