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The Furry Dance, also known as The Flora (or incorrectly as the Floral Dance), takes place in Helstonmarker, Cornwallmarker, and is one of the oldest British customs still practised today. The dance is very well attended every year and people travel from all over the world to see it: Helston Town Band play all the music for the dances.

The Furry Dance takes place every year on May 8 (or the Saturday before if May 8 falls on a Sunday or Monday), and is a celebration of the passing of Winter and the arrival of Spring. The day starts with the first dance at 7.00 am and continues with the children's dance at 10.00 am, then the midday dance and culminates in the evening dance at 5.00 pm. Of these, the midday dance is perhaps the best known: it was traditionally the dance of the gentry in the town, and today the men wear top hats and tails while the women dance in their finest frocks.

Traditionally, the dancers wear lily of the valley, which is Helston's symbolic flower. The gentlemen wear it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wear it upside down on the right.

Children's dance

The children's dance involves over 1,000 children aged from 7 to 18, all dressed in white with Lily of the Valley buttonholes. They come from St Michael's School, Nansloe School, Parc Eglos School, and Helston Community College: each year a different school leads the dance.

The boys wear their school colours in the form of school ties, and the girls wear matching coloured flowers (blue cornflowers for St Michael's, forget-me-nots for Helston Community College, daisies for Nansloe and poppies for Parc Eglos) in their hair.

Mystery play

The Hal-an-tow, which takes place on the same day, is a kind of mystery play with various historical and mythical themes, and contains disparaging references to the Spaniards, probably referring to the Spanish raid on Newlynmarker in 1595.

Music

The music is provided by Helston Town Band, augmented by members of other local bands. They play from memory, as the music for the dance has never been written down. In 1890 Cornish antiquarian M. A. Courtney wrote that the tune was sometimes known as "John the Bone". the following rhyme often being attached to the tune by local children, "John the Bone was walking home, / When he met with Sally Dover, / He kissed her once, / He kissed her twice, / And kissed her three times over".

In 1911 Katie Moss, a London composer visiting Helston, observed the Furry Dance and joined in the dancing herself in the evening. On the train home she wrote words and music of a song about her experience, calling the song `The Floral Dance`, which has confused many people ever since. 80% of this composition is Katie's own work, but she quotes the furry dance tune in the piano accompaniment to the chorus—though altering the melody in two bars. This song was soon published by Chappell & Co., and first performed by baritone Thorpe Bates the same year. The first recording of the song was made by Peter Dawson on the Zonophone label in 1912. It has since been recorded by many other artists. In 1976 the famous Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band recorded an arrangement of the Moss song made by their Musical Directory Derek Broadbent. By Christmas 1977 half a million copies of the record had been sold, and it was only kept from the top position in the Christmas charts by Paul McCartney's 'Mull of Kintyremarker'.

In January 1978 a vocal version by Terry Wogan accompanied by the Hanwell Band reached number 21 on the UK singles chart. Wogan did not include the last verse (the climax of the story) in this recording. The BBC recorded the Band playing for the dance on 8 May 1943 and this recording is included in The Voice of the People vol 16: You lazy lot of bone-shakers, issued by Topic Records in 1998.

Similar customs

The only two very similar customs can be found in Biewer, a district of Triermarker (Germanymarker), where the annual "Schaerensprung" takes place and in Echternachmarker (Luxembourgmarker).

References

  • Green, Marian (1980) A Harvest of Festivals. London: Longman ISBN 0-582-50284-5; chap. 2: St Michael and a dancing serpent (pp. 14–30)


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