Maypole dances its way back into 21st Century

Residents from the village of Carleton, near Skipton, are resurrecting maypole dancing after a gap of over 30 years.
Residents from the village of Carleton, near Skipton, are resurrecting maypole dancing after a gap of over 30 years.
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The thrill of dancing her way through a North Yorkshire village remained with Sarah Churcher long after she wound up the colourful ribbons of the Maypole.

As a girl she recalls the camaraderie born out of learning the dances and songs that accompanied the annual May Day display around Carleton-in-Craven, near Skipton.

The mother-of-two is now part of a team of women passing on the skills to a new generation who are the first wave of children to revive the tradition in the village in around 25 years.

“I think the excitement of going around the village and showing the villagers what we had done was a real treat. It felt like a really special thing to be involved in,” said Mrs Churcher, 34. “The fun of it is what stands out to me.”

The solicitor became involved after answering the rallying cry of village stalwart Vicki Woodhead, who is part of the Carleton Community Umbrella Group, and who appealed for locals to help revive Maypole dancing.

Anne Leeming, who taught Mrs Churcher when she was a child, is also imparting her knowledge to the 12 girls who have already started practising the dances and songs for 
this year’s May Day 

Village joiner Harry Whiteoak offered to make the Maypole, 
the local pantomime group chipped in with some costumes while villager Pat Mollon volunteered to make the remainder and a May Queen cloak.

“I really felt it was something I wanted to do because I so enjoyed it and I have a real feeling that if our generation do not get involved in things like this then they will completely die away,” said Mrs Churcher.

Although much has 
changed since some of the women involved were 
younger – some were surprised to see Mrs Churcher wearing trousers in video footage of her dancing in the 1980s – the fundamental elements have remained the same, drawing 
on traditional folk songs for music.

“They are a little unusual for the children to sing but they sing them so well and they are so lovely and they have really entered into the spirit of doing it in the traditional way,” said Mrs Churcher.

As a child Mrs Churcher was taught the songs and dances of the Maypole after school alongside her female classmates by the ladies of the village ahead of an annual performance.

“We used to go from one end (of the village) to the other and stop and dance and sing,” she said. “People would come out of their houses and watch and then we would move on. It took a couple of hours during the morning.

“I think it probably felt like it was something quite out of the ordinary to us when we were that age. It was very popular around the village. People came out to support children of the village. That’s something that goes on now. All the villagers in Carleton are supportive of our community activities.”

The invitation was open to boys but only girls are taking part – something Mrs Woodhead hopes will change next year. Unlike the travelling Maypoles of years gone by, this year’s will remain in one place.

“Everyone is thrilled that we are doing it again,” said Mrs Woodhead.

The Maypole dance will take place outside the Swan Inn, Carleton, at 3pm on May 5.