watervole: (Default)
My friend Selenak just posted some photos of Easter well-dressing in Germany.  The wells look lovely.

English well-dressing
is mainly a Derbyshire tradition and isn't necessarily attached to Easter - Whistun is a popular date. 

I remember when I was in my teens I went walking in the Pennines and just happened by good fortune to hit a week when many villages were dressing their wells.  It's a lovely tradition and actively carried on today.





watervole: (Morris dancers- watch out)
I've been pondering on what makes a traditional dance, and I've come to the conclusion that it's any dance that has been performed over a long period of time and is performed by amateurs as well as professionals. (in my book, it isn't a traditional dance until it has been adopted by the community and carried on by it). For example, I would define ballet as a classical dance form, not a traditional one.

Morris is definitely a traditional dance. It's a good 600 years since it escaped from being performed at court and moved out into the community. Irish dance is traditional (the fact that professionals also do it does not remove the long folk involvement).

Tap dance is marginal. I haven't quite made up my mind about that one. Tap has roots in traditional dance forms like Lancashire clog, and has probably contributed to some traditional forms (Appalachian clog includes steps from all over the place and English clog dancing often draws on steps from music hall routines, etc.) Step dancers see good steps and adopt them and there's interaction in both directions.

I think there's a case for calling the sand dance a traditional dance although it has its origins in music hall. The best known sand dance performers were probably not the first, but they certainly were the ones to establish the dance in the public mind.

Wilson, Keppel and Betty (the identity of 'Betty' changed over the years) performed their sand dance over a period of 30 years from the 1920s through to the 1950s, and they (even if people can't remember the names) will be the act that comes to mind whenever anyone thinks about the sand dance.

This clip is reasonable quality, though it only shows part of the act: (and considering how old the film has to be, it's very good)



This one shows the first part as well (note the costume change)

However, for a dance to fit my definition of 'traditional', it has to carry on beyond the original performers.

This is where I have to apologise for a terrible quality clip. I've seen the Fez Heads perform the sand dance on more than one occasion, but I can't find a good video version. (You'll note that their costume seems to be based on the second Wilson and Keppel clip)

But the dance is alive and kicking elsewhere. Amateur performances pop out of the woodwork here and there. I greatly enjoyed this one to the song "The Old Bazaar in Cairo". And here's another one that made me smile (delightfully camp). (I'd embed these two, but embedding is not available for them)

By now, you'll have noticed that the sand dance is not always performed with sand (it works best when it is, but this isn't always practical). A dance with sand is not always the sand dance, as this example of a totally different dance done with sand demonstrates.

So, dancing with sand is probably a tradition in more than one country, but the 'sand dance' has to involve steps that remind one of Egyptian murals (steps can vary quite a bit, but there's one step that I'd regard as compulsory - and the various versions do all seem to include it). The sand dance, therefore, is a traditional comic dance, originating in music hall, that should best be performed in a deadpan face, but with a cheerful awareness of how camp it is.

Anyone fancy doing a sand dance for the Odyssey cabaret?

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Judith Proctor

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