Maypole dancing is most often associated with the May day celebration celebrating the arrival of spring. A young boy and girl would be selected to be the ‘King and Queen of the May’ and they would preside over the days festivities of feasting, dancing, music and maybe a spring fair.
Originally the pole was decorated with garlands of flowers and leaves but no ribbons and the dancers would simply dance around the pole to whatever musical accompaniment they had, a fiddle or a tabor maybe. The ribbons came much later, with this the dancers would each hold a ribbon and dance in different directions to create complex patterns of colour on the pole.
At the time of writing it is still possible to see both forms of pole dancing in the village of Barwick-in-Elmet a village that has been in existence since the stone age and is now part of Leeds in West Yorkshire. Here both dances are performed with the children of the village dancing with the ribbons, and the adults dancing without and being led by Morris Dancers.
The church of St Andrew Undershaft in the City of London is named after the pole that was kept in it’s eaves and set up each spring, this custom came to an end in 1517 with a student riot. The pole itself survived another thirty years until a puritan mob destroyed it as a ‘pagan idol’.
Dancing around the maypole was banned under Cromwell. along with anything else that may have been considered the least bit enjoyable , but of course this didn’t last long.