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Maypole dance

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Title: Maypole dance  
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Subject: England, Folk dance, Maypole, Combe, Oxfordshire, Dr. Graham's Homes, Berry Pomeroy, Kernewek Lowender, List of European folk music traditions
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Maypole dance

Maypole dancing is a form of folk dance from western Europe, especially England, northern Spain (Basque Country, Galicia, Leonese and Castilian historical regions...), Finland, Sweden, Portugal and Germany,


According to the polemic anti-Catholic pamphlet The Two Babylons, the origin of the maypole dance began in ancient Babylon during sex worship and fertility rites. However, as documented in the book review, "THE TWO BABYLONS: A Case Study in Poor Methodology", by Ralph Woodrow, which appeared in volume 22, number 2 (2000) of the Christian Research Journal (Article DC187), Two Babylons author Alexander Hislop was an exceptionally poor researcher who "picked, chose and mixed" portions of various unrelated myths from many different cultures. For example, he wrote that Nimrod was married to Semiramis although she lived 2,000 years later.

The church of St Andrew Undershaft in the City of London is named after the maypole that was kept under its eaves and set up each spring until 1517 when student riots put an end to the custom. The maypole itself survived until 1547 when a Puritan mob seized and destroyed it as a "pagan idol".


There are two distinctive traditions of maypole dancing, the circle dance and the ribbon dance.

Circle Dance

Dancers perform circle dances around a tall pole which is dressed with garlands, painted stripes, flowers, flags and other emblems . The circular dance is regarded as the most common and ancient form and is thought by some to have Germanic pagan fertility symbolism, although there is a lack of evidence to support this. The circular dance is traditionally performed in the spring around the festival of May Day, but in Sweden it is during the midsummer festivities.

Ribbon Dance

Dancers gather in a circle, each holding a coloured ribbon attached to a much smaller pole. As the dance commences the ribbons are intertwined and plaited either on to the pole itself or into a web around the pole. The dancers may then retrace their steps exactly in order to unravel the ribbons. This style of maypole dancing originates in the 18th century, and is derived from traditional and 'art' dance forms popular in Italy and France. These were exported to the London stage and reached a large audience, becoming part of the popular performance repertoire. Adopted at a large teacher training institution, the ribbon maypole dance then spread across much of England, and is now regarded as the most 'traditional' of May Day's traditional characteristics.


Both dance forms can be seen on the same day at the triennial maypole festival held in the village of Barwick-in-Elmet, West Yorkshire. Children of the village school perform a ribbon dance around a small maypole, and later a group of morris dancers perform a circle dance around the main maypole.[1][2]

In popular culture

  • In Mad Men season 3, Donald Draper becomes involved with his daughter Sally's elementary school teacher, Suzanne Farrell, whom he first saw leading her students in an outdoor maypole dance (in "Love Among the Ruins").[3][4]

See also

External links

  • Dance History Archives A history of Maypole dancing
  • Maypole Dancing FAQ Frequently Asked Questions
  • Beltane Activities Maypole Dance Photo Gallery
  • A Decade of Maypole Dancing Maypole Dance photos
  • What is Maypole Dancing?
  • West Yorkshire.
  • [1] Film: The fall and rise of the Barwick Maypole


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