Each fall and spring since 2009, I have been attending the LCFD Dance Camp. It’s a wonderful weekend in New England devoted to contradance, English Country dance, waltzes, and other fun moves. Twice now, I have been part of a performance of the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. Thom Yarnal explains its history:
The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance originated in the village of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, England. Carbon dating of their antlers places them in the 11th Century. The dance started as a parade through Needwood Forrest to assert the rights of the villagers to graze their animals there. It evolved into a fundraiser for the poor and has been performed annually on Wakes Monday from at least 1125 to the present with the exception of a brief period during World War One.
The six Stags represent the spirit of Herne, the mythical horned Royal Huntsman who was a killed while preventing a deer stag from injuring King Richard II. He is said to roam the Greenwood Forest of Windsor to this day.
Maid Marian is a character in May Games festivities held in England and is sometimes associated with the Virgin Mother. Her character is woven through the Robin Hood legends as everything from a pagan Saxon to a high-born Norman.
The Hobbyhorse evolved from a musician playing a carnyx, an Iron Age brass musical instrument.
The Archer represents Ægil, a renowned archer from Norman and Anglo-Saxon lore.
The Fool is the medieval representation of the Druid. When Christianity outlawed Druidism, the Druids adapted by hiding in plain sight and the Wise Fool became the Keeper of the Mysteries.
In England the dance is accompanied with popular current tunes; Dancers in the US use Robinson’s Tune, which was first notated in 1857. Robinson’s Tune is played in this video by Paul Kirk, Jr. on violin and Aaron Marcus on concertina.
The dance was brought to the United States by May Gadd, an English dance instructor who immigrated here in 1927. As the leader of the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS) she taught the dance at Pinewoods Camp, a summer camp in Massachusetts dedicated to traditional music and dance. Virtually every Abbots Bromley dancer in North America learned the dance at Pinewoods Camp or from someone who danced it there.
The Fall 2012 LCFD Abbots Bromley Horn Dance Posse:
The Stags -Thom Yarnal, Travis Clough, Ian Flynn, Mark Galipeau, Chad Rider, Jim Babcock
Maid Marian – David Downs
Hobby Horse – Susan Amesse
Archer – Tam Willey, Fool – Peter Rivard
Music – Paul Kirk, Jr. & Aaron Marcus
Video – Doug Heacock