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May Pole Dance History Origin Page
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Maypole vintage oldtime  Dancers - 1920s
Maypole dance history origins logo      Originally the Maypole represented a phallic symbol or a Pagan symbol of Fertility celebrating sexuality and life to the 'Horned God' which was decorated mostly with flowers and wild garlands (still used by wiccans and witchcraft). The Horned God image is similar to the Greek/Roman pan, he is a symbol of fertility and the life for the forest, including the hunt, which supplied ancients with their livelihood. Later moving away from Pagan worship it was revived by, changed and became Roman in origin, who used it in some ceremonies connected with the worship of Maia, the mother of Mercury, and the presiding goddess of that month. For many centuries it was the chief dance of rustic England. The ancient Britons erected Maypoles even before Claudius
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and the Roman invasion (AD 43) and adorned them with flowers. There are also the Yggdrasil Norse tree and Irish Bile Pole versions.

         The May Dance until the late 1800's was popular in the rural districts of England where it achieved it's finishing non-pagan touches, while in many places throughout the world it was still widely danced. Other countries of Europe also had their dances for celebrating the first of May. In Switzerland these festivals were conducted with great solemnity in the morning, a dramatic representation was given in the afternoon, while the evening time was given up to music and dancing. A dance, however, of which there are numerous records, both in the books of well-known writers, and the drawings on vases and friezes, was the Chain Dance, performed by a band of young men and girls placed alternately in a ring, and with hands clasped. They then danced round, at the same tithe twisting in and out, much in the manner of the English Maypole Dance.

The May Dance of ancient origin,
        as it dates back to the dancing at the "Feast of Flora." Flora was the goddess of flowers, and festivals in her honor were held the last of April and the first of May (as in Robin Hoods Day). Originally, In celebrating the rites of Spring, the girls entering womanhood would be gathered up and allowed to participate in the making of the Maypole and its dances. Each Village or town would get a ribbon with a unique pattern which were simple in earlier time to more elaborate designs and fabrics with a May Blossom placed atop the pole. During the dance the younger girls were on the inside and the older on the outer rim. The older girls would form some of the prettiest rings around the Maypole and if the ribbon did not break would bring great luck upon the village.

   When the Festival came into its prime, all the young men and maidens of the country round were wont to rise at midnight and tie them to the woods, and returning before the sun was up, laden and bedecked with flowers, evergreen, and boughs, festooned their persons with the spoil. After sun rise they join the procession led by Jack O' the Green, who was fantastically arrayed with flowers and ribbons, and learning a red covered with flowers and streamers of every hue, and furnished near the top with hoops twined with flowers and evergreen, and crossing each other vertically. Furnished near the top with hoops twined with flowers and evergreen, and crossing each other vertically.

   After this personification came the Morris Dancers, six maids and as many swains linked hand in hand and fancifully arrayed in ribbons of red and blue, with bells on their ankles and literally covered with flowers. Then came the Maypole Dancers with hands joined, two and two. After these walked the tall and graceful maid Marion, escorted by Friar Tuck, she decorated gaily from head to foot with flowers, and he grotesquely attired in a monkish habit, and like the rest, bedecked with flowers. Then followed six pairs of Morris Dancers again, and immediately after them marched the master of ceremonies, Robin Hood (1160-1247) and by his side the Queen of May, the fairest maiden of the country side, as yet uncrowned, but attended by six young maids all dressed in white and covered with garlands. There were many other customs connected with Mayday, and the whole affair was conducted with much mock ceremony; two girls were chosen by vote to preside over the festivities, one being called Lady Flora, queen of the flowers, and the other Lady May, but in later times only one sovereign was elected, the Queen of the May.)

   Then again came the rest of the Maypole Dancers, who closed the procession, which was preceded by a band of music. After marching through the principal streets in the village, they gathered at the Maypole, and spent the remainder of the day in dancing and various games around it. Puritan William Bradford (a New Englander) wrote about his dislikes (biblical reasoning) of the Maypole as done to "Wanton Ditties" and the pole being "a stynching Idol", he also mentions the worse practice of the "Sundry rimes and verses" associated with this idolistic dance.

The Maypole
        was from twelve to sixty feet in height, usually made from a tree and is be studded with pins to the top, which are hung with garlands and streamers. On the Northwest side of a ring formed by a rope stretched around about twenty feet from the base of the pole, they now proceed to crown the May-Queen, who is seated on a throne raised on a platform, on each side of which, seated on stools, are her pages and attendants. Then begins the May-Queen's reign. She awards the prizes to the most graceful dancers and to those who excel in the other games, and has absolute power to reward or punish whomsoever she pleases. The May-Queen may also, if she choose, resign her throne for a time to maid Marion, and take part in the dance. The Master of the Ceremonies, Robin Hood, calm the changes, to suit his fancy, and we subjoin some of those most in favor.

