Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Weaving the Maypole

by Elena Santangelo

When I was a kid, and I saw photos of people dancing around a Maypole while holding brightly colored ribbons, I thought it looked pretty silly.  Oh, I didn't have anything against folk dancing--in fact, I liked it.  I grew up in an Italian family and we all learned to do the Tarantella at weddings.  But I didn't get why you needed a pole or a piece of ribbon to hold onto.  Why not just dance?  Of course, I'd never actually seen a Maypole dance performed.

When I finally witnessed, then participated in May Day celebrations, I came to understand that the dance, though fun, was only a means to an end.  The steps are fairly easy.  Children and awkward adults like myself can do them, and often do, because something about Maypole dancing makes you want to join in.  But the gist of the whole thing is to take those ribbons and plait them around the pole, or create a web away from the pole, using only the dance moves.

The great thing is, preteen boys will dance with girls because they concentrate more on making the pattern than on getting cooties.

Spider's Web
In the simplest Maypole dance, the Grand Chain, every other person around the pole clockwise while the rest go counterclockwise, alternately ducking under ribbons and lifting theirs over the next person.  Dancers can walk, skip or do a polka step.  In a variation called Barber's Pole, every other person stands still while the others move clockwise, then they switch and the second group goes counterclockwise.  Dances such as Spider's Web, Gypsy's Tent, Jacob's Ladder and Pyramid form out-from-the-pole patterns.

I've seen Maypole dances where, once the dancers are holding their ribbons out and taut, a green wreath is placed over the top of the pole.  As the plait is formed, the wreath moves down the pole.  If the dancers reverse their steps, the wreath moves back up.

Below is a video of kids weaving a Maypole.  Enjoy!

Historical Harmonies noteOur May Revelers troupe will perform and teach Maypole dances anywhere we have room to set up our pole.  If you're within a few hours drive of the Philadelphia area and would like to host a workshop or May Day celebration next year, please contact us at historicalharmonies@gmail.com

Your humble servants,

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