Our first visit to COAM

Saturday 23rd May was our first chance to dance as a team at the Chiltern Open Air Museum (COAM) and to make use of our Maypole in its new setting. It has to be said that the weather was very definitely not on our side being pretty cold for the time of year: very showery with a very gusty wind. This was too much for the gazebo COAM very kindly lent us to keep our musical instruments dry, but fortunately team member Angie had brought one too! Huge thanks.

Despite the excitement of the wind and rain we did get some dancing done. The day was part demonstration of our current repertoire of dances and part public rehearsal of new material. We started with a Maypole display showing the select and hardy audience a few of our regular Maypole dances which were greatly appreciated. Sue then introduced a new North West Dance to the group and there were enough of us to form two sets to learn it. The dance worked really well and will be a great addition to the repertoire.

At lunchtime some members of the team took the chance to wander around the site and see some of the excellent buildings. Then we demonstrated some more Maypole dances, including some of the historical and country dances that can be done in a circle around the Maypole. This gave our audience a chance to join in for some socially-distanced dancing outside of our staked-out arena.

This was followed by a rehearsal of our Broom Dance, and an opportunity for Mike and Beth to perform their solo Morris Jigs. As the weather was not improving significantly, we then decided to do one final Maypole session with socially-distanced audience participation before packing up and going home.

What was clear to all who were there is that everything we did proved of interest to our audiences and to the staff of COAM, and we really feel that there is a good fit between the Museum and our activities. It will be great to build on this over the next few years.

One unusual aspect of the day was that Sound Recordist Jonathan Kempster was present throughout, recording the sounds of some performances and doing interviews with members of the team and the public. From this material he has edited together a really interesting five-minute feature which he has kindly allowed us to share here.

Spring Live 2021

We recently enjoyed a fantastic weekend at Spring Live, which took place (with Covid precautions) on 24th and 25th April at the South Of England Showground in West Sussex.

In normal years our performances at Spring Live include a demonstration of Sussex Country Dances and an invitation for members of the public to try their hand at maypole dancing and ceilidh dancing. This year that wasn’t possible due to social distancing requirements, so we seized the opportunity to show off our members’ expertise in a wide variety of folk dance genres, including broom dances, solo Cotswold morris jigs, and clog dancing. We also adapted our repertoire of maypole and country dances for a smaller number of dancers, and demonstrated these with extra-long-ribbons and larger formations.

Our performance area may have been off-limits to the public this year, but the surrounding area provided the perfect space for spectators to watch our performances and enjoy a picnic at the same time.

The sun shone throughout the weekend, although it did get a bit breezy at times and we really had to hang on to those maypole ribbons!

We now look forward to our first visit to COAM on 23rd May, where we will spend time developing our display dances in an ‘open rehearsal’. More info on that in our next blog post!

The Saga Of The Large Maypole

Back in the days when we were able to perform at large events (remember them?!), a large maypole was constructed to our outline specification for the village green at BBC Countryfile Live. Over the next 3 years it provided a spectacular focal point for us and members of the public during approximately 40 performances at both Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard.
Then, like so many things in lockdown, it was unused and stuck in a warehouse for a year, and the organisers of Countryfile Live offered it to us. Thanks to the generosity of some team members we were able to purchase it and, during the discussion, the idea of giving it a new home at the Chiltern Open Air Museum came up. Enquiries were made, discussions took place and all parties were in agreement.
Last week, in the final stage of the Saga, the maypole was installed in its new home at COAM, with the ribbons safely stored nearby and ready to be used when we are able to perform again. So far the only audience has been a flock of sheep in the small field next to it! There was also considerable excitement when the maypole delivery crew met COAM’s wonderful fork lift – a museum piece in its own right.
The Museum reopened on 26th March, and now visitors can admire the maypole in its new home. The first chance to see it with ribbons and dancers will come on Sunday 23rd May when the mAy team will be visiting to demonstrate and discuss the dances in an informal Live Rehearsal. This event will also feature plenty of music and the many other traditional country dances that our audiences have come to expect.
Other aspects of the Maypole programme, such as volunteer training, school sessions, weddings and corporate training, will be introduced as restrictions are lifted, and we are looking forward to a spectacular End Of Season show with full audience participation in September.

Urban Maypole Dancing

2020 was a quieter summer than we’d hoped, with events at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Spring Live and Countryfile Live being cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but we are pleased to share a few maypole snaps with you today!

Back in October, our leader Mike Ruff took part in a photoshoot for LAW magazine, involving long ribbons attached to CCTV poles at various sites around London. These are for a feature in January’s issue, linking traditional and urban cultures.

Mike’s role was initially providing the ribbons, but at the last minute he was asked to act as teacher and dance consultant too!

The first site was less than half a mile from Whitelands College, where in 1881 John Ruskin introduced Maypole Dancing as we know it now to a group of teachers in training!

A flurry of events for May Day

A busy time for the mAy team; we went to Butser Ancient Farm and met the Wickerman on the 29th April, returned to the Swiss Garden on the 30th April and Bath University on the 6th May. What an enjoyable time we all had! Photos from these events can be found in the Gallery.

Thanks to the Phabulous PHAMS we had the mAy Team sashes for the first time. Badges and more costume to come.

End Of Season

Following the outstanding successes of our events at the Swiss Garden and Countryfile Live, The mAy team already looks forward to returning to those events next year. No doubt there will be many other enquiries.

To be able to do all of these we may need more members and are likely to be holding a workshop day in the spring. If you are a musician or dancer and would like to be involved, please let us know.

At the moment most of our events are in the South East and South Midlands.