Morris dancers barred over blackened faces
A troupe of morris dancers were prevented from performing at a school because they blacken their faces, they said today.
Members of Motley Morris group, who are based in Dartford, Kent, smear black make-up across their faces as part of their traditional costume.
They were meant to perform their routine at Chantry Primary School in Gravesend on Friday but were asked not to attend due to fears they could cause offence.
Spokesman Simon Ford said today: "Our style of morris dancing originates from the Welsh/Shropshire borders.
"Our blackened faces are a form of disguise. Traditionally they used burnt cork, which came out black, but if it had come out red then we would have had red faces, that's all it is.
"It's part of our English culture which goes back hundreds of years, it's an age-old tradition."
Speaking of the cancelled booking at the school, he said: "We weren't too impressed by it.
"They said it was supposed to be a cultural evening but they hadn't even bothered to find out why it is we have blackened faces.
"They're obviously afraid of upsetting someone."
Motley Morris squire Peter Hargreaves said the school asked the men if they would perform without blackened faces but they refused.
He also admitted that it was the third event that had been cancelled this year, but this was still only the third time in the group's 28-year history.
Chantry Primary School headteacher Hazel King said she had been faced with a "damned if we do, damned if we don't scenario".
She said: "We organised the event to bring a diverse and fragile community together.
"To celebrate all cultures we booked a morris troupe having failed to recognise the possible significance for our community of their tradition to perform with blackened faces and for this we sincerely apologise.
"We found ourselves in a difficult position of weighing up any potential offence versus not wishing to compromise the morris dancers' tradition.
"It's a 'damned if we do, damned if we don't' scenario and quite understandably it will be a talking point as to the rights and wrongs of our decision.
"I apologise to the morris troupe for any inconvenience caused and ask for people's understanding at what was a difficult but well intended decision."
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