Happy May 1st to all… how have you spent your May Day so far? I was lucky enough to get up at 6:00 am, travel down the street to the Takoma Park Gazebo, and watch three morris teams do their very best to “bring in the May.” It was raining, but this did not prevent some very spirited dancing and waving of hankies (as shown on the right). And, it seems that what they did this morning really worked! The sun is now shining and the temperature is rising.
Many other Washington Revels friends were playing in the band (Charlie Pilzer, Jennifer Cutting, Alan Peel, Jim Besser, and more… ) and many others (like me) were cheering on the dancing. I held my umbrella in one hand, and Arlo’s dog leash in the other and just enjoyed the fun.
Since Jennifer Cutting and I both work at the Library of Congress, I wanted to share a link to a wonderful video (with lots of interesting links for more information) entitled, Bringing in the May, featuring Jennifer, who is a specialist at the American Folklife Center. Check it out!
And, if you are interested in more May rituals and merriment… come and see the Washington Revels performing at the National Cathedral Flower Mart this Saturday (May 5, 2012). Our show will run from Noon to 1:00pm, will feature some great May music (with a musical surprise… so you have to come to experience that), a mummer’s play, and the wonderful Revels children, tweens and teens. We will process to the front steps of the National Cathedral, crown our May Queen, sings songs and rounds (including audience participation) and after the show, we will process to the Maypole for some dancing! Learn more about our May Revels at: http://revelsdc.org/shows-events/may-revels/
There are two really exciting dances in this year’s show. I’m not in either one, which means I’ve had opportunities to take blurry pictures of both. One is called “Saidi” – it’s a dance from southern Egypt with its roots in Ancient Egyptian martial arts. It involves guys dancing with sticks.
Revels aficionados may think, “guys with sticks? that sounds familiar.” Indeed, guys have danced with sticks on our stage many times. They’re usually morris dancers. Morris is an English dancing tradition which is most commonly associated with big white handkerchiefs and bells on the ankles, but can also involve sticks.
Last summer I was in England and saw a bunch of morris teams performing in a town square. One of them was doing a stick dance and another team kept messing with them by running up, grabbing a stick, and giving them something else – a different team’s stick, a bit of ivy, a coffee mug, a flower, a member of another team. It was the funniest thing I’d seen in a long time. I was informed later by an experienced morris dancer that this is utterly old hat, but, you know, it was the first time I’d seen it. I was impressed.
I do not recommend trying that trick during a Christmas Revels performance, by the way.
Anyway, the point of that little digression on morris dancing is that the word morris supposedly comes from the Middle English word morys, which meant “Moorish.” I don’t think anyone actually thinks the stick dances of the Border Morris tradition came from the Upper Nile, but it’s an interesting connection, isn’t it?