Janet Sheridan: Dancing the maypole
April 27, 2012
Francis Perrin, a teacher who suffered from dishevelment, stormed into my classroom spewing information and upset:
"Janet, you'll never believe what they expect us to do now — a maypole dance!"
Red-faced with alarm, she continued: "It's because we're first-year teachers, but I won't do it. I'm no dancer."
"Goodness," I thought, looking at my wild-eyed colleague.
"Can they really make rookie teachers do a maypole dance? Is that in our contract?"
The principal explained: Francis was confused.
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She and I didn't have to frolic with streamers — our students did.
Every year since 1942, the fourth-grade classes had performed a maypole dance for the spring festival.
The thought of teaching students to dance tipped Francis further into delirium, so I volunteered to teach her class while she taught the flutophone to mine.
The next day, Norm the janitor, with a face full of wrinkles and gloom, delivered a cardboard box to my room.
It held a 45-rpm record, dance instructions, and four sets of grubby streamers: twisted, knotted, and entangled.
Norm explained that he would hammer the streamers in alternating colors to the tops of two poles, which stood on bases made from old tires.
"You do the rest," he sighed, "I'll pray for you."
I unscrambled the streamers and took them home for laundering.
Then, I studied the dance diagrams and practiced the steps in my living room: I held an imaginary streamer as I skipped, circled, twirled, and bobbed, causing much merriment for my husband.
I taught my class first, relying on their goodwill to ease the anxiety of my dance-master debut.
We walked through the steps, without streamers, again and again, especially the part where the partners separated to circle the pole in opposite directions in a weaving pattern.
Bright-eyed Rosy said switching from side to side without stepping on each other was even harder than long division.
Next we practiced to the music, straightened out a few miscues, and decided we were ready for the streamer-laden pole, which Norm solemnly rolled onto the gym floor.
Streamers in hand, the children danced flawlessly until the weaving began and they briskly wrapped the streamers — not around the pole — but one another's necks.
Never having practiced with a streamer and a partner — my husband refused to participate — I didn't realize the dancers should move their streamers over and under each other's as they wove in and out.
We practiced again without strangulations occurring, but the wrapped pole caused dismay.
Rather than creating a checkerboard pattern, the streamers gapped and bunched like a drunken boa constrictor.
With experimentation, we discovered the streamers needed to be taut at all times and pulled up decisively as the dancers passed one another.
The next practice turned into a tug-of-war: the children reacted with exuberance, the pole wobbled precariously and two streamers ripped loose. We discussed appropriate pulling.
A cold rain swamped the school grounds on performance day, so Norm trucked the poles to the Elite Dance Hall, a landmark ballroom famous for its spring-mounted floor.
The entire town showed up: seniors settling in early, toddlers attempting escape, mothers passing around babies, and fathers fresh from their fields.
The students, slicked-up and patted-down in their Sunday best, subsided into silence as their turn approached and moved onto the floor like decorated robots when the principal announced the traditional maypole dance.
As they began to dance, the bounciness of the floor that rested on coiled springs startled them.
I felt faint.
Then Dix Frampton whooped, "Hey, this is fun!" and went airborne.
Soon, even the bashful began to grin and bound, their laughter mingling with the music.
I clapped and cheered throughout for 62 children having fun, and for Norm, who leaned against the wall, his long face lifted into a smile and one toe tapping.