Blacked-up Morris men banned from school event

PUBLISHED: 12:18 02 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:49 23 August 2010

UPSET: Morrisman Jim Snelling.

UPSET: Morrisman Jim Snelling.

THE country s chief Morris man has branded a school s decision to pull a group who wear traditional black make-up from a multicultural evening as a loss to everyone . Dartford-based Motley Morris were scheduled to perform at a multicultural evening at C

THE country's chief Morris man has branded a school's decision to pull a group who wear traditional black make-up from a multicultural evening as 'a loss to everyone'.

Dartford-based Motley Morris were scheduled to perform at a multicultural evening at Chantry Primary School, Ordnance Road, Gravesend, last Friday.

But the school cancelled the performance after realising the group were 'Border-style' performers who dance wearing black face make-up.

Brian Tasker, 60, of Speldhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Squire of the Morris Ring and member of Hartley Morris, said: "I have heard of this before but it's not common. It is unfortunate if people take offence at it. It is a loss to us, a loss to them and a loss to everyone.

"I can see both sides and if the school thinks they were genuinely at risk of causing offence then I can see why they didn't want to take the risk.

"We hold these traditions very dear and we won't modify what we do to fit in with being politically correct if there's a conflict."

Border-style Morris dancing originates from the border region of Wales and Shropshire. The black face make-up was traditionally used as a form of disguise by farm hands who were dancing for money during the winter months when agricultural work was difficult to find. They would black their faces using burnt corks and tie rags onto their clothes so their employers and neighbours would not recognise them and brand them as beggars.

Motley Morris secretary Jim Snelling, 39, a house husband, from Rochester, said: "We don't have a problem with Chantry School. They made their decision for their own reasons and that's absolutely fine, but it's a shame they missed the opportunity to have a discussion, maybe as part of this event, about why we use the makeup and what we do. It's just a misunderstanding as to why it is that we black our faces."

Motley Morris was set up in 1981 and meets on Wednesday evenings at Hawley Pavilion, Hawley Road, Dartford. Mr Snelling says two other parties decide not to book the group after finding out they were Border-style performers and not the more common Cotswold-style.

Chantry School headteacher Hazel King 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.

"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."

The snub follows fears earlier this year that Morris dancing is a dying out due to a lack of interest from young people.

Reader Richard McD Bridge said: "I have been proud of Gravesend's flagship status in terms of integration for many years, from the pioneer days of Pier Road, where I later nearly bought a house, to today. I am proudly opposed to all racists. But Chantry School's actions in cancelling, without examination of the facts, a contractual booking of Motley Morris, a side dancing in the established English border tradition, because it made unjustified

assumptions about their 'blackface' traditional makeup, play into the hands of bigots.

"White racists will now say that English traditions are being sacrificed, and that therefore they who value English traditions must fight back.

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