'This Girl Can' Morris Dance

An ongoing ethnography and photo series featuring members of Orcadia Morris Dancers from Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, developed over more than 7 years in the girls’ carnival morris dancing community. 

Girls’ carnival—or ‘fluffy’—morris dancing is a competitive, team formation dance performed by girls and young women in the Northwest of England and Wales. Characterised by precise, synchronous routines with pom-poms (or ‘shakers’) executed to pop music, it functions at a remove from the more widely known morris performances of the English folk revival.

This Girl Can Morris Dance confronts the contested status of girls’ carnival morris in the English folk arts, where it was historically denigrated on grounds of gender, class and community adaptation (i.e. its propensity to change). I argue that the neglect of the performance is indicative of a wider history of misogyny in the folk revival, in which the role of women and girls was routinely neglected, resulting in a canon of folk arts practice that remains fundamentally patriarchal. This gender inequity is especially problematic given the close links between folk performance and expressions of national identity.

The project also points towards the continued disregard for working-class cultural productions and the reliance of cultural policymakers on biased and partial definitions of art and culture. Primarily located in areas categorised as having ‘low engagement’ in the arts, girls’ carnival morris dancing groups have the power to unsettle the dominant ‘deficit’ narrative of cultural participation based on absence or lack, also signalling the urgent need for new models of cultural value which support and celebrate the community-led practices already taking place.

This Girl Can Morris Dance was exhibited at Cecil Sharp House in London between March and July 2017 with support from Arts Enterprise at Sheffield University and the English Folk Dance and Song Society. It was also presented in abridged format at Whitby Folk Week (2017), Dancing England at Sheffield City Hall (2017) and Nottingham Playhouse (2019). Later exhibitions included work by artist and former girls’ carnival morris performer Chelsea Phelps.

You can read the project blog here: https://www.efdss.org/floor-spot/diaries/lucy-wright-s-this-girl-can-morris-dance

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