Morris dancing, which can be traced back to the mid-15th century, is a festive dance form, sporting bells and ribbons, long associated with towns and villages in the south Midlands of England. Its origins may lie on the European continent and until the mid-16th century, it seems to have been mostly an entertainment at court or among the gentry. By Shakespeare's time, it had become a highly popular form of team dancing at things like local May Day events, church ales, Whitsuntide celebrations, and field blessings, and often as a pub entertainment to earn some extra "tin" for the dancers.
It was largely suppressed under the Puritans in the 17th century. However, after the restoration of the King in 1660, it had a revival. In towns and villages throughout the southwest region of England, men formed teams of six dancers, plus a fool, hobby horse, and someone to collect the money, got a musician and during the spring and summer performed a set of dances unique to their village. It was a colorful, often rowdy kind of street theater, costumed and spirited, usually emphasizing fertility and the good luck of the morris.
Revived in the late 19th century after a period of decline, it has become again a widespread part of English culture and has spread to many other countries, including America, Canada, Australia, and even Hong Kong. Historically danced mostly by men, morris is now danced by men's teams, women's teams, and mixed teams. And the dances still come out of the many long-standing village traditions: Bledington, Headington, Bampton, Adderbury, Fieldtown, Ascot-Under-Wychwood, Sherborne, and dozens more.