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The History of Maypole Dancing

Maypoles were first invented as a celebration, a celebration that winter was now over and summer had arrived, at the time there were many different forms of worshiping the changing of the seasons such as tree worship. In the 16th and 17th Centuries there is evidence that the trees cut down for the pole were very tall and the Puritans hated the tradition of pole dancing as they thought of it as religious and pagan. During the restoration many town Maypoles were burned but after the humble Maypoles were reinstated, and one of the most famous at the time was in London in the Strand.

The Strand Maypole

We know details of the famous Strand Maypole as it has been well documented, it was a hundred and thirty four feet high and remained standing in the Strand complete until Sir Isaac Newton used parts of it as a base for his first telescope. Some of these original Maypoles of the time have managed to survive and exist in country villages today, none of the first Maypoles had ribbons, the townspeople just used to dance around the pole in a circular fashion.

Maypole Dancing

The popular Maypole dancing that people recognize today dates back to 1881, and this was because John Ruskin invented a May Pageant at Whitelands College and invented a series of dances to celebrate around a Maypole. Both teachers and students went on to teach this new form of dancing wherever they went, until by the mid twentieth Century it was a major tradition across England and some other parts of Europe.

Due to our ever-increasing interest of past history and culture there has recently been a revival of Maypole dancing. There is often a modern twist to today’s dancing but that is in keeping with what Maypole dancing is all about.

Maypole Music

In the former years of Maypole dancing the music would have been played on old instruments such as the Tabor & Pipe, or on occasion the English Bagpipes, as is depicted in many early paintings. In Ruskin’s time the fiddle and concertina would have been available, and as new instruments such as flutes, and accordions were invented that also would have been used. The only requirements for an instrument was that it was portable and could be used in the open air.

Costumes

Maypole dancing was to celebrate and was done in the center of the village, thus when it was first practiced dancers would have donned their very best clothes. Apparently in Victorian times there was a directive that Maypole dancing should reflect Merrie England so traditional costumes were introduced. Maypoles are considered to be very English but they did also exist in Germany and France. There are similar traditional celebrations in Finland, Spain and Mexico and unbelievably Maypole dancing started half a century ago in the Caribbean in Trinidad and Jamaica.

Other additions came to Maypole dancing as it grew in popularity in Olde England, these included the May Queen and the additions of animals such as bears. Although the precise reason why Maypole dancing first started is not quite clear, it is known that it is a celebration and nothing untoward.