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Equality group backs Shrewsbury Folk Festival's decision to ditch black make-up morris dancers

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

A Shropshire equality group has backed Shrewsbury Folk Festival's decision to stop the use of full-face black make-up by morris dancers for their performances. 

Morris dancers take a break at Shrewsbury Folk Festival

This year will be the last time the popular festival will book morris dancers using full-face black make-up, it was revealed this week.

Jonathan Hyams, secretary for Fairer, Respect, Equality Shropshire (Fresh), said: "From Fresh's perspective, it is good news.

"We entirely understand the argument from morris dancing communities that this is something that goes back to tradition.

"Our understanding is that it comes from traditional disguise when for different reasons morris dancers were subject to persecution if they were dancing or protesting against different things.

"However, there are other ways of celebrating this other than blacking up, which has very strong connotations of racism."

Mr Hyams said that while it was a tradition, it could be seen as offensive by some.

Organisers of Shrewsbury Folk Festival were approached about the use of "blacked-up" morris dancers, a tradition that dates back 500 years.

But the tradition has no racial connotations and instead face paint was used as a way of disguising dancers, so they couldn't be recognised.

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Organisers of the festival said they found themselves "caught between two sides" of the argument, and decided that this will be the last year it books dancers using full face black make up to perform.

Festival director Sandra Surtees said: "The use of full face black make up is an age old tradition, particularly within Border Morris.

"The morris movement has always evolved over time and some sides have take their own decisions to move away from using full face black make up to other forms of colour and disguise.

"We have been approached by one group that has requested we no longer book sides that use full face black make up and another that has asked us not to change our policy and to continue to book these sides.

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"The festival finds itself caught between two sides of this opposing argument.

"The festival has never wished to cause offence to any person and as such, from 2017, we will no longer book sides that use full face black make up.

"This will only impact on a small number of dance sides and festival visitors will still be able to enjoy a wide range of traditional dance from the UK and beyond."

The tradition has been changed over the years with a number of morris dancers moving towards colourful face paint, or just using black paint on some areas of the face.

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