Princeton Troupe Recreates Ancient Dance

Photography by Hoag Levins ...| ...January 10, 2005

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CAMDEN, N.J. -- Performing at the Camden County Historical Society's Twelfth Night Revel was Handsome Molly, a ten-member ritual dance group from Princeton (above, left). Above right (left to right) are Mary Zikos, Nancy Barber and Sue Dupre. Ms. Zikos, manager of the stock room at the molecular biology department of Princeton University, and Ms. Dupre, manager of the radiation safety program at Princeton, formed the folk dance troupe in 1993. Also see larger photo.

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While photo flash freezes the action on the dance floor at left, it doesn't capture the drama of the Molly dancers' fast-moving routines. The visual poetry of their movement is better suggested in the right photo at a slower shutter speed. Also see larger photo.

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The farm plow plays an important symbolic role in the history of Molly dance, which traces its roots to the ancient rite of keeping a "plow light" burning in the village church to invoke heaven's blessing on the fertility of the fields. Early "plow dancers" performed in the street on Plow Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night, to raise money for the oil needed to keep the lamp burning. Also see larger photo.

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While in earlier centuries in England blackface was a standard part of the disguise worn by Molly dancers, today's ritual dance groups now use multicolored stage makeup instead. Sue Dupre of Handsome Molly explained that contemporary standards of political correctness make the use of traditional blackface unacceptable in U.S. performances. Also see larger photo.

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> Main Story: Report From Camden's Twelfth Night Revel

> The Handsome Molly Dancers Photo Page

> Twelfth Night Cake Photo Page

> Understanding Twelfth Night: The Holiday That Time Forgot

> Download 01.07.2005 Twelfth Night in Other Cultures Presentation