Furry Dance (Flora Day)

Furry Dance (Flora Day)
The Furry Dance, also known as Flora Day, is an annual festival that takes place in the Cornish town of Helston. It is held every year on May 8 or on the preceding Saturday when the date falls on a Sunday or Monday.

The Helston Furry Dance is one of the oldest British customs that are practiced to this day. Its earliest mention dates back to 1790, but the tradition itself is much older than that. The festival is held on May 8 because it is the feast of the Apparition Saint Michael, Protector of Cornwall, observed by Anglo-Catholics. The holiday is also known as Flora Day, and it is traditional for participants to wear lily of the valley, which is the signature flower of Helston.

The origin of the name “Furry Dance” is unclear. According to one of the versions, it derives from the old English word “faddy”, which can be translated as “to go forward in a dance”, but this theory isn’t particularly popular. Another theory claims that the word “furry” is derived from the Cornish word “feur” or “fer”, which means a fair, a feast, or a festival.

On Flora Day, there are four dances led by the famous Helston Town Band: the early morning dance, the children’s dance, the midday dance, and the evening dance. The early morning dance takes place at 7 a. m. Ladies who participate in the dance wear summer dresses, and gentlemen are clad in white shirts and gray flannels.

The early morning dance runs its course at about 8 a. m. and is immediately followed by the Hal-an-Tow pageant. It is a kind of mystery play featuring Saint Michael, Saint George, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, and several other characters. The performers gather at St John’s Church and make a tour of the town, stopping at seven designated locations and acting out historical and mythical battles where the good defeats the evil.

The children’s dance begins after the Hal-an-Town. It starts around 10 a. m. and involves over a thousand Helston school children aged 7 to 18, all wearing white. The boys wear lilies of the valley in their buttonholes, and the girls wears flowers in the hair that match their schools (daisies for Nansloe School, blue cornflowers for St Michael’s School, buttercups and poppies for Parc Eglos School, and forget-me-nots for Helston Community College). The boys’ schools can be identified by the colors of their ties.

The main dance of the day is the midday dance. Since it used to be the dance of the gentry, the ladies are required to wear full-length dresses, hats and gloves, and their partners are expected to wear tailcoats and gray top hats. To participate in the midday dance, one needs to get a formal invitation. The procession dances through the streets of Helston, led by the Mayor wearing his chain of office.

The evening dance, which takes place around 5 a. m., concludes the festivities. It is a less formal event than the midday dance, and the dress code is the same as the dress code for the early morning dance. Unlike the midday dance, which is exclusive, visitors are invited to join, and many accept the invitation.

In 2020 and 2021, the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furry Dance

Photo: Helston Flora Day Association / helstonfloraday.org.uk