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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Morris dancing for the Olympics?
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News political reporter

Morris dancers
Morris dancing: More popular than beach volleyball in the UK
Every Olympic city stamps its own identity on the opening ceremony, displaying its culture to an audience of billions.

The Barcelona games got under way to the sight of massed flamenco dancers, while Athens had running Greek statues and gyrating "goddesses" holding snakes.

A Liberal Democrat peer is calling for London to follow suit in 2012 with the nearest English equivalent: Morris dancing.

Groups of people jumping around with sticks or handkerchiefs in hand are laughable to some, but Lord Redesdale thinks they could be a great advert for UK tourism.

'Show them to the world'

He told the BBC News website: "There are 14,000 Morris dancers in this country and they should be represented in the ceremony.

"People come from around the world to see our traditions, so we should show them off whenever we get the chance.

Lord Redesdale
Having all 14,000 Morris dancers in the stadium at the same time would be a great idea
Lord Redesdale

"How many people do beach volleyball in the UK? They get Horseguards Parade to show off their skills.

"I'm not suggesting making Morris a sport, but let's at least give it a role."

Morris dancing has rather vague origins. Some say it derives from pre-Christian fertility rites, others that it is from the French Moresque or the Spanish Morisca dances of the late 15th and early 16th Centuries.


Northern England has complex sword dances from mining villages, and clog dancers with small gardens on their hats.

The familiar hanky-waving, stick-clashing tradition comes from the Cotswolds and in East Anglia and the Welsh border region, dancers blacken their faces.

Lord Redesdale, a Lib Dem energy spokesman, said: "Morris dancers are discriminated against. A lot of people like to take the mickey, but it brings people a lot of enjoyment.

Dancer at Athens ceremony
Snakes had a key role at the Athens opening ceremony

"All Olympic opening ceremonies show off the cultural activities of the country, so why should London 2012 be any different?

"I think having all 14,000 Morris dancers in the stadium at the same time would be a great idea."

The English "Olympick Games" - or Cotswold Games - which pre-dated the modern Olympics by around 300 years, featured such sports as shin-kicking and cudgel-play.

Morris dancing was an integral part of their opening ceremonies.

So, could clogs, hankies, sticks and bells make a comeback, becoming as much a part of London 2012 as lycra and isotonic sports drinks?

The event's organisers have promised to use the "full creative talents of Britain's spectacular world-class directors and artists, technicians and performers will be used to fill the Olympic Stadium with magic, wit and wonder".

Asked a question by Lord Redesdale, government spokesman Lord Davies of Oldham told the House of Lords that Morris dancing had a "very high cultural value".

But the contents of the Olympic opening ceremony were not yet decided, he added.

Should Morris dancers perform in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony? What other quintessentially British traditions should feature in the ceremony?

Please, it's hard enough trying to defend being English at the best of times. Don't make it even harder by showcasing to the world one of our more embarrassing traditions. If we were all keen fans of Morris dancing and all joined in at the weekend then may be we should include it. I dare say that if it was as popular we all seem to think, then Morris dancing would have advanced culturally and be relevant to modern English society.
Matt Knight, Auckland, NZ

As a recent convert to Morris dancing, and the youngest of my side (at the age of 40) could I please add a fervent yes to the suggestion that the Morris dancing should be represented on the world stage. It is a truly beautiful and disciplined art - steeped in history and utterly English/Welsh borders - and would honestly represent British folk art at it's best for a huge audience. I've seen massed dances - hundreds of Morris men performing the same moves - and it is an incredible sight. Give us the chance to represent all that is great about the British folk tradition and we promise; we will make you proud to be British. Hankies and all..!
Ben Harding, Bodmin, UK

I think that is it disgraceful when the United Kingdom has been honoured with the Olympic Games in 2012 that all people can think of is negative points from our international sporting past. These games is a great opportunity to show the side of our country that the vast majority believe in and contribute towards a more positive international reputation that we deserve. The Morris should be part of the celebrations although not on the scale of 14,000 dancers, the diversity of the country should be shown through many different mediums from dance to sculpture and music.
Anthony Newman, Norwich, Chatham

14,000 is a tiny minority - what makes this country stand out isn't Morris dancing. The UK is a great land but why not celebrate the civilisation it brought to the "commonwealth" nations, or what about celebrating the world's least religious English-speaking state - that's millions - not thousands - of people - where's the "fostering of science and rationalism" ceremony?
James, London

