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Dancing and flowers at the traditional Helston Furry Day

Helston Furry Day, is a one day extravaganza of dancing in the streets as  the local brass band leads dozens through town in the traditional Furry Dance.
is a local festival that has its roots far back in history. This unique and strangely named festival celebrates the Christian feast day of St Michael. It began as a celebration of the passing of winter and it usually takes place on 8th May. However, if the date falls on a Sunday or Monday (Market Day!), it moves back to the preceding Saturday.

Helston Furry Day Dances

Helstonians take to the streets as early as 7am to take part in this annual festival which involves a series of dances throughout the town. It is considered an honour to take part in the main dances and some of the dances are traditionally performed by adults born in the parish who are specially invited to do so.

Having visited the festival in previous years, I found it a really colourful spectacle to watch and the music makes you itch to join in! The ladies wear long full dresses and brimmed hats for the dance while the male partners are dressed formally in long black jackets and top hats. The long dance of literally hundreds of couples is led by the local band of brass instruments and plenty of drums. They play the well-known Floral Dance music and couples parade, swing and exchange partners as the dance moves along the street. The adult dances move in a long line, going in and out of various buildings, shops, houses and grounds although the children’s dance stays in one place.

Bluebells and red campions mark Furry Day

If you don’t want to miss the series of dances, here’s the schedule. The Morning Dance starts at the Guildhall at 7am, so you have to be up with the larks to see that one. Next is the Hal-an-Tow which symbolizes the fight between good and evil. It starts on St John’s Bridge at 8:30am and includes a reenactment of St George slaying the Dragon as part of the dance.

You barely get time to catch your breath before the Children’s Dance starts at Wendown Street around 9:50 am, then on to the Midday dance back at the Guildhall. Generally the streets are pretty crowded by then, but there is plenty of street entertainment, stalls, side shows and live music to enjoy before the final Evening Dance at 5pm at the Guildhall.

As part of the Furry Day event, Helston’s shops and homes are decorated in foliage and flags. Traditionally green foliage, bluebells and red campions are picked and used.

The Floral Dance Song

Helston’s Furry Day music is immortalised forever in the Floral Dance song recorded by various artists in the 20th century, but its history goes back far longer. The music is as old as the festival itself and the words were originally penned by Katie Moss in 1911 when she visited Helston and was caught up, literally, in the progress of the Floral Dance:

We danced to the band with the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, ‘cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Each one making the most of his chance
Altogether in the Floral Dance.

Dancing here, prancing there
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere
Up and down, and round the town
Hurrah! For the Cornish Floral Dance.

The song certainly captures the joviality, music and all-encompassing dancing that takes place on the streets of Helston each year, so be warned! The words of the song caught everyone’s imagination. It was first recorded by Australian in 1912, then by in the 1960s, and most famously by the loveable “national treasure” , in 1978.

Have you attended the Floral Dance or perhaps taken part in Helston Furry Day? What was your overriding memory of the event? We’d love you to share your unique experience with others by commenting below.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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