The National Association of Men's Morris & Sword Dance Clubs

Black make-up and Morris dancing

Black make-up and Morris dancing

As a result of several enquiries from the national press Adam Garland, current Ring Squire has issued this response:

It appears that there have been a number of articles written about this matter recently accompanied by some ill-informed comments concerning racism.

I have heard a number of theories regarding the origin of the practice of 'blacking-up', but the one which seems to be most popular is that performers of the dance knew begging was illegal so disguised themselves by rubbing soot on their faces.

All over the world one finds traditional folk customs for which costume and face paint are integral parts; for example certain tribal dancers in Africa white their faces for the performance. In England the Morris world is no different; many Morris Clubs use face paint as part of their costume.

The theory of the tradition originating as a form of disguise through the use of soot has been well documented. These days within the three organisations; The Morris Ring, the Morris Federation, and The Open Morris, a whole range of different colours can be seen in many places around the country.

The use of one particular colour within these costumes is in no way a statement against one particular societal group and the Morris community refutes the accusation of racism most strongly.

Adam Garland
Squire of the Morris Ring