May Day event seen as rite of spring


Gordon Cassells was wearing a hat decked out "in drag." It was draped with a woman's pink garter and a red garter belt.

"Hat decorations are highly individual," said the 47-year-old Shepherdstown resident, one of dozens of Morris dancers who pranced down German Street to the James Rumsey park where they wrapped a maypole.

Participants in Shepherdstown's annual May Day celebration said they consider the event a rite of spring, a harbinger of the summer to come.


Cassell said friends talked him into Morris dancing two years ago.

"It's fun. I like the camaraderie and weekly aerobics," he said.

Morris dancing started in England before Shakespeare's time. It's considered to be a celebration of fertility, said Janie Blanton of Shepherdstown, the event's chief organizer.

Music consists of jigs and reels.

The fertility theme is supported by whimsical characters such as the Padstow horse, a contraption worn by Chris Taney, 45, of Boonsboro.

Legend says if a woman touches the skirts of the horse she will become pregnant within a year. Other symbols of fertility were the Green Man, bedecked in antlers, leaves and vines, and a unicorn, which Blanton said adds color and magic to the celebration.

Six Morris teams showed up for the Shepherdstown event from Maryland and Virginia, Blanton said. Teams represent one of three areas in England that spawned the practice. Each is defined by color and costume design.

Morris dancer Wendy Pacek of Shepherdstown said she practices every week.

"It's a great group of people," she said. "I like the music and the positive energy."

Tom Connelly, 54, of Boonsboro has been Morris dancing for 14 years. His mother grew up in England.

"She told us all about Morris dancing when we were small," he said.

He started with a team in Loudoun County, Va., in 1988.

Gail Mays, 54, and her teenage daughters shared space on the stone wall in front of McMurran Hall, the big yellow clock building in the middle of town.

"This is such a good time of year and Shepherdstown is such a wonderful place," Mays said.

"Isn't this a typical beautiful day? It's Shepherdstown at its best," said Kathleen Stratton, 43. "That's why I moved here. There are people here who can enjoy a May Day parade."

David and Dolly Lubic of Martinsburg, W.Va., sat on low chairs in front of the Men's Club building.

"This is the second year we've been here," Lubic said. "Dolly wanted to make it an always thing after we saw the first one," he said.

"I like the atmosphere, music and dancing," she said.

The dancers planned to end the day with a contra dance Saturday night in the Men's Club.

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