Pig Dyke and The Molly Tradition
The Fens has always been a weird place too. from the Peasants Revolt
through the drainage system sabotage to the Littleport Riots, Fen people
have been frequently revolting - nineteenth century newspapers
didn't regard Molly as very proper:
The annual vagabondry of the plough witches took place on Monday, to the annoyance of a great number of the inhabitants. These witches principally represent themselves to be agricultural labourers from the neighbouring villages, and disguised in women's clothes or with blackened faces, make pertinacious demands to all meet for money, entering your house with the greatest effrontery if they can do so unmolested. We really think that this custom would be more honoured in the breach than the observance; all responsible workmen now hold themselves aloof from this idle practice and it is confined chiefly to the lazy and the dissolute, against whom the police might swiftly put in force their authority for the quiet of the town.
A quantity of wild bucolic dances was executed in the street to the enchanting accompaniment of a hurdy-gurdy and a badly tuned fiddle, whilst passers-by were attacked mercilessly for coppers...
The word "Molly" is interesting too (the man dressed as a woman): eighteenth century Molly houses in London were refuges for transvestites and homosexuals:
There are a particular Gang of Sodomitical Wretches in this Town, who call themselves the Mollies and are so far degenerated from all masculine deportment, or manly Exercises, that they rather fancy themselves Women, imitating all the little Vanities that custom has reconciled to the female sex, affecting to speak, walk, tattle, curtsey, cry, scold, and to mimick all manner of Effiminacy, that ever has fallen within their several Observations; not omitting the Indecencies of lewd Women, that they may tempt one another.
Costume is part of weirdness. Historically there are references to Molly dancers grabbing whatever they could that was bizarre: being painted to resemble Red Indians, dressed and beribboned in a most grotesque fashion to represent various beings, human or otherwise... Costumes included a variety of animal heads - not masks but full heads which were kept from year to year - and, at Little Downham in 1932, a pink coat, trousers and top hat with a kind of long white pigtail hanging down the back of it; and goggles. Pig Dyke has taken this inspiration to develop its look: black and white and bold and not boring is our aim for costume and face make-up - and we know that it works. We do not use full black-face make-up. We don't want to be linked to "nigger minstrels", or the Black and White Minstrel show. Molly dancers in the past blacked their faces for disguise, weirdness, and loss of personal identity: we achieve that.
In style of dancing, we are a tribute to Seven Champs - our tribute is that we react strongly against it. Champs style works brilliantly, but it just isn't all there is, though widely copied, and is no more "correct" than any other style. So we base all our dance patterns on "social" structure rather than Morris structure (sequence of figures repeated rather than figure/chorus), and we dance fast, trying to give a feeling of exuberance and movement and flux rather than fist-punching military discipline. We have developed our dances from the collected dances and then some - part of the "then some" is that, the "repeat" of the figures is varied each time, to give audiences reasons to watch.
So it's more than just the dances - Pig Dyke is proud to be weird, proud to amuse, proud to confuse, proud to entertain (we hope) through our whole performance, including the lies that introduce the dances. We believe we are true to Molly's anarchic roots and have created something for audiences of the twenty-first century to enjoy - even or especially the ones who hate folk