Morris dancers appear to get round blackface ban

Morris dancers appear to get round blackface ban by painting themselves in very dark colours for traditional Straw Bear festival

  • Bourne Borderers Morris Dancers wore dark green hues of paint on their faces 
  • Another group, the Glory Molly Morris Dancers, wore dark blue paint instead 
  • Images were captured during the annual Whittlesea Straw Bear festival today 
  • It comes over a year after the blackface tradition was scrapped by another group

Morris dancers who lined the streets of a Cambridgeshire town for the traditional Straw Bear festival appeared to get around their self-imposed blackface ban by using very dark paint on their faces. 

The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival returned over the weekend after a two-year break amid the Coronavirus pandemic, which saw more than 250 dances, musicians and performers take to the streets of Whittlesey. 

This year’s event, held today, saw Bourne Borderers Morris Dancers and other Morris dancing groups opting to paint their faces with very dark hues of green and blue, just over a year after Morris dancers ditched their 500-year-old blackface tradition. 

It is believed black soot was historically worn by the English folk dancers as a disguise so they could beg for money without getting in trouble with the law. 

This year’s event saw hundreds of Bourne Borderers Morris Dancers opting to paint their faces with very dark hues of green

Morris Dancers performed at the annual festival in Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire, opting to paint their faces with dark hues of paint instead of what was previously traditionally black 

A Glory Molly Morris Dancer pictured wearing very dark blue face paint underneath a crown of leaves and berries 

The Bourne Borderers Morrismen (pictured) are a mixed border morris team from Bourne in South Lincolnshire

However, in December 2021, Silurian Border Morrismen voted to scrap the black face paint for their Boxing Day Tour to avoid causing offence in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The group opted for a dark green paint at the time, though Silurian foreman Ian Craigan admitted some people felt ‘it is a step too far’ but that he wanted to be ‘on the right side of things’ to attract new members to the club. 

‘It would be foolish to pretend everyone in the side is happy with the decision,’ he said at the time. ‘There are people who feel it is a step too far or a compromise. 

‘But the main purpose is to dance and share the tradition which is unique to Silurian which is more important than what we wear or how we decorate ourselves.’ 

At Whittlesea, the Bourne Borderers Morrismen appeared to skirt around wearing black paint, instead choosing dark hues of paint on their faces underneath straw hats. 

Other images show Glory Molly Morris Dancers dressed in long, black cloaks wearing very dark blue face paint underneath crowns made of green leaves. 

The Bourne Borderers are a mixed border morris team from Bourne in South Lincolnshire. The group was founded more than 30 years ago, in 1992. 

The Bourne Borderers Morris Dancers group was founded more than 30 years ago, in 1992 

The Old Glory Molly dancers opted to wear face paint of a very dark blue hue

Some of the morris dancers only painted half of their faces, as is tradition within the movement 

Old Glory Molly Dancers were also dressed up for the event, which had been on hold for two years amid the pandemic 

Morris dancers performed as part of the event, taking part in the traditional English folk dance 

The group describes itself as a social club and accepts members of all ages to engage in morris dancing, a traditional English folk dance which is believed to date back to the 1400s. 

The dance is based on rhythmic stepping and choreographed figures by a group, who usually wear bell pads on their shins. Sticks, swords and handkerchiefs are also used by the dancers in some movements. 

Morris dancing is part of a celebration which is performed at seasonal festivals and holidays to banish the darkness of winter and celebrate the warmth and fertility of summer. It’s also part of celebrations to mark the beginning of autumnal harvests.  

The act of parading a Straw Bear through the town dates back to the 1880s when the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the first Monday after the Twelfth Night) would be marked by getting one of the members of the plough to dress in straw. 

The custom fell into decline towards the end of the 19th century, before being revived in 1980 by the Whittlesea Society.

Images from this year’s event saw various Straw Bears line the streets, waving at the excited crowds who had gathered with the hope of seeing the giant figures up close, in spite of the wet and windy weather. 

The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival returned over the weekend after a two-year break amid the Coronavirus pandemic

The Red Leicester Morris Men (pictured) also performed during the festival which was held earlier today 

The Straw Bear Festival was revived in 1980 by the Whittlesea Society after being stopped by the local constabulary in 1909

Pig Dyke Molly Dancers showed off their impressive make-up skills and artistry at the event 

The Pig Dyke Molly dancers dressed in black and white clothes with large tufts and sported black and white makeup 

Pig Dyke Molly Dancers showed off their impressive make-up skills and artistry, with one decorating her face to almost replicate a chess board and others sporting giant black and white bows and feathers.

MailOnline has contacted Bourne Borderers Morris Dancers for comment. 

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