Who are we?
Moreton Bay Fig Morris is San Diego’s only morris team. We were founded in 1984. Our first practice sessions were held in Balboa Park, near the famous Moreton Bay Fig Tree. This enormous tree is just to the north of the Museum of Natural History and to the east of the Casa del Prado.
You’ll recognize us by our yellow, green, and blue vests with the team badge on the back, our straw hats, handkerchiefs, and sticks. You can find us simply by listening for the sound of our bells, which you may hear off in the distance, calling you to our celebration. You will often find us in the company of John Barleycorn, our Hobby-horse, whose good-natured cavorting with the children usually elicits peals of laughter. Tradition has it that patting the Hobby-horse on the nose brings good luck. Feeding John Barleycorn a coin or bill guarantees the good luck.
We are not related in any way to the mythical Moreton Bay Morris that is rumored to exist in the Land of Wallabies and Platypuses. Recently, one of their members was encountered and insisted that they were not mythical.
We are a member of the International Dance Association of Balboa Park and supported by San Diego Parks and Recreation. And we are a member of the Country Dance and Song Society.
What do we do?
We perform a type of dance that is collectively known as “morris”.This form of dancing comes primarily from a region of England known as the Cotswolds. This region, roughly speaking, lies between Oxford and the Severn River. The Cotswolds are known for picturesque rolling hills, honey-colored stone, and quaint English villages.
As a whole, morris dancing is characterized by a set of approximately six dancers (sometimes more, sometimes less) wearing bright clothing or “kit” and bells attached to their shins. The dancers move in complex patterns while waving hankies or rhythmically banging sticks together.
Within morris dance, there are several subtypes or “traditions”. Each tradition is centered upon a village where the subtype was originally recorded. At various times Moreton Bay Fig Morris has performed dances in the styles of: Bampton, Brackley, Ducklington, Leafield (Fieldtown), Much Wenlock, and Upton-on-Severn.
Nobody really knows where or why morris dancing began, but references to morris dancing occur in Shakespeare and one of Shakespeare’s players, Will Kemp, was reputed to be a morris dancer. Morris dance was banned when Oliver Cromwell came to power, but returned to its proper place in English life when Charles II restored the English monarchy. With the erosion of agrarian ways brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the impact of the First World War, morris dancing came close to dying out. Due to the efforts of folklorists, such as Cecil Sharp, morris dancing underwent a revival in the 1920’s and 30’s. Today, morris dancing has escaped the bounds of the Cotswold Hills and is now danced by teams all over Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
Why do we do it?
Each of us performs these morris dances for a variety of reasons- it’s fun; it’s good exercise; and there’s a camaraderie that we share with each other. Some of us need a semi-legitimate outlet for acting foolish in public
places. We enjoy traveling and visiting with other morris teams and having them visit with us. Morris dance is about place and community. We perform because we like to. We perform because we derive joy from sharing a bit ourselves with our audiences. Do we really need a reason?