Dancers who wore black make-up to carry out an ancient English tradition have been threatened by spectators and accused of racism.
Morris dancing dates back several centuries, and dancers from the
Border Morris tradition are known for their distinctive props, which include tattered shirts and coats. Like many Morris dancing groups (pictured) they have performed with blackened faces since the 16th century.
But a performance in Birmingham over the weekend ended badly when 21st century ideals were thrust upon the group, from Alvechurch, about 11 miles from the city.
According to the Times of London, a source close to the group said: “The issues began when they started dancing near to the bull outside the Bullring…They were roundly abused and threatened with violence. One lady was particularly angry and a group of young men started to become very abusive and confrontational, accusing them of being racists, which of course they are not. They started jumping in between the dancers and knocking off their hats. The dancers tried to explain why their faces were painted black but they would not listen . . . Things took such a turn for the worse that the performances had to be abandoned.”
The dancers were marking Plough Monday — the traditional start of the agricultural year.
There are several theories why Border Morris dancers blacken their faces. There is evidence from the 15th century onward of the blackening of faces with charcoal as a way of avoiding being identified.
The Times said another theory is that the tradition derives from earlier forms of the dance involving a Moroccan king and his followers. The word “morris” is thought to be a variant of the word “moorish”, from the Moors of Morocco.