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11:37 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Chepstow's Widders take morris dance to France

The Widders

A group of morris dancers from Chepstow have been invited to represent Wales in a Celtic music festival in France.

The Widders - a 'border morris' group of 30 members formed in 2001 - are due to attend the International Summer Carnival in Steenvoorde, northern France.

Border morris dancers from the Welsh - English borders would traditionally dance to supplement their meagre incomes. They would usually come together at Christmas and Easter time.

Dancers wear hats and jackets decorated with rags and ribbons and leg bells and usually dance with sticks.

Traditionally, border dancers would quite often blacken their faces as a means of disguise because the dancing was a form of begging which was frowned upon.

Today, border morris dancing is enjoying a revival and the Widders perform regularly at festivals throughout the Spring and Summer and meet up every week between April and September in Caldicot to practise their dancing, sing, play music and enjoy themselves.

When the group formed in 2001, some of the members were bikers. The name Widders was suggested by one of the biker contingent who said they looked like the 'Black Widows', a bike gang from the Clint Eastwood film 'Every Which Way But Loose'.

The phrase 'ween am the widders' - Chepstow dialect for 'we are the widows' - was coined and so the The Widders border morris team were born.

Mike Lewis, founder member of the Widders, says that a typical performance consists of 12 dances.

The dancers are accompanied by one melodeon player, two drummers, a banjo and a guitar player. He describes their dancing as dynamic and energetic, a mixture of polkas and hornpipes.

Widders performing Mari Lwyd

The group was thrilled to receive an invitation to perform at the International Summer Carnival in Steenvoorde in Flanders in April after organisers spotted their website and were impressed by their unique style of dancing.

They'll also hold dance workshops for local children during the carnival.

The festival is well know for its procession of giants, large characters created to commemorate celebrated local historical figures.

This year's festival will be a celebration of Celtic arts and music. The French government is contributing towards the cost of the group attending the festival and they'll be staying with French families.

The Widders will be performing the Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) during the festival. The Mari Lwyd is a traditional new year's celebration associated with south east Wales. The Mari Lwyd is a mare's skull attached to a pole and covered by sheets concealing the people carrying it.

Widders teaching border morris dance

The Mari Lwyd is traditionally carried around a village by a group who visit houses singing songs. The residents of the house and the Mari group often take part in a rhyme contest or 'pwnco'.

Each January The Widders meet with a group of English wassailers on the bridge in Chepstow and sing and dance before performing the traditional pwnco at Chepstow castle.

Mike Lewis admits that the Widders are really looking forward to their trip to Steenvoorde.

"As a group we're really honoured to represent Wales in France. We're gong to perform the Mari Lwyd whilst we're there and we'll be holding dance workshops so that local children can learn our dances."

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The Widders
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