We are Beltane Border

 
© Tim Gent

© Tim Gent

‘Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire” (Gustav Mahler)

With dances emerging from the myths, legends and wilds of Dartmoor, Beltane prove that morris dancing can be older than tradition. With shadowed faces, tattered coats and black top hats, the musicians and dancers drum up the energy of the moor and share something ancient and mysterious with all who watch.

© Tim Gent

© Tim Gent

Beginning as all-female side ‘The Iron Maidens’ in 2000, we are still ‘women with attitude’(our motto!) and dance in the border morris style using sticks (never hankies!). We have adapted some traditional border morris dances with the obligatory Beltane fire, but most of our repertoire is self-penned. We write new dances together over the winter with our musicians seeking out the best tune to suit the mood and style of the dance. Our musicians play mainly traditional tunes adding their own arrangements to give them the Beltane edge.


Music, dance and fiery energy come together to create a truly exceptional and extraordinary performance; loved and appreciated by morris and non-morris folk alike. We are Beltane Border Morris.

 
Blacking has nothing to do with race. It is a form of disguise that relates to performing for money (dancing or mumming) by the labouring classes to raise money. The disguise was necessary so the performers were not recognised and then prosecuted for begging, or victimised by their landlords. The disguise also taps into deeper traditions of anonymity, mystery, the supernatural, eeriness and the dark side.  HOWEVER there is a much more sinister side to blacking than this. In 1722 the Criminal Law Act introduced over fifty new capital offences onto the statute book. This Act, known as the "Black Act" was in response to poaching, in particular the "Blacks" who went poaching with blackened faces, so as to not alert the gamekeepers. After the Black Act you could be hanged not only for poaching, fishing in a private pond, damaging a hedge and many similarly minor crimes, but also simply for blacking up. In other words, if Beltane had tried to perform in 1723 we would have ended up on the gallows.  This is at the heart of why later performers blacked their faces: It is a way of remembering the oppression of the past, remembering those who had been executed (or if lucky, simply transported for life) for poaching, in order to provide food for their starving families.  There is a real political edge to our blacking. It is a way of bearing witness to dreadful treatment of the dispossessed labouring classes.

Blacking has nothing to do with race. It is a form of disguise that relates to performing for money (dancing or mumming) by the labouring classes to raise money. The disguise was necessary so the performers were not recognised and then prosecuted for begging, or victimised by their landlords. The disguise also taps into deeper traditions of anonymity, mystery, the supernatural, eeriness and the dark side.

HOWEVER there is a much more sinister side to blacking than this. In 1722 the Criminal Law Act introduced over fifty new capital offences onto the statute book. This Act, known as the "Black Act" was in response to poaching, in particular the "Blacks" who went poaching with blackened faces, so as to not alert the gamekeepers. After the Black Act you could be hanged not only for poaching, fishing in a private pond, damaging a hedge and many similarly minor crimes, but also simply for blacking up. In other words, if Beltane had tried to perform in 1723 we would have ended up on the gallows.

This is at the heart of why later performers blacked their faces: It is a way of remembering the oppression of the past, remembering those who had been executed (or if lucky, simply transported for life) for poaching, in order to provide food for their starving families.

There is a real political edge to our blacking. It is a way of bearing witness to dreadful treatment of the dispossessed labouring classes.