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There are around 150 Morris sides (or teams) in the United States., i.e. The term entered English via Flemish mooriske danse.Comparable terms in other languages are German Moriskentanz (also from the 15th century), French morisques, Croatian moreška, and moresco, moresca or morisca in Italy and Spain.At the time, there was often heated debate over the propriety and even legitimacy of women dancing the Morris, even though there is evidence as far back as the 16th century that there were female Morris dancers.There are now male, female and mixed sides to be found.The modern spelling Morris-dance first appears in the 17th century.The English dance thus apparently arose as part of a wider 15th-century European fashion for supposedly "Moorish" spectacle, which also left traces in Spanish and Italian folk dance.Further mentions of Morris dancing occur in the late 15th century, and there are also early records such as bishops' "Visitation Articles" mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities, as well as mumming plays.While the earliest records invariably mention "Morys" in a court setting, and a little later in the Lord Mayors' Processions in London, it had assumed the nature of a folk dance performed in the parishes by the mid 17th century.
In particular, Whitsun Ales came to be celebrated on Whitsunday (Pentecost), as the date was close to the birthday of Charles II.The means and chronology of the transmission of this fashion is now difficult to trace; the Great London Chronicle records "spangled Spanish dancers" performing an energetic dance before Henry VII at Christmas of 1494, but Heron's accounts also mention "pleying of the mourice dance" four days earlier, and the attestation of the English term from the mid-15th century establishes that there was a "Moorish dance" performed in England decades prior to 1494.While the earliest (15th-century) references place the Morris dance in a courtly setting, it appears that the dance became part of performances for the lower classes by the later 16th century; in 1600, the Shakespearean actor William Kempe Morris danced from London to Norwich, an event chronicled in his Nine Daies Wonder (1600).It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins.Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers.
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Partly because women's and mixed sides are not eligible for full membership of the Morris Ring, two other national (and international) bodies were formed, the Morris Federation and Open Morris.