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Molly Dancing F.A.Q.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions (with answers) about Molly dancing.
What is Molly dancing?

Molly dancing is a type of East Anglian ritual dance. Imagine Morris dancing, take away the sticks, hankies and bells, and add in lots of shouting, coloured facepaint and bright clothes, and you've got it. Oh, and the stepping's different.

Facepaint and bright clothes? Is that traditional?

Well, not exactly, but it is the style chosen by Gog Magog Molly. Other sides have different outfits, e.g. Pig Dyke Molly dress in all black and white. The original Molly dancers wore their "special" clothes, which would have been corduroy trousers, shirts/jackets decorated with ribbons, womens dresses and often hats, and blacked up their faces -- the point being that they were then "different".

What's "stepping"?

Stepping is the movement of the dancers' bodies when performing a dance. Basically, each step involves bringing one leg up so that the thigh is horizontal and the calf vertical, with the arm on the same side also brought up in an 'L' shape with the forearm vertical and fist clenched. The other limbs are straight down. On the next step simply swap straight and bent limbs, if you see what I mean. (This is easier to do than describe!) The step can be a step-hop or a polka step.

See a description of Gog Magog's stepping

What are Molly's origins?

Molly dancing is associated with the annual Plough Monday tradition (the first Monday after Twelth Night), during which young farmhands would drag a plough round the local villages, crying "a penny for the plough boys", and if no penny was forthcoming cut a furrow across the cheapskate's front lawn. As one would expect of such a "trick-or-treat" event, the Plough Monday procession usually took place after dark. However, during the daytime local Molly dancers would tour the region, dancing and collecting money/food/beer all day, then meet up in the evening for communal dancing.

What are the dances?

The original Molly dances were simply the local social dances performed on the street in a somewhat rough and ready style. Modern dancers have developed the tradition by writing new and more interesting dances in the style of the original dances.

See the dances page for descriptions and music for various more or less traditional dances.

And who are Gog Magog Molly?

Gog Magog are one of the most recently formed Molly gangs; they formed in 1996 as a display side to perform at Cyril Papworth's 80th birthday party -- and carried on afterwards! They are based in (and around) Cambridge and have a relatively young membership with a high proportion of students.

Why Gog Magog?

The name comes from the Gog Magog Hills which lie to the south of Cambridge, and are just one of dozens of similarly named hills in the British Isles. There is a rich tradition of "Gog-Magog" stories in the UK and Ireland. One legend is that Gog and Magog were the last survivors of the race of giants who were the original inhabitants of the land of "Albion". They were defeated by the Cornish king Brutus, who gave his name to the British Isles.

South Cambridgeshire has its own tales of the "Gogmagog", a monster used to frighten small children, but whether the tales come from the hills' name or the hills were named for the tales, who can say?

Who was Cyril Papworth?

Cyril was the President of the Round in Cambridge and was an expert on Cambridgeshire folk dances. He collected many of the original dances and published them in a book. He passed away on 13th October 2001 at the age of 85. You can read his obituary here.

Why do Molly?

Why not? It's good fun, it's good exercise, and you get to meet some really odd people! And then there's all that stuff about keeping the ancient traditions alive, too.

Are you making all this up?!

No, really. Come along to a practice (or a dance out) some time and see for yourself!

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FAQ originally written by Dave Holland, maintained by Lisa Smith
Last updated: 26/02/07