May Day! May Day! Event a cause for celebration of old

May 02, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - May Day, a pagan fertility ritual, goes back so far that Shakespeare, writing in the 1500s, said it was an ancient practice.

Costumed dancers and musicians danced and sashayed down the main street of Shepherdstown Saturday and ended up on the lawn of Shepherd University's McMurran Hall to dance around and decorate a maypole - all in reminiscence of olden days in England when the first of May meant the beginning of the spring growing season.

"Research shows that these ritual dances predate the Middle Ages," said Joannie Blanton of Shepherdstown, who with Laura First of Keedysville, organized the first May Day celebration in Shepherdstown in 1994.


"Before that, we held it in our meadow in Keedysville," said First, who with Susan Spangler, Hugh Johnson and Don Oehser make up the band "Singing the Bones" and its brand of what First calls "eclectic" music.

The band performed before the May Day parade got under way at noon.

Parade participants included groups of Morris dancers dressed in costumes in the style of ancient villagers. The dancers were accompanied by the simple tunes of the time.

Blanton said she is one of the original Morris dancers in Shepherdstown.

"I've been doing it for 13 years," she said.

Wendy Pacek, also of Shepherdstown, a 12-year Morris dancing veteran, enjoys the activity because there's much to learn.

"A lot depends on your gifts of orientation and coordination," Pacek said. "I learned by doing it over and over. It helps if you can count to keep time with the music."

Morris dancers, which involve major roles by men as well as women, practice weekly in Shepherdstown.

"We do it just for fun," said Doug Inkley, 49, of Yarrowsburg. "We practice weekly at the (Shepherdstown) train station. It's also a great way to meet people from other Morris groups."

The purpose of the maypole is to welcome spring. The ancients danced around them in the village green to encourage crops to grow. It's all about fertility, organizers said.

Mike Pratt, of Shepherdstown, wearing a mask and long green robe, said he represented the "Green Man" in the festival.

"He's a Celtic legend who brought back life to the forest in the spring," Pratt said.

"The whole May Day thing is to encourage growth," he said. "During the day, the 'Green Man' would mate with all the maidens in the village. The bad part is that at the end of the day, he would be killed and his blood spread over the fields to bring life to the soil."

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