The Buttons Ladies dance a style of Morris known as "North West" Morris.
The term “Morris” is usually associated with the handkerchiefs, bells and mostly white costume of the Cotswold Morris. This is essentially Cecil Sharpe‘s fault; he concentrated his collecting efforts on the Cotswold style of dance. In truth, the term “Morris” was commonly used for a whole variety of traditional styles of display, not only styles of dance, including sword dance, but also the mummers‘ plays and similar.
One of these other styles of dance is that of the “North West Morris”, from Lancashire and north Cheshire. It has its origins in the industrial towns of the region. In the 19th century the dances often accompanied the local rushcarts or Rose Queen carnivals, or were performed during Wakes Weeks, when the local mills closed for the week. Danced with multiples of four dancers in two long lines, and a Leader at the front of the set, the dancers processed along the road, stopping at appropriate intervals and performing a figure or two. The costumes are visually striking with broad sashes and generously flowered hats. The majority of current teams wear clogs. Rather than the handkerchiefs or long sticks used by Cotswold teams, dancers carry decorated short sticks, mollies, tiddlers, or slings (depending on which town/suburb the dance is from); or occasionally hooped garlands.
The dances involve much stepping, and the clogs add to the rhythm provided by the band, generally playing popular tunes from the 19th century. Bands can be quite large ; and for major events, it was quite normal for the town brass band to play for the morris. Although figures are still called out by the leader, current teams have adapted the dances, so that they can also be shown on the spot, without processing.
Our hats aren‘t quite the hanging baskets some teams go in for; but we do cover them with buttons -- as befits our name. Button making was a great industry in Dorset until sometime in the nineteenth century some wretch in Birmingham produced a machine to make nasty plastic buttons. Of course, that well-known expression ‘As bright as a Button‘ is directly based on us and our button-bedecked hats.
We do wear clogs and use mollies, sticks, handkerchiefs etc., depending on the dance. Our dances are more static now than processional -- we never like to stray too far from the pub.