A controversial dance troupe who were kicked out of the national dancing body for refusing to stop blacking up their faces have been backed by a BAME charity who say it is part of their ‘rich cultural tradition’.
Members of the Britannia Coconut Dancers in Bacup, Lancashire, split from The Joint Morris Organisation, the umbrella group which represents the country’s 800 dancing teams, after being told to stop blacking up their faces last year.
The dance body ruled that ‘full face black or other skin tone make-up was a practice that had the potential to cause deep hurt’ and members must stop in response to the Black Lives Matter campaign.
But local ethnic minority charity, Lancashire BME Network, have now backed the dance troupe and said they had ‘never seen it as a racial thing’ within the context.
It comes as the all-male dance troupe returned to the streets for the first time on Sunday after they were kicked out of the national body over their refusal to stop using blackface make-up.
Last year the Coconut Dancers, also known as the ‘Coconutters’, insisted their blackened faces, a reference to the coal mining industry in the town they are based in, was part of a clog-dancing tradition dating back more than 100 years.
Members of the Britannia Coconut Dancers in Bacup, Lancashire, have performed for the first time since being kicked out of the Joint Morris Organisation
The all-male dance troupe were kicked out of the national dancing body last year for refusing to stop blacking up their faces
The dance group, known as the ‘Coconutters’, insisted their blackened faces was part of a clog-dancing tradition dating back more than 100 years
The troupe voted to continue blacking their faces up as they said ‘it has no connection with ethnicity nor any form of racial prejudice’.
In a statement, they said: ‘Our age-old tradition is embedded in the hearts and souls of the people of Bacup, Rossendale and overseas.
‘We have discussed the use of black face make-up in great detail and have come to a unanimous decision that this will continue to be part of our unique mining tradition.’
Their performance on Sunday, which saw them dance for about five hours as they made their way around businesses in the town, was their very first since the split.
It came as Lancashire BME Network said they did not object to the troupe using black face as they ‘recognise it’s a rich cultural tradition linked to Lancashire’ and had ‘never seen it as a racial thing.’
The charity said the use of blackface was not racist within the context as it was related to underpaid mill workers ‘who painted their face black so their employers would not know that they were dancing for extra money’.
Jonathon Prasad, project officer for Lancashire BME network, told Lancashire Live: ‘From our point of view, as an organisation, we don’t object to blackface in this context as we recognise it’s a rich cultural tradition linked to Lancashire.’
He added: ‘In the past when I’ve worked on similar topics, I’ve never seen them as a racial thing at all.
‘We believe that communities should be going out and really asking questions about why people do blackface.’
Meanwhile Gavin McNulty, secretary of the dance group, said: ‘It was a very good day, the public turned out in their hundreds. The day was a great success.’
The all-male troupe in Bacup took the streets on Sunday and danced for about five hours
The Morris dancers said their blackened faces ‘had no connection with ethnicity nor any form of racial prejudice’
The Coconut dancers wore their traditional red tunics, white hats, black jerseys, white stockings and shiny black clogs during their performance
It is believed that the of black face is influenced by the Moorish pirates who settled in Cornwall and soon entered the local mining industry during the 18th and 19th centuries
The Coconut Dancers typically wear red tunics, white hats, black jerseys, white stockings, shiny black clogs and paint their faces black, while performing to the public.
While the exact origins of their costume is unclear, it is believed that their uniforms are influenced by the Moorish pirates who settled in Cornwall and soon entered the local mining industry during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The pirates became employed in tin mines, before moving to the coal mines of the North.
Another theory is that underpaid mill workers would dance to to earn extra income and painted their face black so their employers would not know they were dancing for money.
Every Easter Saturday the group perform a dance in the Lancashire town raising thousands for good causes but were forced to cancel the annual procession due to the coronavirus pandemic last year.
In 2014, a beer named after the troupe was banned by the bar in the House of Commons as the image on the pump was deemed offensive.
Rossendale MP Jake Berry put forward the pale ale for the Strangers bar in the Palace of Westminster.
But parliamentary chiefs threw out the beverage, which had been specially crafted by the Irwell Works brewery in Ramsbottom, saying the imagery may have caused offence.
Last year the Joint Morris Organisation (JMO) ruled that their members must stop blacking up their faces.
In a statement they acknowledged ‘full face black or other skin tone make-up is a practice that has the potential to cause deep hurt’.
They said groups that continued to black up would no longer be covered by the JMO’s insurance or invited to take part in events.
They added: ‘Morris is a unique cultural tradition of which we should be rightly proud. We want people from all races and backgrounds to share in this pride and not be made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.’
MailOnline has approached the JMO for comment.