Lord Redesdale has got it dead right. Every other country is proud to show off their colourful, lively and traditional dancing. We should do the same with the Morris - with representative groups from across the UK. Another advantage - it needn't cost millions!
Neil, Abingdon, UK

Do we really want to bore the whole world with a boring Morris dancing that does not represent Multicultural Britain? I suggest a good mixture of traditional English, Scottish, Welsh, Asian, Oriental, African, West Indian and many other ethnic backgrounds should be the main highlight of the 2012 London Olympics.
Keanu Rune, London, UK

Morris dancing (and bell-ringing) were highlights of the St John-at-Hackney fete this summer. They definitely should feature in the entertainments for the Olympics, along with our local klezmer band. East London has some pretty heady culture to offer the world!
Rosemarie Daly, Lower Clapton, London

Are they serious? Morris dancing is one of the things from England that I was glad to leave behind! Even its comedic value wears a bit thin after a few minutes.
Jane Hunt, Perth, Australia

Great idea. I vividly remember as a child going on Boxing Day to see the Chanctonbury Morris Men in Sompting, Sussex. Every year they told the story of St George and the Dragon. I took my own children to see it a few years ago. A mass display allowing groups from all over the UK to display the variety that exists. At the same time dancers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can add their own flavour to it, as well as Carnival Dancers from the Black communities and Indian Dance from the Asian ones. Tradition and diversity surely that is what we should aim to display.
Karen Wood, Bourne, Lincolnshire

Yes, let's see England's historic traditions on show. I love to watch the skills of both male and female Morris dancers. I fail to see why, for example, traditional Indian bhangra dancing is cool yet Morris dancing is laughed at. And while we're at it, let's have more traditions considered. Maypole dancing? Beefeaters? Mounted guards? Bonfire and fireworks? It's an excellent opportunity to show what England's really about.
Peter Ward, Warwick

I am very surprised to discover that today isn't April 1st. Seriously though, we don't often get the chance to host the Olympics, and won't again for a long time - I'm sure we can find something a bit better to show ourselves off to the world than Morris dancing.
David, Warwick, UK

I don't really see how Morris dancing is representative of Britain, after all it is a British Olympics. 14,000 is hardly a large number of people. Morris dancing is an old, out-dated and very minor aspect of British culture as a whole. I feel a British Olympics should be modern and exciting.
Colin Sanderson, Perth, Scotland

We have many strange and wonderful traditions in the UK, Morris dancing being just one. As we are known the world over for being "eccentric", we should take the opportunity to celebrate that - wouldn't it be expected?
Chris, London, UK

Yes, yes, yes! Of course we should have the Morris dancers at the Olympics. They are the only true followers of a British tradition. Their music and dancing are far more entertaining than any "modern" alternative-what else could epitomise the traditions of Britain? Long live The Morris!

I completely agree that we should include Morris dancing in the Olympic Games in 2012. In fact, this should be taken further and used when the new Zealand Rugby team do the haka. Our brave boys doing a Morris dance will scare the bejesus out of them (or the Kiwis will barely be able to play from collapsing in giggles). We should even have our gallant England football team doing it after the national anthem at the World Cup. Imagine the perplexed faces on the Germans as they watch David Beckham do the hankie dance.
Wayne Hurren, Axminster, United Kingdom

Yes! Let's have sides from all over: England, Canada, Hong Kong, the US, wherever the dancers are found. Celebrate living tradition!
Roy Underhill, Toronto, Ontario

Not only should 14,000 Morris dancers be in the stadium I believe that it should also honour Britain's beer-bellied darts players.
Chris Brooksbank, Chelmsford

Yes, send in the Morris dancers. After all, what's the alternative image of England? Drunken football supporters?
Mike Ayres, Bodmin, Cornwall

Perhaps dancers with 'Kiss me quick hats' holding umbrella's in one hand, leading donkeys in the other, can leap and cavort an entrance to capture the true sense of the traditional British holiday. Naturally, with a Punch and Judy store in front of the Royal box, to keep her majesty interested during lulls in proceedings. Or, perhaps a troop of rowdy bald headed men, wearing union jack t-shirts, braces, jeans and DM's can re-create the traditional British hooligan attack - stagger into the arena, and throw bottles and seats at the crowd?
Ian Johnston, Horsham


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