The (new) Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival is 40 years old

 

Background to the Straw Bear Festival

The Straw Bear is a very old fenland icon which goes back well into the nineteenth century at the very least.  Straw Bear parades took place on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany or Twelfth Night; the day when local farm workers were supposed to return to their work, ploughing the land. 

The Straw Bear dances in the Market Place, Whittlesea January 2016

As they had not been working or paid during the Christmas holidays the agricultural workers and “ploughboys” toured the locality to perform molly dances, plough-plays or sing and entertain with acts of “mischief” and would beg for money.  To avoid recognition, they would black their faces to disguise themselves as their aim was essentially to intimidate in order to obtain money: those refusing to donate would have some trick played upon them.  In her book “Fenland Chronicle” (Sybil Marshall, 1963) she recounts that her mother, had told her “very often these were real nasty tricks, and they’d wait until Plough Monday to get their own back on somebody what had done them some injury during the year” for example, they would plough up a doorway or take gates off their hinges so that the livestock escaped.

The Straw Bear is not exclusively a Whittlesea custom and some of the earliest newspaper reports date from 1880 where in Ramsey, a few miles south of Whittlesea there are reports of an “individual dressed from top to toe in straw … (who) capered before the houses … to the merry strains of the accordion”

Read more: The (new) Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival is 40 years old

Maypole Re-mixed

 
 
 
Breaking News; - deadline of 11th May extended by EFDSS following Mardles appeal
"I will definitely extend the deadline for applications - we don't want anyone to miss the opportunity.  We really hope we can get a number of young folk dancers to be part of this project". Cassie Tait, Education Manager, English Folk Dance and Song Society

Call for young dancers: Maypole Remixed outdoor dance event

Mardles.org has just received this call for young dancers to appear in Ipswich on 14th July. You can apply as a dance group, or an individual, by completing the expression of interest form on the website by Friday 11 May.  The press release from EFDSS was only released on 25th April and invites young dancers (12 -19 years or up to 25 years for dancers with special needs) to perform as part of the U.Dance 2018 annual dance festival. 

U.Dance 2018

The dancers will perform a new dance work centred on a maypole created by Folk Dance Remixed.  Maypole Remixed will celebrate some of the old and new dance and music cultural heritages to be found in the region - fusing traditional folk dance styles from the East of England with contemporary hip hop dance and especially commissioned recorded and live music.
 
To be included dancers must commit to attending all the rehearsal and performance dates below. Travel bursaries are available.
 
There will be three creative workshops and rehearsals with professional dancers and live musicians, leading to two outdoor performances on Saturday 14 July as part of the U.Dance 2018 festival. 

Rehearsals

Sunday, 24 June, 1 July and 8 July
10.30am–4.30pm (tbc)
Chantry Academy, Mallard Way, Ipswich, Suffolk IP2 9LR

Performances

Saturday 14 July
The Waterfront and one other outdoor location in Ipswich, times tbc
 
For more information please contact the webpage and online form for applications to the project.
 
Direct link to form:
 
Dave Evans
9th May 2018
 
 
 

Clodagh Chapman remembered

Clodagh Chapman who was an original member of Bury Fair (founded in 1977, but originally part of Hageneth Morris) and a founder member of the Haughley Hoofers died in June.  Her funeral will be at the Bury St Edmunds Crematorium in Risby at 9am on Monday 2nd July 2018.  Colourful clothes and Morris kit should be worn to celebrate her 95years.

Clodagh (back right) with Bury Fair in 1981

(photo from the East Anglian Daily Times December 2010)

I have known Clodagh since her days with Bury Fair and in 2014 I wrote the piece below for the Mardles Magazine and re-publish it today in her memory.  She is the only person I know who created a dance and an embryonic “tradition”.  Like many new dances some worked and some didn’t but Clodagh had one big “hit”; Fires of August which is still being danced today by people who have never heard of Clodagh Chapman.  The Suffolk Weaver is still also danced by Bury Fair but has not been picked up by other sides as much.

I saw “Fires of August” (in the “Buxhall tradition”) performed four days after she died, not in her memory; no-one dancing it knew she had died.  It was danced because it is a good dance (a bit like Brighton Camp, Stanton Harcourt) and can be made into an entertaining race between musicians and dancers.  Few who dance it will know that it was written by Clodagh in the 1980s.  It was originally performed by Bury Fair but has migrated to Little Egypt Morris Men and Westrafelda and maybe others besides.  Hageneth practiced it and I remember performing it once on the Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds.  Unfortunately we never mastered it and it disappeared from our programme.  You really need to go to the Little Egypt summer solstice event to see it danced with enthusiasm and at a pace which always impresses the audience.

“It’s not just skipping around waving handkerchiefs”- Clodagh Chapman remembers creating dances.

