Mad Molly is a mixed team (men and women). We wear motley for our kit: brightly colored rag skirts, leggings, shirts, motley vests, and wildly decorated black top hats. We paint our faces in a variety of striking shades. We’re a child-friendly team — we rehearse at a children’s playground in part because it gives the children of team members a place to play during dance practice.

Mad Molly was a sister team to the now departed Mayfield Morris & Sword, 1986-2005 (archive here) Several of our members have been associated with the ‘mostly balkan’ Stanford folk dancers.

Molly dancing comes from East Anglia in England. It’s associated with Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, in early January.

Like most forms of morris dancing, its origins hearken back at least a century or two and probably more. Less is known about molly dancing than almost any other form of English ritual/performance dance. We know that in the way collectors recorded it around the time of the English folk revival, molly dances were based on country dances, the social dances of the 1800s — done the same except that they were danced in costume, often in blackface, and in hobnailed boots. Dancers in England wore blackface as a form of anonymity — we paint our faces in colors instead. Unlike morris dancing, molly dancing is generally recognized to have been done at first by men only. But except for some scanty pages of notes, historians don’t really know much more about the dances.

Mad Molly’s dancing style owes a great deal to that pioneering British molly team, the Seven Champions Molly Dancers, and to the first molly team in the United States, Handsome Molly. But since neither we nor they had access to a fully-documented folk tradition of molly, Mad Molly did what great folk artistes everywhere have done: we’ve made it up. We dance to dances collected by Cecil Sharp and to dances we wrote ourselves two weeks ago. We dance with a bouncy, high-kneed step. In performance we might burst into song at any moment.

Advertisements