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May Day celebrated

May 04, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

The "Hicks with Sticks" carried a big one through the streets of Shepherdstown on Saturday.

The colorful and energetic border dancers - including Jeff Maddox, Tom Connelly and Gordon Cassells - danced playfully with the mammoth log and bells on their legs as part of the scenic town's annual May Day celebration.

Hundreds of onlookers lined German Street at the heart of town to watch the festivities, which began with a parade down German and Mill streets to the maypole at Rumsey Park along the Potomac River.

"I love this," said Rosemarie Hunter, who drove nearly six hours from Charleston, W.Va., to attend the event. "I think it's an authentic celebration of spring. It's indicative of the season and of hope. And it's really wholesome."

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The Shepherdstown Northwest Clog Morris team hosted the celebration. Morris is a term loosely applied to traditional English folk dancing that dates back to at least medieval times.

Morris dancer Laura First donned a lilac-adorned unicorn head to lead the colorful parade with Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer, who carried a wooden staff decorated with fragrant lilacs and irises.

The May Day celebration "only adds to the eclectic aura that we have in our town," Auxer said.

A group of budding Morris dancers, the Shepherdstown Morris Minors, walked through town holding Morris dancing sticks and ribbons attached to a small maypole.

"It's so fun," said Jennifer Smith, 8, of the Shepherdstown area. "I like being in the parade."

"May lass" Leslie Carter, of Shepherdstown, offered pieces of lemon poppy seed cake to "ensure bounty throughout the year," she said. Pagan worshipper Scott Schmied, of Shepherdstown, danced shirtless in a bamboo skirt he designed that morning. And fellow Shepherdstown resident Butch Sanders served as the parade's drum-beating "May bunny" in a pair of furry rabbit ears and a tail crafted from flowers.

"In order to play the drum, I had to wear the ears," Sanders laughed.

Four-year-old Cara Netzer carried a basket filled with pink petals for the parade, while her little sister, Melissa, 2, opted for a ride on her mother's hip. Tori and Mike Netzer traveled with their daughters from Woodsboro, Md., for the celebration, they said.

"It's yet another incredible event in our wonderful community," said Kelly Scudieri, who watched the parade with her young daughter, Sophia, as it passed their Mill Street home.

The parade ended at Rumsey Park's towering maypole, around which five barefoot, white-clad dancers - including Kim Forry, Kitty Clark, Melanie Climis, Rose Sincevich and Katharine Wright - waited still and intertwined for the start of an ancient ceremony.

Maypoles were fixtures in old village squares. Villagers would decorate the poles with colored streamers and flowers, and sing and dance and feast around them to celebrate the coming of spring. The dances were also said to promote fertility.

"Watch out," warned former Shepherdstown Morris dancer Marianne Van Diver, who walked in the parade with daughters Maggie Rose, five months, and Maira, 3. "These are fertility dances."

Forry, Clark, Climis, Sincevich and Wright did a spiral dance around the maypole to the beat of a solitary drum, twirling around the Morris dancers seated quietly on the ground around the pole. The crowd then clapped in tune to the accordions playing nearby as the Morris dancers circled the large pole and a number of smaller ones in intricate formations with flowers in hand.

"I've never seen anything like it," said onlooker Michael Messenger, 14, of Ranson, W.Va.

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