Dancing has been an important part of Cornish culture for centuries. Legends sprang up in mediaeval times that the standing stones making up the many ancient stone circles scattered across the landscape were people who had literally been ‘petrified’ for dancing on the Sabbath. The megaliths of the Nine Maidens on the Penwith peninsula are one famous example.
There are three distinct types of traditional Cornish dances, all of which have something in common with traditions elsewhere in the Celtic world
The Cornish form of step dancing is known as ‘scoot’ after the metal plates screwed to the heels and toes of miners’ shoes to increase their life. Like the hard-soled footwear of the Irish step dancers, the performers took advantage of the rhythmic sound they produced. While scoot was traditionally very informal, it has been enthusiastically embraced by modern groups and new dances have been written using traditional steps.
Furry dances are associated with particular dates in the calendar – the most famous being the Helston Furry Dance that takes place every year on the 8th May. The Furry dance is essentially a procession of couples and what makes it distinctive is that dancers travel through the streets of a town or village, often processing through pubs and houses along the route. While the dances are often associated with the west of Cornwall, there is plenty of evidence to show that they were held all over the Duchy at different times of the year.
Finally we have the social dances in which you’ll often find a ‘troyl’, the Cornish equivalent of a céilidh or barn dance. The word comes from the Cornish for a whirl, spiral or reel. While they can refer to general social dances, troyls are often associated with particular areas or occupations. In fishing communities, for example, a troyl often marked the end of the pilchard season.
Today, dance is at the forefront of Cornwall’s cultural outreach to the world. Cornish dance groups frequently participate in major events like Brittany’s Festival Interceltique in Lorient.
Kekezza at Lorient Festival, Brittany
Kekezza have reformed for the 10th anniversary of their first performance at the Lorient Interceltic Festival in 2008, the year of Wales. Having come together in 2006 they went on to represent Cornwall at many Celtic events and festivals in places such as Wales, Asturias and Brittany as well as extensively at home in Cornwall.
But with the call of university and work Lorient 2012 was their last public performance together. Individually they have continued to dance, play and sing across the world with many other Cornish groups but are excited to perform
together again as Kekezza.
They take their name from the Cornish word for ‘heather’, which is often used as a symbol of Cornwall and incorporate the colours of the flowers into their costume.
Their main costume is the traditional working dress of the 19th century with headdresses (‘gooks’ in Cornish) from their local area in the heart of the mining district.
Find out about other Celtic Dancing: