The famous Furry Dance
The Furry Dance at Helston 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 takes place every year on 8th May (or the Saturday before if 8th May falls on a Sunday or Monday). 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., Hal-an-Tow pageant at 8 a.m., children's dance at 10 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.
When the big bass drum strikes the first beat of the dance at seven in the morning, the spirit of the day is stirred and the celebrations commence. Some eighty couples dance through the streets, entering selected houses and shops to drive out the darkness of winter and bring in the light of spring.
Traditionally, the dancers wear 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.
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 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 for Parc Eglos) in their hair.
The music is provided by Helston Town Band, augmented by members of other local bands. They play from memory, as the music for the dance has never been written down. In January 1978 a vocal version by Terry Wogan accompanied by the Hanwell Band reached number 21 on the UK singles chart.
Helston Cornish Calendar