A historical description of morris dancing steps

From The Morris Book: A History of Morris Dancing with a Description of Eleven Dances as Performed by the Morris-Men of England, by Cecil J Sharp (1907).

“Once possessed of the spirit, the form of the Morris step needs little explanation and description, for the steps are few and simple. With an eye upon the foregoing notes and, it is hoped, a personal memory of the experiment as recommended, the learner will readily grasp the description that follows here.

Roughly, the Morris step is alike throughout all the dances; it varies only in force, length (i.e., the length of the stride varies more or less), and height (i.e., the foot is lifted more or less).

The foot, when lifted, is never drawn back, but always thrust forward. The toe is never pointed in line with the leg, but held at a right-angle to it, as in the standing position. The foot, therefore, the forward or stepping foot, is lifted as in walking, as if to step forward, then the leg is vigorously straightened to a kick, so as to make the bells ring. At the same instant that the forward leg is straightened, a hop is made on the rear foot; the dancer alights upon the toe, but lets the heel follow immediately and firmly, so that he stands upon the flat foot. A good snap-shot photograph of one in the act of walking, when the forward foot has made about three-fourths of its stride, gives a perfect illustration of the Morris dancer’s step.

As with the step, so also with the jump, which in so many cases begins and ends a measure; the dancer jumps, roughly, as high as his own foot, holding when in air legs and body straight, alighting upon the toes, but only so as to break the shock sufficiently for comfort, then letting the heels come firmly down. In alighting from the jump, the knees are bent just enough to save the dancer from injurious shock, and are straightened immediately.

Such are the Morris step and jump; the jump never varies; the step does vary as to height, length and vigour of stride, as will presently be noted. It must, however, constantly be borne in mind that, high or low, there is always sturdiness in the Morris step; to Morris-men the languorous and the lackadaisical are for ever unknown.

For the purposes of compiling a notation, we have classified the steps necessary to the dances described into two, as follows:

In the step most commonly used the raised foot is thrust forward only so far that, when the leg is straightened to the kick, the forward heel is roughly the length of the dancer’s foot in advance of the toe of the rear or supporting foot. This step, it must be remembered, will be used always, except when specific instructions are given to make it higher or lower.

In the high step, used chiefly in the figures called “Capers” (see p. 50), the dancer must, if his activity will allow of it, raise the forward foot until its toe is as high as the knee of the rear or supporting leg. It is an exercise not to be attempted all at once in its completeness, because it is one well calculated to send the inexperienced enthusiast sprawling on his back. Its study should be approached gently, by way of familiarity with the simpler movement, which, once it is mastered, may easily be extended to the harder one. The latter must be approached with caution—that is all. And the novice is to bear constantly in mind that, in the matter of vigour, he simply cannot put too much of it into his Capers. There will be little trouble about his remembering that, however; the Morris Caper-music will not let him forget it for a moment.

This step is called in the Notation—High.

It has always to be remembered that in Morris dancing, unless definite instructions be given to the contrary, every movement or part of a movement is begun by stepping out with the right foot.”