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The Furry Dance (pronounced to rhyme with “hurry”), also known as The Flora (or incorrectly as the Floral Dance or the Cornish Floral Dance), takes place in Helston, Cornwall, England, UK.
It is one of the oldest British customs still practised today.
However the modern variant of the dance holds few similarities with the proposed original, having been revived long after the event had died out.
The dance is very well attended every year and people travel from all over the world to see it: Helston Town Band play all the music for the dances.
The Furry Dance takes place every year on 8 May (or the Saturday before if 8 May falls on a Sunday or Monday).
In Helston, 8 May, the Feast of St. Michael, is called Furry Day, and the word probably derives from Cornish: fer, “fair, feast”.
It is a celebration of the passing of Winter and the arrival of Spring.
The schedule of the day is thus: morning dance at 7 a.m., Hal-an-Tow pageant at 8 a.m., children’s dance at 10 a.m., midday dance at noon, and evening dance at 5 p.m..
Traditionally, the dancers wear Lily of the Valley, which is Helston’s symbolic flower. The gentlemen wear it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wear it upside down on the right.
The children’s dance involves over 1,000 children aged from 7 to 18, all dressed in white, the boys with Lily of the Valley buttonholes and the girls wearing flowers in their hair, the flower determined by the school they attend.
They come from St Michael’s School, Nansloe School, Parc Eglos School, and Helston Community College: each year a different school leads the dance.
The boys wear their school colours in the form of school ties, and the girls wear matching coloured flowers (blue cornflowers for St Michael’s, forget-me-nots for Helston Community College, daisies for Nansloe and poppies for Parc Eglos) in their hair.
The Hal-an-Tow, which takes place on the same day, is a kind of mystery play with various historical and mythical themes.
The Hal-an-Tow Pageant starts with a procession from St. John’s Church.
Characters include Friar Tuck, Robin Hood, St. George, and St. Michael.
At several places in town they enact a battle of good vs. evil.
As they walk, they sing their song to welcome the coming of summer.
It contains disparaging references to the Spaniards, probably referring to the Spanish raid on Newlyn in 1595.
The Helston Furry Dance is no. 135 in Palmer’s Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs.
The meaning of Hal-an-tow is unclear*. The term “halan” means “calends” in Cornish, and, according to Bob Hudson “tow” means “garland”.
Some have suggested “hoist the roof”.