The ancient springtime festivals are welcome rituals after a long or not-so-long winter, and the children in the community thoroughly enjoy their celebrations of the sunlight and the burst of growing forces in nature and in themselves. Dancing around a MayPole with simple and complex patterns stirs our joys of moving together, singing together, and enjoying the time needed for the patterns to evolve. There’s a lot of skipping for a long time in most traditional MayPole dances!
For little ones, I’ve adapted and simplified the experience so that dancing around a center pole with colored ribbons has context and coherence with the world the young child knows. In my spring story, Uffe the Gnome Goes to Sea, after the friends float down the river on their raft build of logs, they wash up ashore a fine beach where they are met by the kind Fisherman and his wife, and, after being fed and well-rested again, are invited to join in the May dance.
At this point there is no MayPole (yet) but me, in the center of the room. The children, following the choreography of the story, have been rested and fed by the Fisherman’s wife, and are sitting in their listening place on the rainbow wall, and each is invited out in turn to take a corner of a colored silk cloth while I hold onto the opposite corner. A wonderful helper facilitates this with me as I become the MayPole in front of their eyes. As we hand out the silks we sing the song, “Here’s a Branch of Snowy May, A Branch the Fairies Gave Me.” Soon the radiating lengths of silk help the children form the circle, which begins to move with the children walking forward, clockwise, invited to hold their colors high.
After a few choruses my arm is wrapped tightly with spiraling colors and the children are left with just a small bit of cloth still in their hands. I call out gently for a “stop, change hands, and turn around to go the other way” and they continue until the silks are unwound.
Of course many things go awry. Corners of silks are dropped and recovered and some children lose their way by walking more slowly or quickly, but the gentle pace of the tune with the walking offers a serene and safe experience to practice together. As we return to the story on subsequent days, our May dancing gets smoother and we add another song, “Here We Go Round the MayPole High” which is the tune we’ll dance to at the upcoming May Fair next weekend.
At the May Fair, the children will see the MayPole for the first time, beautifully beribboned and crowned with a wonderful capped wreath of flowers and vines, just like the ones on our heads. Our musicians and parents will gather around, and we’ll hand out the ribbons just like we did the silks in the movement room. We’ll sing the same songs, with support from our friends and families, and when we finish with dropping our ribbons into the gentle breeze (or blowing wind, it’s San Francisco after all) the older children and parents will join in as I lead some weaving variations for all to enjoy.
The woven MayPole stands tall in the quiet glade at the end of our story, and also at the end of the May Fair. In the story, the Fisherman’s son leads them safely home with his lantern. After the May Fair, the children leave for home with their families, tummies full of strawberry shortcake and whipped cream, with songs, flowers, sunshine, and colored silks still dancing their springtime brightness in our hearts.