From Mardles Magazine September 2014 

Read more: Clodagh Chapman remembered

Dancing for All - Molly Dance Workshops with Milkmaid Molly

 

Molly Dance Workshops for Milkmaid Molly Buddies

with Alison Giles from the Cambridge Molly side  Gog Magog

 October 18th, November 22nd and December 14th from 7.30 to 9.30pm

Risbygate Sports Club, Westley Road, Bury St Edmunds. IP33 3RR

The workshops are for any Buddies or potential Buddies who would like to learn new dances or anyone who would like to give Molly dance a go. All are welcome to come along and learn this local tradition.

 Information from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Gill on 01284 767476.

 

Gog Magog dancing in Ely on Mark Jones Day January 2018

About Milkmaid Molly

Nearly seven years ago, in January 2012, a new Morris dancing side was launched in Bury St Edmunds which filled a gap in the Morris dance family in West Suffolk.  At the time there was a good representation of the dances of the west and northwest of England with Bury Fair and Hageneth dancing the hankies and sticks dances of the Cotswold; Haughley Hoofers, with their clogs, dancing Northwest and Green Dragon’s boisterous stick-wielding Border dance.  The plan was to create a side with a different tradition to avoid standing on the toes of these well-established West Suffolk dancers. So Molly dancing was the choice, Molly being the tradition closest to home, the tradition coming out from the Cambridgeshire Fens.

Gill Bosley and Graham leading the Milkmaid Molly procession at Ely Festival

But there was another difference, this was to be a side that was inclusive: to involve people with disabilities, to have regular dance practices to learn dances and to socialise and to be able to perform alongside other Morris sides, in other words, to enjoy the whole Morris experience.  

Milkmaid Molly (named from the well-known Milkmaid Folk Club) has a membership of 12 Mollies who have learning difficulties and an equal number of Buddies who dance or play with them. Dances are chosen or created to enable all the Mollies to fully participate. The Buddies also learn more complex dances and when these are performed the Mollies provide the instrumental accompaniment with the musicians. A generous donation of £50 from the line-dance group of a previous Buddy was used to purchase more instruments which were given their first airing on 23rd September at the Bury Hub Fest in Hollow Road.

Milkmaid Molly now have regular bookings to dance every year at Ely Folk Festival and Euston Rural Pastimes and may have been spotted amongst the Morris throng dancing in Bury town centre on Green Dragon’s 25th anniversary celebration in September 2018.

Gill Bosley

Milkmaid Molly

17th October 2018

 

 

Oxblood Molly Day of Dance 17th March 2018

The Beast from the East was back!  Russian snow!  Just the weather for a day of dance!  There is a saying in Suffolk that “there’s nothing between us and the Urals”.  For once local lore and the Met Office agreed: the sun was not to shine on Oxblood Molly’s 4th Day of Dance in Halesworth.

Oxblood Molly (photo John Heaser)

Read more: Oxblood Molly Day of Dance 17th March 2018

Mark Jones Day of Dance 2018

“Me pals were all agog at the kit of the mollies, misfits and glorious champions hailing from Good Easter to the Washes and who got the blood racing on the Mark Jones Day of Dance in January.” 

How many references to Molly sides can you find in the above sentence?  Contrived I know, but somewhere you will find references to all the molly sides who were dancing on that day.  No prizes for getting them all right. 

Some years ago Cotswold Morris and Molly dancer Mark Jones tragically lost his life in a car accident and this Day of Dance, organised by Ouse Washes Molly Dancers in and around Ely, is regularly held in his memory.  With Ouse Washes, gathering to mark the occasion were Gog Magog, Good Easter Molly Gang, Kit Witches, Mepal Molly, Misfits, Old Glory, Oxblood and Seven Champions – Molly dancers all.  One of Mark’s favourite songs was “Rolling Home” and at the first stop this was the music for a massed molly dance “Birds a Building”.

                      

Ouse Washes get things started at the Mark Jones Day of Molly Dance

Read more: Mark Jones Day of Dance 2018

Belles of London City to join the “Men only” Morris Ring? I don’t think so.

The Belles of London City

The Morris Ring founded in 1934 may not survive to celebrate its 100th birthday as a fundamental change to its constitution is being proposed which will end the "men only" dancer rule.

Adam Garland, recent past Squire of the Ring, wrote in the “Morris Ring Circular” magazine in July last year with his reflections on his two years in office (2014 -16).  He reminded readers that Morris has a long history in England and has evolved during that period.  In the twentieth century the Morris Ring saw itself as the custodian of the Morris tradition but in the twenty-first century, under Adam's leadership, it "permitted" Ring sides to include women musicians and then ensured "that Ring Meetings should be open to all members of all clubs".  Adam argued in his article that the Ring should go further as a “change in the Ring constitution to welcome women dancers as members of the Morris Ring is long overdue”.

At the time I wondered why any side with women dancers would want to join the (almost) all male Morris Ring; surely existing sides are happy to join one of the alternative organisations, the Morris Federation or Open Morris and with these alternatives why would a new side want to join the Ring. 

Read more: Belles of London City to join the “Men only” Morris Ring? I don’t think so.

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