Dancing has been part of human civilisation for thousands of years. Around the world, in every culture, there’s always dancing; whether that be for group bonding, to attract the opposite sex or simply to have a good time (although where exactly the Macarena fits into this is a mystery).
In this series, we’ll be looking at dances that have emerged for other reasons – to recount combat tales, for religious expression or as an excuse for cross-dressing (but never to promote travel insurance). Please join us as we twerk our way around some of the world’s more unusual dances:
Morris dancing | England
A series on dances from around the world would seem incomplete without morris dancing, even if familiarity may have blinded us to just how odd it is. For those who don’t know, morris is a traditional English folk dance in which groups of heavily-bearded men tie bells to their legs and wave their handkerchiefs around. The first recorded mention of morris dancing dates from 1448, when a payment of seven shillings was made to a group of dancers (possibly in an attempt to make them go away).
According to Wikipedia, two of the most important people in morris dancing history were Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles, but I must admit that I’d never heard of either of them. The only morris man I can name is Mr Lewis, my second-year maths teacher, who foolishly allowed himself to be spotted dancing one weekend and was never able to forget it.
There are various forms of morris dancing, one of which is molly dancing. This was traditionally undertaken by ploughboys as a way of making money through the winter; dance crews (as they weren’t known back then) would go door-to-door, trick-or-treat style, offering to put on a performance and threatening some kind of punishment if refused. The dance groups were all-male, but always had one member dressed as a woman called Molly (so things could’ve’ve been much worse for Mr Lewis).
The ploughboys who took part in molly dancing had to hide their identities from the people they were harassing, so they wore elaborate costumes and (controversially to our eyes) covered their faces in black soot. Many (but, surprisingly, not all) modern molly dancing groups have done away with this aspect, or have adapted it into something less offensive. One of these is the group Pig Dyke Molly, who use bold, black and white clothing and face-paint to create an effect that’s visually striking (even if they do look a bit like an 18th century KISS).