May Day Morris dancers wear blue makeup over racism concerns

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image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe performance took place shortly after 05:00 BST

A group of Morris dancers have changed their face paint from black to blue following concerns over racism.

Members of the Hook Eagle Morris Men showcased their new look at a performance near Hook, Hampshire, to mark the May Day dawn earlier.

A statement was issued last year calling for dancing groups to eliminate the use of full-face black makeup.

Dancer John Ellis, 70, said it was "by far and away the biggest change" in the group's 30-year history.

The call to stop the use of black makeup on the face was issued by cross-county group the Joint Morris Organisations in June in response to the Black Lives matter movement.

In a statement, it said its traditions do not operate in a vacuum.

"While no morris dancer wants to cause offence, we must recognise that full-face black or other skin tone makeup is a practice that has the potential to cause deep hurt," it said.

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

image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe Joint Morris Organisations issued a statement in June last year calling for dancing groups to eliminate the use of full-face black makeup
image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe group was happy to be back performing after a 16-month absence caused by the pandemic

He said the tradition of covering faces with soot derived 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 said, but was revived in the 1970s by Border Morris dancers - a dance type which originated in 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.

He said there were only three people in the audience on Saturday morning, including a photographer and cafe owner, but felt this was "pretty good" given the performance took place shortly after 05:00 BST.

Mr Ellis said it was "fantastic" to be back performing after a 16-month absence caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

image copyrightPA Media

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