Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 10:48 UK

School bans black-face Morris Men

Motley Morris Men
Motley Morris Men dance wearing black make-up in the Border tradition

A group of Morris dancers say they are "disappointed and frustrated" after performances were cancelled because they wear traditional black make-up.

Kent's Motley "Border" Morris Men follow a tradition which originated in the Welsh borders, where faces were blackened using burnt corks.

Chantry Primary School in Gravesend is one of three event organisers which have cancelled perfomances this year.

The school said it had to weigh up any potential offence to its community.

The Motley Morris Men's Squire, Pete Hargreaves, said it was clear from its website that the dancers wear black make-up.

"It is the third event this year that we have had cancelled," he said.

"We get to the point where everything is set up and then they suddenly realise that we are a black-face Border group.

"They say people might be offended without investigating why we dance with black faces."

Danced for money

The group was formed in 1981, but said this was the first year bookings had been cancelled.

Blackened faces are believed to have been used originally as a disguise by Morris men who danced for money and did not want to be recognised.

Morris dancer Jim Snelling said: "I understand the school's concern but it is a shame they didn't take the opportunity to find out or ask us along to have a discussion about this fairly important part of our culture."

Head teacher of Chantry Primary, Hazel King, said it apologised for any inconvenience caused to the Morris Men.

"We organised the event to bring a diverse and fragile community together," she said.

"To celebrate all cultures we booked a Morris troupe, having failed to recognise the possible significance for our community of their tradition to perform with blackened faces.

"We found ourselves in a difficult position of weighing up any potential offence versus not wishing to compromise the Morris dancers' tradition."


Pete Hargreaves and the Motley Morris Men say they perform following a tradition from the Welsh borders

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