ListMoto - Furry Dance

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The FURRY DANCE (pronounced /ˈfʌri/), takes place in Helston
, Cornwall, UK. It is one of the oldest British customs still practised today. However the modern variant of the dance holds few similarities with the proposed original, having been revived long after the event had died out. The dance is very well attended every year and people travel from all over the world to see it: Helston
Town Band play all the music for the dances.

The Furry Dance
Furry Dance
takes place every year on 8 May (or the Saturday before if 8 May falls on a Sunday or Monday). In Helston, 8 May, the Feast of St. Michael, is called FLORA DAY, and the word probably derives from Cornish: fer, "fair, feast". It is a celebration of the passing of winter and the arrival of spring. The schedule of the day is thus: morning dance at 7 a.m., the first performance of the Hal-an-Tow pageant at 8:30 a.m. with the last at 9:30 a.m., children's dance traditionally at 10 a.m. though in recent years the numbers and logistics have seen this advanced to 9.50 a.m. and in 2016 to 9.40 a.m., midday dance at noon, and evening dance at 5 p.m.. Of these, the midday dance is perhaps the best known: it was traditionally the dance of the gentry in the town, and today the men wear top hats and tails while the women dance in their finest frocks .

Traditionally, the dancers wear Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley
, which is Helston's symbolic flower. The gentlemen wear it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wear it upside down on the right. Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley
is worn on Flora Day by dancers, bandsmen, Flora Day stewards and by those who are "Helston-born".


* 1 Children\'s dance * 2 Pageant * 3 Music * 4 Similar customs * 5 See also * 6 References * 7 External links


The children's dance involves over 1,000 children aged from 7 to 18, all dressed in white, the boys with Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley
buttonholes and the girls wearing flowers in their hair, the flower determined by the school they attend. They come from St Michael's School, Nansloe School, Parc Eglos School, and Helston
Community College : each year a different school leads the dance.

The boys wear their school colours in the form of school ties, and the girls wear matching coloured flowers (blue cornflowers for St Michael's, forget-me-nots for Helston
Community College, daisies for Nansloe and poppies and buttercups for Parc Eglos) in their hair.


The HAL-AN-TOW, which takes place on the same day, is a kind of mystery play with various historical and mythical themes. The Hal-an-Tow Pageant starts at St John's Bridge and is performed at 7 locations around the town. (Note that location 4 is now further south by the car park on Wendron Street.) Characters include Friar Tuck, Robin Hood, St. George, and St. Michael. The Hal an Tow song welcomes the coming of summer. It contains disparaging references to the Spaniards, probably referring to the Spanish raid on Newlyn in 1595. The Helston
Furry Dance
Furry Dance
is no. 135 in Palmer's Everyman's Book of English Country Songs.

The meaning of Hal-an-tow is unclear*. The word kalann means the first of the month in Cornish, but the first letter mutates to an "h" in some circumstances. It has been suggested that "tow" means garland in Cornish. This is not correct. Some have suggested that Hal an Tow means raise the roof". In Helston
tow is pronounced to rhyme with cow and not toe. The Cornish word "tew" means fat, and a recent explanation of the name is that Hal an Tow means the eve of the fattening time.The version of the Hal an Tow sung by the Watersons and other folk groups has NOT ever been sung in Helston. The Helston
song does not include the verse about cuckolds and horns. These words appear to have been added from Shakespeare's play "As You Like It" at some time by someone who does not know the history of the Helston song. See for example the version in Sabine Baring Gould's "Songs of the West" (which contains errors) and the versions in Canow Kernow edited by Inglis Gundry, such as the one recorded by William Sandys in 1846. The words of the Hal an Tow as it is currently sung in Helston


Robin Hood and Little John,

They both are gone to fair, 0

And we will to the merry green wood

To see what they do there, 0

And for to chase, 0

To chase the buck and doe.


Where are those Spaniards

That make so great a boast, 0?

For they shall eat the grey goose feather

And we will eat the roast, 0

In every land, 0

The land where-e'er we go.


