0013._n.jpg
 

beltane border morris

 
Think Morris dancing is all bells and hankies and tea with the vicar? Think again.

Welcome to the Dark Side of Folk
 
 

We are Beltane Border

 
© Tim Gent

© Tim Gent

Beltane was originally formed in October 2000 as an all-female side called Iron Maidens. However, in September 2001 after their first year and due to small numbers and injuries they had to recruit male dancers to honour their commitments, and Beltane Border Morris as it is today was born.  Iron Maidens had started with a creed of ‘women with attitude’ and this has been maintained in Beltane.

© Tim Gent

© Tim Gent

Beltane is a Border Morris side.  Dancing in the Border style with our own ideas and style overlaid on that promoted by the like of John Kirkpatrick and recorded by Dave Jones, Maud Karpeles and Roy Dommett.  The black faces and tatter coats hide the identity of individual dancers, assertive movements resemble the rushing rivers and unrelenting wild moorland winds; while motionless our eerie distant moorland gaze is otherworldly.

Some dances are taken from notes recording original border dances; others are unique to the side.  All dances are performed using sticks.

 
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.

Beltane live

Come and see us perform live at a pub out on Thursday evenings during the summer, or at one of the summer festivals anywhere in the country (also see our LIVE section for full details).We hibernate in the winter to train up new dancers, write new dances, emerging only for special winter occasions such as the Wassail in January.

>>Click on the pictures for event details

Nails.jpg

News & Updates