I was very tempted to head up this report with the title WET, WET, WET! because that pretty much sums up the atrocious conditions lots of Morris dancers and performers encountered at Halesworth on what was for most people the first dance-out of the year. Zoé-Anne Wadey - who heads up the organisation behind the Day - puts its incredible success down to just that fact! The event happens before the start of most Morris calendars which means lots of teams are available, but the downside is that you never know what the weather is going to be. I have been there in snow in the past (the 2018 Beast from the East – ed.), last year it was warm sunshine, but this year it was wet, windy, and very chilly too.
Oxblood Musicians lead the procession around the Town
Kenninghall Molly gently sway away
Halesworth Day of Dance has several unique features which are probably becoming close to traditions now. Many people in the town give it an enthusiastic welcome and it enjoys the support of Halesworth Town Council and several other local organisations (including AWD Goldsmith and Jewellers who have contributed generously to the event). After a welcome from the town Mayor, there are mass dances in the market square (probably the wettest and windiest place in the town this year) with the dances and tunes publicised beforehand. This is followed by a procession which ends in each team dancing through an arch made by all the other people present, which is great fun.
Oxblood wring out their hankies
A welcome from the Mayor and Town Crier
After this, teams and performers disappear off to one of five venues scattered around the town. There is a lively lunchtime music session laid on by the Harbour Lights Ceilidh Band in the White Swan and a Big Strum led by Rumstrum and the Ukes of Southwold. The Day of Dance also welcomed the Suffolk Steampunk community which added a bit of street theatre to the day (https://eastangliabylines.co.uk/steampunk-in-east-anglia/).
Zoe says she started off contacting Morris sides that were listed on the Mardles website and then extended the invitations to teams listed for other big local events such as the Lobster Potty Festival and Mark Jones Day of Dance. There cannot be many festivals going on that can boast so many participating teams and make them so welcome too. Undeterred by the prospect of cool wet weather, around thirty teams turned up and danced despite the conditions; in Zoe's book that makes it her favourite year so far! Most teams were smiling as they danced and it was amusing to see so many people wandering around wearing plastic ponchos from under which strange musical sounds were emerging. It was a struggle keeping instruments dry, but still they played on!
Boudicca of Hadleigh saunter through the High Street
Golden Star of Norwich fight over who forgot the umbrellas
Little Egypt of Glemsford try to remember how the dance goes (Hint - it's a stick dance)
Danegeld say "Look at my Stick" ..... and my beautiful embroidered waistcoat
It is thought that the host side, Oxblood Molly came into being around 2005 and the Halesworth day out began in 2015 in celebration of their first ten years. Oxblood was the brainchild of Howard Matthews, (now living in Spain). He wrote a set of dances for his Spanish side, Allsorts which he passed on to Oxblood when Allsorts disbanded. Every year a different badge is produced to reflect the theme of the year. Last year a pair of 'bunny ears' were put on top of the traditional Ox head design in honour of Bernice (Bunny) Nash who was a founder member of the team and who had sadly died. Belchamp Morris took it upon themselves to have badges made for the event helping to raise over £1400 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
The weather cleared up a bit in the late morning but it started to pour again early afternoon at which point, sadly, some people gave up and headed for home, however, up at the White Swan, dancing had moved indoors including solo broom dancing and step dancing.
A very cheerful Green Dragon / Green Man/ Green Woman
I was impressed by the cheerful way that all the teams carried on with the dancing and especially the Belly Dancers who stripped off their coats and did their routine as if there was no problem with the weather at all. The day was topped off by a lively and well attended ceilidh in the town's Rifle Hall which was run by the aforementioned Harbour Lights Ceilidh Band.
All photos were taken by Sasastro (and mighty fine they are too - for more see her Flickr pages at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sasastro/favorites)