Good Golly Miss Molly!

PUBLISHED: 11:05 15 May 2008 | UPDATED: 10:23 04 May 2010

Molly dancers

Molly dancers

CHILDREN across Cambridgeshire will be painting their faces black and watching men dress as women, as part of a new multicultural, Lottery-funded initiative. Primary schoolchildren at St Andrews School in Soham, Stretham Primary School and Millfield Prim

CHILDREN across Cambridgeshire will be painting their faces black and watching men dress as women, as part of a new multicultural, Lottery-funded initiative.

Primary schoolchildren at St Andrews School in Soham, Stretham Primary School and Millfield Primary School in Littleport are set to try their hand at the Fen-born tradition of Molly dancing.

Molly dancing is a version of Morris dancing which is thought to have started in the Nineteenth Century. Male plough-workers would fill their time between the end of the winter season and the beginning of spring by dancing for landowners across the Fen region, their faces painted black. One of the male dancers then cross-dresses as a Molly.

Modern Molly dancers deny that the tradition of black-face painting is racist and claim the workers were merely trying to disguise themselves in front of landowners to avoid being recognised when they touted for work later in the year. Molly dancing in its traditional format was last recorded at Little Downham in 1934.

Alongside Molly dancing, the children also have the opportunity to learn about dance and its links to agricultural traditions from further afield, including West Africa, India and Poland. African dancer Tony Ogogo has already entertained St Andrew's School pupils with an enthusiastic rendition of traditional dances.

The Cambridgeshire Roots project was funded by a Lottery grant of £124,500 and includes children from schools across the county. Outside specialists are being brought in to staff workshops which will be held sporadically throughout the next academic year. The 14 schools will perform in a festival next July.

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