Morris dancers ditch black face-paint for blue over racism concerns

Member says it is ‘by far and away the biggest if not really the only change we’ve experienced’

Zoe Tidman
Saturday 01 May 2021 19:16
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The Hook Eagle Morris Men performed together for the first time in more than a year to mark the May Day dawn
The Hook Eagle Morris Men performed together for the first time in more than a year to mark the May Day dawn

A group of Morris dancers has swapped traditional black face-paint for blue following racism concerns over the practice.

One of the Hampshire-based Hook Eagle Morris Men, who performed their first dance show in more than a year on Saurday to mark the May Day dawn, said it might be the only change the group has undergone since it was set up three decades ago.

It comes after the Joint Morris Organisations, an umbrella group for morris dancers, called for an end to full-face black makeup last summer in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

John Ellis from the Hook Eagle Morris Men said the move to blue face paint was “by far and away the biggest if not really the only change we’ve experienced”.

The 70-year-old, from Fleet, Hampshire, has been with the group since it was set up in 1991.

He said other Morris troupes had adapted their face paints to other colours, with some going green and a group in Kent opting for yellow and black stripes.

He said the tradition of covering one’s face with soot derives from poor farm workers in the 1400s who would use it to disguise themselves so they could beg, which was illegal at the time.

That historical tradition “died out”, he explained, but was revived in the 1970s by Border Morris dancers — a dance type that came from villages along the border of England and Wales.

“We adopted this idea because the dancing is really easy, good fun and we quite like the idea of dancing in disguise,” Mr Ellis added.

Morris dancing has faced controversy for years over the use of black face paint.

In 2014, then prime minister David Cameron was criticised after posing with a group of Morris dancers who had painted their faces black.

And months before that, anti-racism campaigners spoke out after a Labour parliamentary candidate - and son of former home secretary Jack Straw - shared a photo online of himself with Morris dancers with black paint on their faces.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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