It was on 26th June 2009, that I ventured into the streets of Penzance for my first Teazing performance under the tuition of Cassandra Latham Jones. I had previous experience of Morris dancing performing at various folk festivals and mistakenly assumed the role of Teazer could be something similar.
I received a telephone phone call during November 2008 from an acquaintance asking if I would be interested in training for the role of a Teazer. She briefly explained what the role entailed and I decided to try as it was also an opportunity to become involved in a community event after recently moving to Cornwall. I had visited the home of this particular acquaintance and partner on a few occasions while they were in the process of creating one of the new Penglaz ‘Osses after the retirement of the original one. They were extremely excited about this project and I witnessed the gradual development of its creation. It was the first time I had seen a horse’s skull and heard information about the folk tradition in which the skulls were utilised. Cassandra contacted me soon after she heard about my interest and invited me to attend the 2008 Montol festival near the winter solstice, to observe her performance with the new Penglaz.
The acquaintance who was also the photographer for the event, suggested I wore a mask and dark clothing for the procession as the majority of people would be dressed in ‘mock formal’ attire.
On arrival I joined the back of the procession at St Johns Hall with my husband and son. When the procession began, I made my way to the front so that I could observe Cassandra’s performance. Penglaz the ‘Oss did not appear during the first procession so I concentrated on Cassandra’s movements as she marched at the front of the band in time to the music waving to the people who lined the streets. On our arrival at the hill fort we stood around the large fire beacon to warm ourselves and then visited a pub with the photographer, her partner and another friend of theirs.
The crowd seemed to increase in numbers when we joined the second procession and once again I followed the procession at the back with my husband and son, then gradually moved to the front.
Cassandra and Penglaz appeared out of an adjacent entrance to a restaurant in Chapel street and were welcomed by the enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. The energy was wild and exciting.
When I had danced at festivals with my former Morris team I was one of many performers, but on this occasion I was a little concerned that Penglaz and the Teazer were the main characters and focus of the event. There would be greater pressure for this performance and I voiced my concerns to the photographer who assured me it would work out and have a positive outcome.
During my interview with Cassandra on the 26th January 2009, I was informed there was also a second Penglaz and an ongoing disagreement between the other rider and Cassandra, but she assured me I would not become involved in this matter. Cassandra and I met regularly for practices at the yard of an engineer known to the photographer. My son and husband both rode Penglaz and each of them had their individual interpretation giving the ‘Oss a different personality during each performance.
My husband gave Penglaz a cheeky character, while my son being only seventeen years of age was unpredictable, mischievous and to this day, Cassandra says he has been the fastest ‘Oss rider she ever had!
Although I was an experienced dancer, I needed to develop a connection with a completely different type of energy to perform this role. Cassandra had sent me articles to read about the Bucca elemental (of the sea and storms) and the spirit that works through the ‘Oss and Teazer.
I modeled my Teazer kit on the one that Cassandra wore, as the Teazer ‘cross dresses’ to represent the ‘male and female’ aspect and the ‘topsy turvy’ Cornish energy. Cassandra attended a ‘guild meeting’ and presented the members with video footage of our practices, announcing that I would be her apprentice Teazer and I apparently had the guild members’ approval.
My first appearance was on Friday 26th June 2009 on Mazey Eve. My husband volunteered to ride Cassandra’s Penglaz and we were understandably a little nervous about our first appearance particularly within a community we were unfamiliar with. (On reflection I am sure that many were wondering who we were and why we had been placed into a ‘lead role’ within their community festival!) Just before the performance I was waiting for Cassandra outside a local inn as she was trying to locate someone. A local man approached me asking why I was there and when I explained, he replied that I would never be as good as Cassandra and went on to tell me how long he had known her and revealed some personal details about her life! What an encouraging start to the evening!
We prepared ourselves and Penglaz in a room at the Barbican and Cassandra stood at the open top window waving at the gathering crowd who were looking up at her. We eventually emerged from the large black doors to lively music from the Golowan Band and cheers from the crowd. Mazey Eve is a wild celebration and extremely crowded, so keeping near Penglaz and making one’s way through the crowd is quite a task! I watched Cassandra closely and there were many occasions where our movements were identical which boded well for future development.
Cassandra imbued a confidence and connection with the ‘Oss during her seventeen years of Teazing and this was something that would also develop within me after years of experience. One’s reflexes need to be quick due to the unpredictable behaviour of the ‘Oss and also the crowd.
The Teazer’s role is to attempt to control the crowd as well as keep an eye on Penglaz, making space for her to move around while protecting her from intoxicated people who step into her path or attempt to get too close which could result in injury. There were specific signals Cassandra used to bring out the personality of Penglaz, to laugh, dance and also stand still if needed. The stomping and snapping move of the ‘Oss is one that takes a considerable amount of practice as the timing of the snap of the jaw and stepping need coordination. My son Rhys accomplished this move quickly to excellent effect.
After my first performance, I received positive feedback, plus a few criticisms from one person who thought I ought to teaze the same way as Cassandra. It was only after years of experience that I could see what he meant, as he advised me to watch her feet and mine now move in the same way as the energy has now ‘grounded’. Another did not agree with two Teazers being on the street instead of one, but Cassandra explained that it was the best method for training. Whatever the viewpoints, I knew I had done a good first performance for someone who had no previous knowledge of ‘Oss Teazing. My Teazing role with Cassandra and Penglaz in Penzance continued for two years and then we left the festival over political issues. (See Original Penglaz Reinstated) After leaving the Golowan festival we re-named our ‘Oss Penkevyll and our Guise team Boekka. I was relieved to be out of that particular situation as we then had freedom to perform in our own way.
Boekka has had three changes of colours, image, performers and riders throughout the years, however one aspect that stayed constant is that Cassandra and I remained together as Teazers. I performed alongside her for eight years and then she handed on the role of head Teazer to me.
My Teazer role has developed over the years and the strongest connection occurred at the All Hallows Gathering in 2016 after the release from a situation that was, on reflection, draining the energies. The Teazer role needs total focus and dividing my energy between Morris dancing and Teazing did not work well.
I now have two apprentice Teazers as well as new riders. All are doing extremely well and Boekka is going from strength to strength. This year is our 9th year of performance (as our team first formed while our ‘Oss was still Penglaz during 2010). I also have my own ‘Obby ‘Oss by the name of Morvargh (Cornish for Sea Horse).
I have learnt some valuable lessons and am not the same person who moved to Cornwall eleven years ago, however I have some fond memories of those early days. Cassandra asked me to mention that I am the only Teazer that has been taught by her and I am proud of this. It has certainly been an eventful but rewarding journey!