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cultural heritage dance David Gilbert Wright England masks and costumes street performance

MORRIS DANCING

DAVID GILBERT WRIGHT

// David has been in photography most of his life. He now specialises in documentary photography and is working on several long-term projects, including the one he shared with us about modern cultural expressions of Morris Dancing, a quintessentially English form of folk dance that has its origins in the Middle Ages.


“Art in all its manifestations enables us to express ideas and views about our world that ultimately lead to greater understanding.”

David Gilbert Wright


David was educated at The London College of Printing in the 1970s and then worked in the industry as an assistant, film processor, medical photographer, Defence photographer, wedding photographer and freelancer. He is now a lecturer in photography and writer for magazines. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and published in British magazines and online. He is also co-founder of the f8documentary page on Instagram. David works with an analogue camera and prints his pictures on silver print.

What draws you to the arts?

“Creativity is what singles us out from the rest of the animal kingdom. Art in all its manifestations is a creative occupation. It enables us to express ideas and views about our world that ultimately lead to greater understanding. I have always been a creative person. I originally went to art college with the intention of studying painting. While there, I discovered photography and found it to be an ideal medium to realise my ideas.”

What impresses you most about the Morris Dancers?

“What caught my interest at first was that they were people who danced because they liked to dance. I came to realise after a while that they accepted people with all levels of aptitude from complete novice to very accomplished. I believe people are social beings and thrive in groups. Morris is a way for people to get out, exercise,  socialise and develop a sense of belonging as well as achievement. I am probably the only photographer to have carried out a long-term documentary project over several years with Morris dancers. My submission focuses not just on the dancing but also the people who are Morris.”

Morris dancing is a particular English form of folk dance. Many believe it is influenced by early Christian and Pagan customs. Originally, it was performed by young men trying to impress local girls. Morris dancing was once considered a way to raise money (begging) and was frowned upon. In the early part of the 20th Century it underwent a revival. Nowadays, you can find a Morris team or side (the term Morris use for their group) in most English towns and villages. Dancers come from a wide range of backgrounds and in that respect, it is classless. Best known is the Cotswold form, with men, and now also women, wearing flowers and bells, and using hankies and sticks.

Recently, there has been much debate about some Morris sides blacking their faces, which is now considered controversial. This debate rages among Morris aficionados, but the governing bodies have advised sides to look for alternatives.

Other forms of Morris include clog dancing, sword, dancing and a wild, noisy style called Border Morris performed by dancers in rags and tatters brandishing large sticks. Historically, loud and rhythmical instruments were used to play Morris dancing music, such as the pipe and tabor. Nowadays, almost anything goes as long as it is rhythmic, and one often hears various  free-reed musical instruments, such as accordion, melodeon and concertina being used, as well as violin and flute and percussion instruments.


Click on the photos to see the full image.

All photos © David Gilbert Wright

To see more of his photography visit David´s Instagram page.

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