‘This Girl Can’ Morris Dance

This Girl Can’ Morris Dance: Girls’ carnival morris dancing in the 21st century

Girls’ morris dancing—sometimes called ‘fluffy’ or ‘carnival’ morris dancing—is a highly competitive team dance from the Northwest of England, which shares a name—but little else at first glance—with the better-known morris traditions performed across the UK. However, girls’ morris dancing has a long and under-recognised history, arguably traceable at least as far as the 1860s. It was integral to the popular town carnival movement—often performed alongside North West morris sides—until the 1990s when the performance was moved indoors, leaving the street parades and civic recreational ground for sports halls and community centres. Morris dancing historian, Roy Dommett described the performance as ‘heir to the richest of the English dance traditions’. However, despite an estimated 8000 girls and women involved, this modern tradition is now rarely seen in public.

This exhibition by Lucy Wright, which will be on display in the Spa Exhibition Hall during Whitby Folk Week 2017, draws on more than three years of fieldwork in the carnival morris dancing community. Focusing in particular on Orcadia Morris Dancers from Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, her photo series reveals ‘behind-the-scenes’ at a morris dancing competition: the End of Season championships of the English Town and Country Carnival Organisation (ETACCO), held annually in Southport. Also demonstrating girls’ morris dancing’s place within a wider community of carnival performance—including ‘entertaining’ troupes and ‘jazz’ marching (kazoo) bands—the photographs are juxtaposed with archival images kindly reproduced with the permission of The Morris Ring Archive and Living Tradition Archive, revealing an alternative history of female participation in morris dancing, and celebrating the vibrance and diversity of contemporary English folk dance.

Presented with the generous support of the University of Sheffield and Arts Enterprise, and with many thanks to Orcadia Morris Dancers, Julia Calver and all those who have made this project possible.