On Sunday, Sarah and her peers dance the Maypole Dance with the Ipswich Moving Company’s Youth Dance Ensemble at Crane Estate’s Castle Hill in Ipswich. They’ve been doing this for years; my girls have danced as students and casual participants, and for the past few years, Sarah has done it with the Youth Ensemble. Their group leads this interactive event as a community service. They do it for the Trustees of Reservations, and later in the season at the Historical Society’s Ipswich Museum.
I love the winding and unwinding of the ribbons, plaited together by the over-and-under pattern that the girls weave through their motions. After the group does it officially a few times, they invite all the children wandering the grounds of Castle Hill to come participate.
Boys and girls, kids in flip flops and sun dresses, children in trousers and sneakers, all of them wind in and out, sometimes holding each others’ hands, older children guiding little ones through the steps. Youth Ensemble members coax those most shy or confused around the pole, up and down, in and out with their ribbons. It’s a beautiful choreographed chaos.
And yes, of course, there’s an older spring-season origin to this dance. It has roots in ancient agrarian cultures’ fertility and blessing-of-the-land rituals. A pole crowned with flowers in a season of planting and growth, livestock quickening with their young, and hand-fasting among young couples. The dance has survived through centuries, sometimes banned, but always finding a new incarnation. Whether steeped in ancient fertility symbolism or the bright-faced enthusiasm of children skipping in circles to welcome warmer weather, this dance is beautiful.
Here it flowers once more, in Sunday’s spiraling innocence and exuberance at Castle Hill. It’s a gift passed across cultural boundaries and faith traditions, over oceans and continents, from generation to generation. On the shores of New England, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, on this bright and windy spring day, we watch as our daughters and sons, some well-versed in the dance steps, others young and stumbling, clutching tight to older, surer hands, wheel round and round.
Laughing. Young and wide-eyed, at least for a few giddy moments.
In its free-wheeling, ancient-ordered chaos, this dance led by our children is a sacred celebration. A blessing on these bright lives. And our hearts. And this day. And this place.
A blessing on this season. On all the seasons past. On all the seasons yet to come.