Our dances

The stories behind our dances

Although some of our very earliest dances were adapted from existing molly and morris dances, most of our dances have been inspired by the rich store of myths, legends and folk-tales to be found in the Fens of East Anglia.  Old or new, our dances remain firmly rooted in tradition.

Dances inspired by stories and folk tales

Black Sheet
A hair-raising tale of murder, theft and retribution, Black Sheet tells the gruesome story of two prisoners of war who attempted to escape from the back-breaking task of draining the fens.

Mucky Porter
Based on a tale told by the king of Fenland story-tellers, Walter Barrett, this dance tells how a lowly publican guided a mysterious traveller to safety and later reaped the rewards.

Tiddy Mun
The marsh-spirit, Tiddy Mun, angered by attempts to drain the Fens, wreaked revenge on the perpetrators and was only placated after villagers met at the time of the new moon to appease him by pouring water back into the dykes.

Tom Hickathrift
A giant of a man, Tom Hickathrift gained such renown for his prodigious feats of strength, carrying tree trunks, drawing carts loaded with beer and – best of all – slaying ogres that he was honoured with a knighthood.  Sir Thomas now lies buried in the churchyard at Tilney All Saints.

The Holbeach Gamesters
Completed during the recent pandemic this dance was inspired by the legend of the Holbeach Gamesters. Set in a Fenland town close to The Wash, the story involves drunken friends playing cards with a corpse in the church, before being dragged off to hell by demons as the corpse revives. It was debuted virtually and with social distancing.

The Lantern Men
This dance was entirely a product of the recent pandemic. It originated from our lockdown project Molly Moves, this involved dancers from around the world dancing in isolation and their videos then being combined to create the final performance. The flickering images of lone dancers in cells on the screen reminded us of The Lantern Men, flickering lights in the fens that lure people to their death, and so the dance was named. Once we could meet again after the lockdown we used the same moves to create a set dance we could perform in the real world, as did other molly sides who were involved in the project.

Dances inherited from the Molly dance tradition

Dancing College Hornpipe at Tilney St Lawrence school, Nov 2015

Dancing College Hornpipe at Tilney St Lawrence school, Nov 2015, watched by a bemused Tom Hickathrift.

The College Hornpipe
Originally danced in the village of Girton – home of one of the Cambridge University colleges – this is one of the Comberton Feast dances which Gordon Phillips learned from Cyril Papworth in 1981.

Birds a-Building
Our adaption of one of another of the Comberton Feast dances which Gordon Phillips learned from Cyril Papworth.

Dances on other themes

The Mississippi Mud Dance
The first dance to be composed by Ouse Washes, ‘Mississippi’ uses familiar dance figures such as the star and reel but also introduced two new figures; the Bachelor’s Button and our trade-mark Zig-Zag

Battle of the Somme
“If you want the Old Battalion…” These words introduce a dance which pays tribute to all those East Anglian soldiers who made a one-way journey to the Flanders trenches and ended their lives, “….hanging on the old barbed wire.”

The Long, Long Trail
“There’s a long, long trail a-winding into the land of my dreams,”  Soldiers in the Great War found the words of this song, composed in happier times, perfectly expressed their feelings of loneliness and yearning for home and loved ones.  Performed to a lone voice, accompanied only by the stamping of the dancers’ feet, this is one of our most memorable dances.

First performed by Ouse Washes on the hill outside Cassel, in Flanders, this dance was composed to commemorate the debacle of Frederick, Duke of York who famously marched his men “neither up nor down.”  Danced to the tune of “The Unfortunate Tailor”, at some point the dance took a nautical turn and now celebrates Norfolk’s most famous son, Horatio Nelson.

The Rambling Sailor
Another dance with a nautical theme, which is danced to the tune of the traditional song The Rambling Sailor. The sailor in question has a girl in every port and is faithful to none. As well as taking his lover’s money, we suspect he would have picked up other mementos of his conquests ! This gives this dance its alternative name, but you’ll have to see us performing it to learn what that is.

Strange is our trademark dance and the one from which everything else flowed. The second dance we created, after Mississippi, it had the elements of surprise, movements with power and controlled wildness, a fantastic and unexpected tune, movements that went out and others that contracted and a brilliant finish. We’ve been trying hard to come up with something as good ever since.