“Coconut Dancing – more than just a Lancashire tradition” – a talk by Peter Bearon

Review of the talk “Coconut Dancing – more than just a Lancashire tradition” presented by Peter Bearon on 4th December 2021 via Zoom, attended by an international audience of around 90 participants from Canada, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, UK and USA.

Theresa Buckland writes:

“Peter’s engaging and amply illustrated presentation clearly revealed that coconut dancing was indeed more than just a Lancashire tradition! Based on his paper “Coconut Dances in Lancashire, Mallorca, Provence and on the Nineteenth Century Stage” [PDF] that he gave at the “The Histories of the Morris in Britain” conference at Cecil Sharp House in 2017, his findings to date started with reference to the dance custom with which we are all familiar – the Britannia Coconut Dancers of Bacup, Rossendale. Coconut dancers zoom 2021 els moretonsMaking it clear from the outset that the use of full face black makeup was not his focus, Peter went on to share examples of coconut dancing in Mallorca, Provence and the nineteenth-century stage. His investigations initially began from realising the close parallels between the tune used for Els Moretons in Mallorca and the now well-known tune in folk circles known as ‘The Rochdale Coconut Dance.’

“My own interest in coconut dancing stems from research – to which Peter generously referred – on ceremonial dance traditions in north-west England, way back in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, thanks to databases, email, and the internet, references from far afield can be chased much more quickly and fruitfully– and our understanding of coconut dancing in the past, thanks to Peter’s detective work and persistence, is so much the richer!

“Video clips of Els Moretons and the Britannia dancers instantly revealed likenesses in dress, the positioning and use of wooden blocks in the dance, and in some gestures.  So too did records and current performances by folkloric groups of Lei Cocot, the Coconut dancers zoom 2021 coconut dances in provenceProvencal coconut dance recorded in the second half of the nineteenth century. Building on my published research and that of Roy Judge, Peter revealed yet further comparable examples of coconut dancing on the nineteenth century stage, cementing the fact that it was a widespread popular dance genre of the day.  Touring families of entertainers, ballet masters, and dancing teachers figured in his discussion of the dance, as well as amateur performers on the street, the examples spanning England, France and Spain.

“Peter’s concluding close comparison of the tunes associated with coconut dancing established undoubted connections between geographically distant instances. His analysis was aided by insights from Elaine Bradkte who suggested that the similarities indicated an identifiable dance and music genre used in theatrical contexts for much of the nineteenth century to evoke the idea of the exotic ‘Other’.

“Peter’s presentation was rich and fascinating, offering much food for thought. His examples demonstrated that, for much the nineteenth century, the lines between so-called ‘folk’, ‘popular’ and ‘art’ dance were by no means tightly drawn.  I look forwards to hearing the results of Peter’s future research into possible parallels in Spain, the Philippines, and Italy. Given the widespread touring of dancers and choreographers across Europe and beyond, I am sure that even more examples and detail will be added to help us understand the historical and geographical spread of coconut dancing.

by Theresa Buckland

Donations from participants raised money for charities helping the homeless in Chorley: https://www.chorleyhelpthehomeless.org and in Manchester: https://www.coffee4craig.com.

About Peter Bearon

Peter Bearon has been a morris dancer since 1972.  He was a founder member of The Rumworth Morris in 1976.  He currently plays melodeon for The Rumworth Morris, Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers and The Lymm Morris.  Once a year he is to be found in normal times either playing or dancing for The Abram Morris Dancers.

Peter has a paper published in the 2020 issue of the EFDSS Folk Music Journal on “The Abram Morris Dance and the Abram Morris Dancers’ Ground”.

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