St Piran showed his care for us

And all our sons and daughters, 0

He brought the book of Christendom

Across the western waters, 0

And taught the love of Heaven above

For Cornishmen below.


As for that good knight, St George

St George he was a knight, 0

Of all the knights in Christendom

St George he is the right, 0

In every land, 0

The land where-e'er we go.


But to a greater than St George

Our Helston
has a right, 0

St Michael with his wings outspread,

The archangel so bright, 0

Who fought the fiend, 0

Of all mankind the foe.


God bless Aunt Mary Moses

And all her power and might, 0

And send us peace in merry England

Both day and night, 0.

And send us peace in merry England

oth now and ever more, 0.



Hal-an-tow, jolly rumble, 0.

For we are up as soon as any day, 0

And for to fetch the Summer home,

The Summer and the May, 0

For Summer is a-come, 0,

And Winter is a-gone, 0.

The verse about St Michael was added in the 1930s by Robert Morton Nance.The St Piran verse was added in 2005. The Aunt Mary Moses verse is only performed at the first location ,at St John's Bridge, and the last location, by the Guild Hall.


The music is provided by Helston
Town Band , augmented by members of other local bands. They play from memory, as it is suggested that the music for the dance has never been written down. However it was at various times, such as by Davies Gilbert in 1823. In 1890 Cornish antiquarian M. A. Courtney wrote that the tune was sometimes known as "John the Bone". the following rhyme often being attached to the tune by local children, "John the Bone was walking home, / When he met with Sally Dover, / He kissed her once, / He kissed her twice, / And kissed her three times over".

In 1911 Katie Moss , a London composer visiting Helston, observed the Furry Dance
Furry Dance
and joined in the dancing herself in the evening. On the train home she wrote words and music of a song about her experience, calling the song "The Floral Dance". She quotes the Furry Dance
Furry Dance
tune in the piano accompaniment to the chorus – though altering the melody in two bars. This song was soon published by Chappell -webkit-column-width: 30em; column-width: 30em; list-style-type: decimal;">

* ^ Williamson, George C. Curious Survivals ISBN 0-7661-4469-0 ; p. 148. * ^ A B Watersons songs, Hal-an-Tow, history and variants Retrieved 13 April 2012 * ^ "The Gazetteer". Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2012. * ^ Norris (editor), Edwin (1968). The Ancient Cornish Drama, Volume 1. p. 501. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link ) * ^ A B History: Helston
Furry Day Retrieved 13 April 2012. * ^ http://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/11196627.Need_some_help_finding_your_way_round_at_Helston_s_Flora_Day___ROUTE_MAP___INFO/ * ^ George, Ken (2009). An Gerlyver Meur. Bodmin: Cornish Language Board. p. 319. ISBN 978 1 902917 84 9 . * ^ George, Ken (2009). An Gerlyver Meur. 632, 777: Cornish Language Board. ISBN 978 1 902917 84 9 . * ^ Hal-an-Tow lyrics * ^ George, Ken (2009). An Gerlyver Meur. Bodmin: Cornish Language Board. pp. 623, 632, 223. ISBN 978 1 902917 84 9 . * ^ Gundry, Inglis (1965). "Canow Kernow: Songs and dances from Cornwall". Redruth: Dyllansow Truran. pp. 12, 13. ISBN 0 907566 25 1 .

* ^ " Helston
Flora Day". Helston
Town Band . Retrieved 12 November 2012. * ^ Gundry, Inglis (1965). Canow Kernow: Songs and Dances from Cornwall. Redruth: Dyllansow Truran. pp. 10, 11. ISBN 0 907566 25 1 . * ^ Courtney, M. A. (1890) Folklore and Legends of Cornwall
ISBN 1-871060-05-2 * ^ You lazy lot of bone-shakers booklet pp. 28–30, 58

* Green, Marian (1980) A Harvest of Festivals. London: Longman ISBN 0-582-50284-5 ; chap. 2: St Michael and a dancing serpent