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Controversial Morris Dancers Refuse To Stop Blacking Up Their Faces

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Controversial Morris Dancers Refuse To Stop Blacking Up Their Faces

A controversial group of morris dancers have performed for the first time since being kicked out of the national body - for refusing to stop blacking up their faces.

Members of the Britannia Coconut Dancers in Bacup, Lancashire, insist blacking up is part of a clog-dancing tradition dating back more than 100 years.

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

But last year, they split from The Joint Morris Organisation, the umbrella group which represents the country's 800 dancing 'sides'.

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The organisation ruled last July that 'full-face black or other skin tone make-up is a practice that has the potential to cause deep hurt' so members should stop.

The Coconut Dancers, known as 'The Nutters', voted to continue blacking their faces up as they said 'it has no connection with ethnicity nor any form of racial prejudice'.

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

And their performance on Sunday (3 October), which saw them dance for around five hours as they made their way around businesses in the town, was their first since the split.

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Gavin McNulty, secretary of the group, said: "It was a very good day, the public turned out in their hundreds. The day was a great success."

Some objections were raised by organisers of the town's maker's market, but they eventually backed down and allowed them to perform at their market.

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

Lancashire BME Network said they didn't object to the troupe using black face as they 'recognise it's a rich cultural tradition linked to Lancashire'.

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Jonathon Prasad from Lancashire BME Network, who spent 'a number of years working on cultural traditions and identities', explained that the group recognises the reason behind the tradition.

Speaking to LancsLive, he said: "From our point of view, as an organisation, we don't object to blackface in this context as we recognise it's a rich cultural tradition linked to Lancashire."

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

He went on: "The cultural background of it is that the mill workers who were quite poor had to earn extra income, so one of the things they did was they painted their face black so their employers wouldn't know that they are dancing for extra money.

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"It's also linked to a whole pagan ritual as well about not wanting to be attached to evil spirits.

"From our point of view, as an organisation, we represent this rich diversity of Lancashire's cultural traditions and we actually support it.

"We want to break down barriers between communities rather than erecting them, we're trying to bring minorities up to the same standards, it's levelling up."

Aside from Mr Prasad's theory about the dancers not wanting to be recognises, it is also claimed the tradition dates back to when local miners danced as they emerged from the pits with their faces blackened by coal dust.

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Morris dancing is a form of English folk dance that dates back centuries and holds a rich tradition for many members.

Featured Image Credit: SWNS

Topics: News, Community

Rebecca Shepherd
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