On Saturday 14 Jan 2012 I went to a local tradition which was the 33rd Whittlesea Straw Bear festival. The weekend after Plough Monday a man dresses in straw and, with a straw bear handler, parades through the streets and pubs of Whittlesea. The straw bear is followed by many dance sides which perform throughout the day. It was a very frosty day so I got very well wrapped up, the weather was bright and crisp and many people attended creating a wonderful atmosphere to the festival this year.
How many Dance Sides were there? Looking at the programme, there were around 30 though as I didn’t wander much I only saw about 10 of those, though all I the ones I watched were brilliant and incredibly varied. Black and white; historic costumed; vibrantly coloured woollens; a zebra; a man on a horse. The mix of costumes, ages, dance and style was stunning and much different to the Morris dancers I recall watching as a child. Reading the festival programme I’ve learnt that there was Border Morris, Cotswold Morris, Molly and North West Clog Dancing Sides each coming from a different part of the country telling different stories with their dances. I loved them all though was absolutely hooked by the skills and intricacies of the costumes and choreography of the Molly dancing.
Mostly it was families and groups of friends relaxing, chatting and sometimes watching wonderful and amazing dancing. Lots of people were enjoying the mini beer festival that takes over Whittlesea for the weekend. I did partake in one pint of a lovely hoppy ale which helped my burger and chips go down. It looked like most of the photographs were being taken of children mesmerised by watching the dancers. Or of ‘mum with the straw bear’ There will be a lot of images like that.
Would I go again? Looking at the festival events list in the programme and realising I only experienced a fraction of what happened yesterday, (how did I miss the barn dance last night?) yes, definitely.
Anyone want to join me and go next year?
What local traditional festivals are there near you?