English Folk Dance Music: From the Maypole to Morris Dancing

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


English Folk Dance Music: From the Maypole to Morris Dancing is a history and guide to the music and dances of England.


English Folk Dance Music: From the Maypole to Morris Dancing looks at the history and evolution of English folk dance music from its early beginnings in the medieval period to its more recent manifestations in the twentieth century. It explores the music’s origins in the British Isles, its development during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and its transformation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book also looks at the various social and cultural contexts in which English folk dance music has been performed, from country fairs and May Day celebrations to pub sessions and morris dancing.

What is English Folk Dance Music?

English folk dance music is the traditional music of England’s folk dances, including Morris dancing, Maypole dancing, sword dancing and rapper dancing. The music is often accompanied by instruments such as the fiddle, accordion, melodeon (a small button accordion), concertina, melodica, guitar and mandolin.

The tunes of English folk dance music are often based on traditional English folk songs and dances, and many of the tunes are hundreds of years old. The music is used to accompany a number of different traditional English dances, including Morris dancing, Maypole dancing, sword dancing and rapper dancing.

English folk dance music has been exported all over the world, and can be heard in many different countries. It has also influenced other genres of music, including rock and roll, pop and hip hop.

The Maypole Dance

The maypole dance is a traditional English folk dance that dates back to the 16th century. The dance is usually performed around a long pole decorated with greenery, flowers, and ribbons. Dancers weave in and out of the pole, holding hands or ribbon streamers, to create patterns and shapes. The maypole dance is often associated with May Day celebrations and is still popular in many parts of England.

Morris Dancing

Morris dancing is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on various ancient folk dances of the British Isles, but the Morris tradition as it is known today developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the town of Headington in Oxfordshire, England. The Morris is usually danced by six to eight dancers wearingBell-bottom trousers (or white trousers in summer), white shirts, neckerchiefs, waistcoats, and black felt or straw hats decorated with ribbons. The sideitars are differentiates between Cotswold Morris (danced in the Cotswold Hills of England) and Coalbrookdale Morris (danced in eastern England).

The steps used in Morris dancing are fairly simple, and the same steps are used for all the dances in a set. The most common step is setting (also called siding), which is simply moving to the side while keeping your feet together; this is often done while clapping your hands. Other common steps include turning steps (known as gypsying), leaping steps, and stomping steps. The dances are performed with great energy and enthusiasm, and often involve acrobatic leaps and lifts.

The music of Morris dancing is also quite distinct from other forms of English folk music. It is characterized by its fast tempo and use of syncopation (accenting of offbeats). The most commonly used instruments are accordions, fiddles, melodeons (a type of small accordion), clarinets, concertinas, and drums.


English folk dance music is a rich and varied tradition, spanning centuries and encompassing a wide range of styles and influences. From the maypole dances of early May Day celebrations to the lively Morris dancing of the present day, this musical tradition is an essential part of English culture. Whether you’re looking to add a touch of tradition to your next event or simply want to enjoy some toe-tapping tunes, English folk dance music is sure to please.

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