Derbyshire Morris dancers and North West Morris Dancers have their processional elements, the fiddler leads his ‘ten little girls’ at the John Knill Ceremony, Thomas Rowlandson liked his dancing processions in the early 19th century and Will Kemp went in a procession of one all the way from London to Norwich in 1600, but the BIG processional dance is the Helston Furry Dance.
Flora Day, 8 May, in Helston, Cornwall, is one of the biggest ‘folk’ days in the calendar; a couple of thousand take part and tens of thousands try to watch. It has impeccable ‘folk’ origins (like mumming, morris dancing, street football and the fire customs) but its own particular ‘folk process’ left it in the hands of the gentry rather than the town folk. Very interesting and unusual. Led by the Helston Town Band there are four dances during the day, which follow their own set routes through the streets, houses, gardens and shops of the town. The dance itself is very simple; a couple of bars walking, a couple of bars dancing – though heavily rehearsed the evening before to make sure it is all carried out with precision and dignity. The Early Morning Dance begins at 7am. It was once the Servants’ Dance, at that hour so they could be back in time to prepare the Family Breakfast. Now it is for the younger Helstonians who work in the local shops and businesses, the men dressed up in uniform white shirts, ties and dark trousers, the girls in pretty party dresses. The Children’s Dance, at 10am is for the local schools – up to 1000 kids, all in white, kept in line by their slightly desperate teachers because the rear 500 can’t hear the music. The Principal Dance at midday is by invitation of the committee only, outsiders need not apply unless they are the local MP, or Lord Lieutenant of the County or someone of comparable eminence. The men wear morning dress, with grey top hats, as seen at conventionally posh weddings, trendy variations not allowed, the women are also in wedding guest attire but with long dresses of a fetching style that went out of fashion about fifty years ago. It is all taken with the utmost seriousness, but it is impressive. The Evening Dance is at 5pm and is most fun. It is led by the Early Morning Dancers, but oiks, grockles and emmets are welcome to join in at the end.