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“Sticks, Hankies, Baldricks & Bells – Dances of Catalunya” – a talk by Stephen Rowley

Review of the talk presented by Stephen Rowley on 27th March 2022 via Zoom.

Christina Edwards of Mockbeggar Morris, Wirral, Merseyside writes:

“For the last talk of the winter season, 25 participants were transported to the top right-hand corner of Spain to experience its vibrant traditions and colourful dances. Our guide for this journey was Stephen Rowley, and we could not have been in better hands. Stephen is the founder of the Mummers Symposium, the International Mummers Festival, the International Pipe and Tabor Festival and the Taborers Society, as well as being a musician and dancer. His deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for the subject made for an absorbing and enjoyable talk.

“The talk started with an introduction giving some historical and geographical context, and we learned that the ancient language of the region, Catalan, is in fact close to Occitan and Italian.

Catalunya whites and bells“During the talk, we were treated to various video clips of the different styles of dance, and while there was much which seemed familiar – the “Sticks, Hankies, Baldricks and Bells” of the title, as well as white costumes and columnar form – there were also many intriguing differences. Alongside the more familiar hobby horse can be found dragons, bulls, giants, and even more exotic creatures! And I feel that I may not be alone in being glad that in morris dancing we do not engage in the impressive and athletic formation of human towers which featured in some dances! Another difference is that these dances are performed at major festivals linked to the ecclesiastical calendar, rather than in the more intimate venue of the pub, so are designed as processional dances. Since dancers are invited to perform at festivals in other towns and villages as well as their own, there are plenty of opportunities to dance.

“We learned that dances in their current form date back to the 18th century, although they may have originated in the 15th century or even earlier. The dances are considered to be Popular Dances, rather than ‘folk’ dances, and were performed in a context that was lost to us in Britain following the Reformation.

“Catalan language and culture were banned under Franco but witnessed a huge revival in the post-Franco era. These dances have become an expression of Catalan identity which is partly why they continue to be popular amongst successive younger generations. We saw the example of the spectacular “Devil” dances, which have even been used to rehabilitate young offenders by getting them involved.

“I found myself wondering what more we could do in our country to bring the same kind of prestige to our dances as is enjoyed by the Catalan traditional dances and so to interest more young people in participating. Let me conclude by thanking Stephen for a fascinating and thought-provoking talk.

by Christina Edwards of Mockbeggar Morris, Wirral, Merseyside writes:

Donations from participants raised money for Bowel Cancer West:

About Stephen Rowley

Stephen Rowley founded the Mummers Symposium in 2011 – an annual meeting of mummers, folklorists and academic researchers from around the world.  He is also a musician and dancer, founder of the International Mummers Festival, the International Pipe and Tabor Festival, and The Taborers Society.  He has performed and taught widely in Europe, USA, Russia and Australia.  He has a particular interest in the festival procession dances of the Iberian peninsular and their music.

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