Sunday, 28 January 2018

Molly Goes To Ely

(You will see that some of the dancers depicted in the post have blacked-up faces. This was done historically as a form of disguise so that people would not know who it was begging for money. There was never any real attempt to imitate black people; the ears, neck and hands are never blacked-up. Many modern dance sides are aware of possible misunderstanding and have changed their facial make-up, to bright colours, strange designs or just a few smears to make them look more like Victorian chimney-sweeps. One or two sides are determined to stick to the traditional black faces. 
I hope this explanation will be accepted, but also apologise to anyone who may be upset by the inclusion of these pictures here).

And I went to Ely too. Here's what I went to see...

Ouse Washes Molly Dancers 
The Ouse Washes were the hosts yesterday to the Mark Jones Day of Dance in and around Ely. It's held every year in memory of one of their past members and is attended by many Molly dancing sides, the traditional dance of Cambridgeshire and the fen country. I caught up with them outside the Cutter Inn in the morning, they then went on to other pubs in the area - and I went home to get warmed up! Here are the host side kicking off the day...

Good Easter Molly Gang
Good Easter look a lot more like the farm workers who traditionally performed these dances in winter. At least one of these dancers would dress as a woman while another would be referred to as the Lord and might wear a top hat. Maybe they were mimicking the local aristocracy, if so that might explain the blacked up faces which would help to disguise them. The Good Easter Gang don't take themselves too seriously - the man with the splendid beard in the bottom photo is wearing a badge on his hat which reads, "For maximum attention nothing beats a good mistake!" 

Gog Magog Molly
These were the first Molly dancers I ever saw and they're probably still my favourites. Their style is joyful, playful and definitely colourful! Their dances are lively and quite complex...

Old Glory
At first glance these menacing, unsmiling men are about as far removed from the Gogs as you can get. They stomp about in hobnailed boots - the footwear of choice for farm workers until the arrival of rubber Wellington boots. (The Gog Magog dancers wear brightly coloured Doc Martens and that's all you need to know about the differences in their dancing styles! Incidentally I've tried DMs for farm work - absolutely useless!) Although the Old Glory dancers are all men - though one is a highly unconvincing female - their musicians are women. Their dances are slyly entertaining and humorous....

The Norwich Kitwitches
There's something of the Pantomime dame about the Kitwitches - over-the-top, outrageous and larger than life. Maybe that's what traditional dancers were like too; the inventors of the Panto must have got the idea from somewhere....

Seven Champions
The Champions - and yes there are a lot more than seven of them these days - are something different again. They often perform to a single musician or unaccompanied singing with their precise stepping adding the rhythm. Yesterday I saw them dance to an accapella version of "Fever" - yes, the old Peggy Lee song - and then a traditional English song, but one from didn't ought to work but it does....

Misfit Molly
Back to the exaggerated absurdity and crazy dress-sense of Misfit Molly...

Mepal Molly
Based in the little village of Mepal, just a few miles from Ely, they always seem to me to be closer to what traditional dancers must have been like - but of course I may be wrong....

Oxblood Molly Dancers
Last and by no means the least colourful are Oxblood Molly Dancers who come from Suffolk. As you can see there's no shortage of originality and variety in the wild world of Molly dancing.....

Take care.

I didn't take any videos but you can find most if not all of the people above if you look on YouTube.


  1. John, these photographs are absolutely amazing - I have never seen anything like this before - so coloutful and such a tradition.

  2. So very colourful. I love watching morris dancing but this looks zanier and even more fun.

  3. Colourful costumes, dancing and fun! Alsolutely wonderful!

  4. I like how all the crazy people meet together in your town! :)

  5. what fun

    I was busy taking florid fotos yesterday was Tampa's Gasparilla Parade.

  6. I'm absolutely amazed...what wonderful people to get all dressed in their costumes, and dance to music in the streets! Such a great tradition and I'd certainly go see them in person if they were in my neighborhood! Thanks so much for taking me with you for this short and colorful album of their talents.

  7. Nothing like an abundance of colour, music, togetherness and harmless frivolity to lighten the day! A fun series :-)

  8. Excellent photos and striking colours. Love the pink trombone. Good Easter is just down the road from me.

  9. A grand old fun time with lots of colours and characters. Fantastic photos, John. You got a great selection.

  10. The Molly dancers are a colorful and varied lot! Looks to be a lot of fun and brightens up the winter

  11. Simply fabulous - and wonderful photos. I'd love to see these dancers. I got into a bit of an online debate with someone who was convinced that Molly Dancers were racist because they blacked up their faces. She was one of those people who know everything, is invariably right and, generally, very hung up.

  12. You're not kidding John, it's a veritable Molly dancing feast! I can see why Gog Magog Molly are your favs, incroyable colour. You English and your traditions, j'adore! Excellent shots to share with us, merci beaucoup!

  13. Wow!! The energy and colors are spectacularly vivid. Truly wonderful in every way.

  14. Not quite sure if I'd go out to watch or not--the color and [I assume] noise might be just what one needs on a dour winter day.

  15. beaux maquillages et quelle d├ęcontraction !

  16. Fantastic post! Looks like so much fun.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).