India's Mysore:
        At the center of the hall ceiling is fixed a ring from which eight cords hang, each one of a different color. Four small girls and boys hold the ends of these cords. The music begins and the eight children start a dance, the movements of which are ruled so that the young performers twist the cords together. After they have turned in this manner, the orchestra plays another air and the twist is unwound; it is reformed and again unwound. The play of colors which unite and separate, as if by enchantment, produces the most pleasing effects. The color of the clothing of each child is the same as that of the cord which it holds. This is very pretty; isolated from each other at the moment when the cords are separated, they cross, mingle and blend to form the brilliant twist under which they appear in a group, combining all the colors. (see Oriental).

In Bavaria:
        dating back to the sixteenth century have a different tradition with the Maypoles (Maibaum) are decorated with pictures of the businesses and their crafts in the villages. One tradition is to have the Maypole stolen by one group and prevented by another. The dancing would take place in front of the Inns or Gasthäuser during this time.

In England:
        the festival was generally known as Maying (usually held in June because of the weather). The youth of both sexes start early in the day to gather flowers, which they throw in front of the houses, and with which they decorate the Maypoles. Then a number of ribbons, also decorated with flowers, are attached to the tops of the poles, and the dancers taking hold of the ends dance around till the ribbons are woven round the poles in the form of a braid. The reverse movements are then performed for unwinding them. A pleasing feature of these festivities is that on May morning the fairest or most popular of the girls is chosen May Queen, and crowned with a garland. Her word is law for the day, and all vie with each other in doing her homage. The Moors and Shakers also used a Maypole dance.

The Moresca or Mooris of the 15th century talks of the maypole:
        When Robin Hood was the foremost figure of the dance in Elizabethan times (1600s), the birth of spring on May day would send the folk of England into the woods to collect flowers, boughs and blossoms and wait for the sun to rise, a symbol of the full opened year. They would return home in the sunlight, flower-laden, dancing and capering around an ox drawn cart which bore the May Pole, thus the Masque of Morris dance which Robin Hood danced with Marian.

The Modern Maypole:
        (1900's) dance is said to have been created by John Tiller (Tiller Girls / Rockettes fame). However, some of the earliest writings talk of the Maypole dance all the way back to 1400's, so maybe he just choreographed a popular version. The Maypole dance today is considered a Children's dance, performed at schools, playgrounds and fairs for children with much rehearsal and choreography. Both Boys (who dance clockwise) and Girls (who dance Counter-Clockwise) participate today (fashioned after the Irish Bile Pole version).

The American Maypole:
(from Wikipedia) While not celebrated among the general public in the United States today, a Maypole Dance nearly identical to that celebrated in the United Kingdom is an important part of many Secondary or High School dances as part of a May Day celebration. Often the Maypole dance will be accompanied by other dances as part of a presentation to the public.

The earliest use of the Maypole in America occurred in 1628, where William Bradford, governor of New Plymouth, wrote of an incident where a number of servants, together with the aid of an agent, broke free from their indentured service to create their own colony, setting up a maypole in the center of the settlement, and behaving in such a way as to receive the scorn and disapproval of the nearby colonies, as well as an official officer of the king, bearing patent for the state of Massachusetts. Bradford writes:

"They also set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days togaether, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of the Roman Goddes Flora, or the beasly practieses of the madd Bacchinalians. Morton likwise (to shew his poetrie) composed sundry rimes & verses, some tending to lasciviousnes, and others to the detraction & scandall of some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idoll May-polle. They changed also the name of their place, and in stead of calling it Mounte Wollaston, they call it Merie-mounte, as if this joylity would have lasted ever. But this continued not long, for after Morton was sent for England, shortly after came over that worthy gentleman, Mr. John Indecott, who brought a patent under the broad seall, for the governmente of the Massachusets, who visiting those parts caused the May-polle to be cutt downe, and rebuked them for their profannes, and admonished them to looke ther should be better walking; so they now, or others, changed the name of their place againe, and called it Mounte-Dagon."

Click Here here for more English Maypole Dance variations with clips and text.

        (for those of you who may have some religious boundaries.) This dance is not just in the Christian and Jewish communities. It also extends into the confusing Wiccan (since 1950's), Pagans, Mayans, Druids, and even Witchcraft (not dark) ... See this Clip for some more info. This dance has different Music, dance steps and / or chants that are used. And some parents may have a very, very big problem with the wrong music if used.

    Not all Maypole dance is or means the same thing. The Music (sometimes called chants) can be beautiful and sometimes mis-leading and this can cause problems in private or public school system so be aware of what music your using if planning on doing this dance, as it is an ancient one and was originally invented by the Pagans for festivals. This page deals more with the English non-pagan dance.

    If your looking to host a maypole Outing or Get Together this Portable: Blue Base Maypole Setup (SET) may be just what you need to keep the workload down and the fun up! without worry.


Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

Rome Ancient Pagans Festival
Click Here here for more English Maypole Dance variations || a Spoken Tale: Maypole From Merrymount (1837 by Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

Maypole Items

Music preview clip

Related Music Titles

n/a Portable: Blue Base Maypole Setup (SET) Video Clip not available at this time A May - Day Overture [mp3] (Haydn)

Maypole & Mexican Dances
for Kids & Teachers DVD/Syllabus

Video Clip not available at this time All Around the Maypole
?? Video Clip not available at this time About The Maypole [mp3]

Ravensburger Maypole Fairies Puzzle, 100pc

Video Clip not available at this time Dance Around The Maypole (Wood)

Maypole - Peel and Stick Wall Decal
by Wallmonkeys

Video Clip not available at this time Dance Round The Maypole
      Video Clip not available at this time Dancing around the maypole

- Maypole Dance -
Copper Magnetic Therapy Bracelet

Video Clip not available at this time Joan the Maypole [mp3] *

Maypole Traditions: Make-Your-Own Maypole [Paperback]

Video Clip Pop-Up Window
May The Circle Be Open (Pagan song)

Sheet Music Covers

Video Clip Pop-Up Window
Maypole, the - (Hortus Musicus)
Video Clip Pop-Up Window
Maypole, the - (Wicker Man Soundtrack)
??   Video Clip not available at this time Maypole Dance
        Video Clip not available at this time Maypole Dance And Cradle Song [mp3]
Video Clip Pop-Up Window
Maypole Mews (David Garrick)
        Video Clip not available at this time Maypole Spins (dead can dance)
        Video Clip not available at this time My Native Heath Barwick Green [mp3]
        Video Clip not available at this time Now Is The Month Of Maying [mp3]*
Video Clip Pop-Up Window
Summerisle (Maypole Song, the)
        Above music is not a suggested list for the Maypole dance

Night Clubs



n/a n/a Bavaria (Maypole)
            Plymouth Rock

Related & May Day Films


Ballets / Stage / Tales

1898 - Winding the Maypole n/a Maypole From Merrymount (Nathaniel Hawthorne) (Clip)
1900 - Maypole Dance       Fanny Hill
1900 - May Day Parade        
1933 - Betty Boop's May Party (Clip)      


1946 - Proslava prvog maja       5/13/1864 - Royal Cornwall Gazette
1959 - Májové hvézdy ?       4/27/1901 - Sat Eve. Post - May Day Dance
1993 - May Day ?       5/1920 - May Pole Dance
2003 - May Day       4/1923 - Etude Magazine
            5/1926 - Vanity Fair Magazine
            5/1967 - McCalls Magazine

Other Related Dances of the time...

Bile Pole Dance Folk Dances Mysore (India) Yggdrasil Norse Tree
Fadé Dance, or Furry Dance May Dance Ring Around The Rosey  
Flora | Floral dances May Serpent Dance Square Dances 
Floralia Mooris/Moresca Whitsun dance
Branle Traditional Jamaican dance    

Dancers, Choreographers etc.


Friar Tuck Robin Hood King John
Maid Maryann   Richard (The Lion Hearted)

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...

Title Author Date Published Publisher
A Tale of the Riots of Eighty B. Rudge & Chas. Dickens 1868 Chapman and Hall
Twice-Told Tales Hawthorne, Nathaniel 1894 Riverside Press
Real Founders of New England (1602) Bolton, Charles Knowles 1929 F.W. Faxon Co.
Dances of England and Wales Kapeles & Blake 1950 Royal Academy of dancing
Allusions - Cultural, Literary, Biblical... Urdang & F.G. Ruffner 1986 Gale Research
Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: Q. Cooper & P. Sullivan 1995 Bloomsbury Publishing
$ Maypoles from around the World
Zevik, Emma, Ph. D.
2003 Maypole Press



Poets / Writers

Dead Can Dance George Ivers Chance of the Dice (14th C)
ROY WOOD J. Nash Maypole of Merrymount (Hawthorne)
    Neil Rowland    

Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

Bile Pole, The (Irish) Maibaum (link) Roman God: Priapus DMC Maypole Kit
Celtic Maidens of Cypress Thor's Tree World Tree (aka Yggdrasil)
Druids May Day Wiccans    
Easter Norse tree, The      
Festa di maggio Robin Hood      
The Basic Steps:
    A pole at least three inches square, or, if round, about the same in diameter; it is placed in a solid standard so as to be stationary. The pole should be ten to twelve feet high. Ribbons of two colors should be tied securely to the top of the pole, and somewhat longer than it, and should be of a number divisible by four.

    Dancers lead out with one fourth as many couples as streamers on the pole, and dance. Signal to find new partners. Signal to gather round the pole; the boys all gaining possession of the ends of the streamers of one color, the girls with the other. Signal for the boys to circle round to the right and girls to the left, making grand right and left. When a complete circle has been made and each dancer has reached his partner, all dance. Signal, seats. Repeated by all the couples.
Click here for more variations

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Last updated: April 29, 2013
©1999 - End English maypole dance history page.