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THE ORIGINS OF THE MAYPOLE DANCE

Maypole dancing is a form of folk dance from Germany, England, and Sweden. There are two forms. The first and most popular consists of dancers that perform circle dances around a tall, garland-festooned pole. In the second, dancers move in a circle, each holding a colored ribbon attached to a much smaller pole. As they move around the pole, the dancers intertwine their ribbons either in a web around the pole or to plait it to the pole, itself. To unravel the ribbons, the dancers retrace their steps.

Historians believe the first maypole dance originated as part of Germanic pagan fertility rituals. Originally, the dancers danced around a living tree. While dancers usually perform this dance in the spring on May 1 or May Day, those in Sweden perform it during their midsummer celebrations.

The second kind of maypole dance, with origins in the 18th Century, began as a traditional or artistic dance popular in Italy and France. Eventually, traveling dancing troupes performed it in London theaters, thus bringing this traditional dance to larger audiences. An English teacher training school adopted the maypole dance and soon it had spread across most of central and southern England. The dance became part of the repertoire of physical education for girls and remained popular in elementary schools in both England and the United States well into the 1950s.

 

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