I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published December 21st 2012
Lively dance to brighten a rainy day
While Irish folk dancing has gained worldwide fame via the Riverdance vehicle, English folk dancing (sometimes called Morris Dancing) is not that well known, except by those who live or travel through the English Midlands or North where it is most commonly performed.
The dancing is often done outside in public venues during the spring or summer months; although it is possible to attend more formal performances throughout the year. Similar to Irish dance and other forms of folk dancing (like clogging), English folk dancing is composed of a series of leaps, quick steps, line and circle patterns. Hands and props are also used in English folk dancing.
Young men wearing bells and flowers usually perform the dance and common props include sticks/swords, jugs of ale, costumed animals (horses), and handkerchiefs, which seem to tell an ambiguous story. The origins of English folk dancing are somewhat shrouded in mystery. However, the flowers, animals, bells, beer, and frivolity of the dance indicate that it's likely connected to ancient celebrations of spring, fertility, or rebirth.
I accidentally happened upon an English dance performance in the courtyard of the York Minster. A small band with accordions, flutes, whistles, and fiddles accompanied the dance. The symbolism and story of the dance was lost on me, but it was lively, entertaining, and so thoroughly enjoyable to watch that I will always look out for a performance on my travels up north.
To see English folk dance at its best, attend the York Festival of Traditional Dance, which occurs annually in early September. Over 200 dancers from across England, representing many types of folk dance, flood the city of York and dance throughout the weekend. Details are available at the official website.