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Not Your Standard Labor Day...

The Contra Costa Times reports:

If you're into offbeat charm and energetic dancing that involves thousand-year-old antlers, join members of the California Revelers on Sept. 6.... [T]he Bromliad, a mass dance of the Abbots Bromley Antler Dance featuring more people than ever before as dancers in both America and England do the ancient steps.

"In the village of Abbotts Bromley, England, on Wakes Monday, which happens to be Labor Day this year, residents dance the horn dance through the village," says California Reveler Ellin Barrett. So if you're a traditional English/Scottish/Contra dance enthusiast or just curious, join the party, which begins at 11 a.m. in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland. For more information, go to You can even purchase replicas of the ancient antlers for a mere $15.


The California Revels: The (first - ever) Abbots Bromliad:... Every Wakes Monday, the dancers in Abbots Bromley, England take up the traditional horns for their legendary 16 kilometer trek of dancing through countryside and pub yards. This year, Wakes Monday happens to fall on September 6th, Labor Day in America. The California Revels is calling for dance teams and interested individuals to come together for a day of picnicking, dancing and music, which will culminate in the Bromliad – a mass dance of the Abbots Bromley antler dance featuring more people than have ever before danced it at one time - all on the same day as they’re dancing it in England.

This free event will take place in a beautiful glade in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland on Monday, September 6th. Picnickers can arrive any time after 11:00 AM. Bring the kids, a blanket and your favorite picnic and beverages. There will be music and Morris dancing (teams cordially invited) as well as called group dancing (callers and players cordially invited, too). Then at 1:00 PM, we’ll set up for the largest Abbots Bromley serpentine ever. The fun continues until 5:00 PM. Show up and be a part of dance history!...

Most revelers, when they tell friends about the Christmas Revels, include the moment when the stage goes almost dark, and men carrying deer antlers prance about the main floor. Of course they’re describing the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, a ritual moment that has become closely identified with our celebration of the Winter Solstice. The dance consists of a line of dancers in walking gait, weaving into repeated serpentine and facing figures, punctuated by light clashes of the hand-held antlers. There are six deer dancers, and four costumed “supernumeraries”. These accompanying figures are dubbed Hobby Horse, Bowman, Fool and Maid Marian (or man/woman). They are accompanied by a melodeon and a triangle player, although in Revels we customarily employ a recorder.

Like so many traditional celebrations, the Horn Dance (or more properly, Antler dance) has a long and ultimately obscure history. The earliest report of its performance is at the Barthelmy Fair in Staffordshire, England in August of 1226. Today the Horn Dance takes place annually on Wakes Monday, a date falling in early September. The antlers, large sets from caribou or reindeer, mounted on small carved deer heads are kept in the parish hall of the St. Nicholas Church in Abbots Bromley. There are six sets - three painted white and three painted blue (actually brown, but the earlier coat of blue paint shows through). How these antlers came to this parish is a mystery. In the 1970’s, one of the white sets was damaged, and while being repaired underwent carbon dating which showed it to be over 900 years old. Since there were no Reindeer in England in 1065, the horns are presumed to have come from Scandinavia.

The horns are the property of the Abbots Bromley parish council and never are allowed to leave the Parish (a smaller, lighter set of red deer antlers are used for practice and for guest appearances elsewhere). After collecting the horns from the church at eight o'clock in the morning, the Horn Dancers perform their dance at locations throughout the village and its surrounding farms and pubs, a walk of about 10 miles (or 16 kilometres).

In Revels we perform the dance as notated by our old friend, the songcatcher Cecil Sharp. He recorded that the dancers all came from only one or two families in Abbots Bromley who had passed the steps and patterns down from generation to generation for as long as anybody could remember (that phrase again!). Also, the melody that had come to be associated with the dance shared a similar heritage. It was a tune that the elderly village wheelwright, a man named Robinson had learnt from his grandfather, who played it end of the eighteenth century. And so the bouncy little jingle that we associate with the dance came to be called “The Wheelwright Robinson’s Tune”.

It is interesting to note that in modern day Staffordshire, there are a variety of tunes used with the dance, and the performance has no particular association with the Winter Solstice. As the ritual has come to be “owned” by many communities outside of Abbots Bromley, celebrants have added their own special grace notes to the stepping and costuming. Some dance it on Mayday morn and it has become a staple of traditional music camps where it is commonly danced by women and children. I think this speaks to the power of this ritual and the durability of tradition. It can be successfully reshaped by each group of celebrants as they embrace its essence and tailor the performance to make it their own.

In the California Revels, we have reserved its performance for the darkest point in the Solstice show, where its haunting power is allowed to take hold through the almost hypnotic interweaving of the figures and tune. The ten men who dance it here employ a slightly vaulting step that is noticeably different from the way it is performed even in other Revels cities. Our fool plays the triangle, a boy dances the archer, and Maid Marian is invariably a robust, bearded man.

Of course the question arises, usually at a safe remove from the magic of the performance itself, concerning the meaning of it all. Why has this dance been performed over all of these centuries? What is it supposed to do? The answers to these questions are rife with speculation. Some feel the dance is supposed to guarantee success in the hunt, others point to a historical conflict between villagers and a surly gamekeeper, others posit a linkage through the Robin Hood allusions to the Green Man, and still others ferret out the Christian iconography of the stag figures....

The following story appeared in the Uttoxeter Advertiser of Staffordshire on August 4th:

California Dreaming about our Ancient Antler Ritual: Fans of an ancient East Staffordshire village ritual will be holding their very own imitation event on the same day in September — thousands of miles away in California. Thousand-year-old antlers have been replicated for the event which will pay homage to the ever popular Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. The dance involves a team of 12 members, six of whom parade 10 miles through the streets, farms and pubs with horns. The characters include deer men, a fool, hobby horse, bowman and Maid Marian, a part invariably performed by a man sporting a full beard. Organisers from the California Revels have promised their first Abbots Bromliad on Monday, September 6 in a park in Oakland will be the largest ever to take place.

Artistic director for the American enthusiasts David Parr said: “As the ritual has come to be “owned” by many communities outside of Abbots Bromley, celebrants have added their own special grace notes to the stepping and costuming. “I think this speaks to the power of this ritual and the durability of tradition. It can be successfully reshaped by each group of celebrants as they embrace its essence and tailor the performance to make it their own. “Each of us feels the power of this ritual and we respond from a place that is deeper than the conscious mind can fathom. It is primitive magic and the awareness of the moment draws us together in a wild and powerful way.”

Rev Simon Davis, Vicar of St Nicholas Church where the horns are collected from at 8am on the morning of the Abbots Bromley dance, told the Advertiser ‘imitation is a very sincere form of flattery’. He said: “It is not the only recreation. There is a group in England which does its own version and another in the East Coast of the USA. “Imitation is a very sincere form of flattery. Good luck to them. “It won’t be the same as ours as it is not linked to Abbots Bromley, but hopefully they have as much fun with their version as we do here”...