Bacup Folk Dancing
Bacup folk dancing
Bacup, a small town situated between Rochdale and Burnley in Lancashire is home to the Bacup Coconut Dancers, and on Easter Saturday every year a band of men in strange costumes and blackened faces gather in the early morning at the Travellers Rest Public House on the A671 Rochdale to Bacup road. There, accompanied by members of Stacksteads Silver Band they dance their way through the streets following a tradition that takes them from one side of the Town to the other.
The dances that are performed are Folk Dances and the custom of blackened faces could be from a pagan or medieval background which was believed to disguise the dancers from being targeted by evil spirits. It may also have a connection to mining. The dances are supposed to have originated from Moorish Pirates (hence the costume). Some of the pirates settled in Cornwall and became employed in local mining. As mines and quarries opened in Lancashire in the 18th & 19th century some Cornishmen went North taking their mining expertise with them. It is from these people that the dances were supposedly brought to the area.
In all, seven dances are performed. Five Garland Dances, known as Nos' 1 to 5 and two Nut Dances.
The 'Nut Dance' is performed in a straight line. Each Dancer wears wooden discs or 'nuts' on his hands, knees and belt. During the Dance the discs are struck together in time to the music, then the hands are placed up near the ears as if listening. When the mine had a cave-in or rockfall, rescuers would knock on the fallen rock and cup their ears to listen for survivors. The name Coconuts was given to the discs, probably, when the dance was introduced to Lancashire, and they also resemble the knee and elbow protectors the miners used when crawling along narrow seams in the mine.
Their accompaniment is normally by accordian or the English concertina, but for the annual show on Easter Saturday, the Stacksteads Silver Band are used. The dance steps and the music has been handed down over the generations.
The Bacup coconut dance 'Nutters' have visited many countries and have appeared several times at the Royal Albert Hall for the English Folk Dance and Song Society. They have attended the Welsh International Eisteddfod on four occasions and visited many towns throughout the country. They have appeared in Festivals in Holland and St. Niklaas in Belgium and have been asked back again to both. They have also appeared on TV on numerous occasions: Larry Graysons Generation Game, Magpie, Surprise Surprise and Jigsaw. They have featured in the documentaries 'Irwell Water' by the BBC and 'Out of the Dark into the Light' by an Independent film Company.