The Morris Ring is one of three umbrella groups for Morris dance sides in England. It was founded in 1934 by 6 sides: Greensleeves, Cambridge, East Surrey, Letchworth, Oxford and Thaxted. They meet several times a year, each Ring Meeting (two days of dancing) being hosted by a different member side (or several working together). The exception is that Thaxted Morris Men hold a Ring Meeting every year, on the weekend after the Spring Bank holiday weekend. Thaxted Ring Meeting remains a popular tourist attraction. The Morris Ring has grown to about 150 sides today, with another 50 associate clubs.
One of their most valuable activities in the early days of the Morris Ring was to host instructional weekends where sides would teach other sides the dances and styles of the various Morris traditions. These instructionals are still an important part of the Morris Ring's annual calendar. The intention is to pass on knowledge of the dances and styles, rather than to teach any particular interpretation as inherently correct or preferable to another.
Previously many dancers had relied on reading Cecil Sharp's 5-volume "The Morris Book". This was published in installments from 1907 to 1913 and contained about 70 set dances from about 12 villages and towns. Eventually the fruit of these workshops was a new volume, "The Handbook of Morris Dancing", sometimes called "The Black Book". It was written by Lionel Bacon in 1974 as an "aide memoir", but quickly became regarded as authoritative. It contains almost 400 morris dances from over 20 locations. There was a second edition in 1986. Lionel Bacon was squire of the Morris Ring from 1962 - 1964.
At one time, the Morris Ring would sell Bacon's book only to members of the Morris Ring. Sides could join the Ring only if they were approved by existing members who set certain standards of dancing. In practice this meant that male-only teams could get hold of it. In the feminist 1970s and 1980s this drew criticisms from the Morris Federation and Open Morris, but all corners of the debate have now calmed down somewhat.
Recently the Morris Ring organised a CD of Morris Dance tunes called "The Magic of Morris" It contained tunes played by women's morris sides. Although a few individuals may retain strong feelings about the merits or demerits of all male, women's and mixed Morris, the three organisations now often work in partnership towards shared goals.
The dances performed by members of The Morris Ring are not confined to the recognised traditional dances. Occasionally teams will supplement their repertoires by inventing a dance. The steps might be modelled on an existing dance, but danced in the style of their own locality. Sometimes they are given whimsical names.
The Morris Ring Archives are the largest collection of morris/ sword related material in the world, eclipsing but not totally duplicating the morris documents held at Cecil Sharp House. A small part is available online, but more web access is expected within a few years. A journal "The Morris Dancer" has been published irregularly since 1978. Another major event in the dancing calendar is the "Dancing England Rapper Tournament" (DERT) Several Ring sides attend this event.
Attitudes to Morris