The female Morris dancers redefining an old English tradition

The Boss Morris group in Gloucestershire is rebooting a pastime traditionally dominated by men – and making Morris dancing cool

It’s Morris dancing, but not as you know it. Pictured above (from left to right) is Katie Watton, Rhia Davenport and Madison McLeod from the all-female Boss Morris group, which was formed in and around Stroud, Gloucestershire, in 2015.

Its 12 members, who have become known for their unique, colourful take on the traditionally male pastime, are spending the winter months working on fresh costumes after Covid-19 forced a pause in their live performances.

“A few of the Boss girls made a beautiful new beast [a giant, moving puppet for processions] during lockdown, so we’re excited to take her out and about over the winter months,” said Alex Merry from the group.

Boss blends ancient and modern, but think spontaneous instead of stuffy.

“We like to keep things instinctive rather than consciously planned out,” explained Merry. “We really enjoy researching and exploring the historical side of things, but we think it’s important not to be restricted by it too. An old folk tale, song or image can spark an idea and then we’ll respond to it in a way that feels relevant today. We’re an eclectic, creative group so it’s always fun to see what we cook up together.”

The women have begun to develop new ‘Boss traditions’ that connect them to the countryside around Stroud and to seasonal customs: they are currently working on ways to mark the winter solstice.

An old folk tale, song or image can spark an idea and then we’ll respond to it in a way that feels relevant today

Merry described the dancing as great exercise – “every practice session is a proper workout”, she said – but also an exciting and unusual outlet for the creativity of the group’s members.

“We’ve met some amazing people through Morris dancing and it always seems to take us to unexpected places,” she said. “It’s great to see a positive response to Morris dancing from people who wouldn’t normally encounter it. It feels good to bring a bit of enchantment and mystery to everyday life.”