Toronto, May Day Morning.
The alarm sounds. 4:45. Do I really need to get up this early? Oh, yes. Team needs me to dance. Downstairs. Kettle on for tea. Upstairs. Wake husband and 16 year-old daughter. Brush teeth, hair, wash face. Get into kit. Pack work clothes and dance shoes. Wake husband and daughter. Back downstairs. Make tea. Upstairs. Husband up, dressed and is now painting nose and ears red. Suggest to daughter she remain asleep until the masses return for breakfast after dancing. She refuses insisting, "I've never missed a May Day in my life!" We depart by car to High Park, behind schedule.
In May days past, we've danced through rain, sleet, and snow but this year the weather is glorious. As we drive through the park we can see it is awash in spring blossoms. The cherry and serviceberry are fully open, while the crabs tease us with their full flower buds. The car park is still in half-light and through the dimness I can make out the table being set for champagne and strawberries courtesy of the Toronto Morris Men. The Belles of York are assembling and are busily chatting - perhaps explaining the May Day traditions to their newest dancers? Orange Peel and Cold Barn, with the longest drive, appear to be the first to be ready to dance. Toronto Women's Sword looks around for their swords. As usual we all know the show order because John Parkinson (Parky) has organized it well in advance. The music for the Winster Processional begins and dancers slowly move into 2 columns. Our May Day dancing begins with a double-step.
Since 1978, Toronto's High Park has been the customary location for local Morris dancers to dance the sun up on the first day in May. Perhaps there was a time when the dancers were ready to dance before the dawn but now we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we simply cannot organize one another to begin dancing before 6:00am. Still early, but we miss the magic of sunlight breaking over the eastern hills.
We view May Day as our chance to display the dances we've been practicing once-a-week since the fall. It's an opportunity to see how our teams have grown in number or have started to dwindle. For some of us, this is one of the only Morris events that our children attend and they do so simply because they know that they'll be sure to meet the other Morris kin that they have come to know over the years. My husband commented that the children of the Morris dancers come to embrace the dancing as "theirs" not simply an event that their parents are dragging them out of bed to attend. Our children invite their friends to come to the park on May morning, and they do! It has become a community-builder in so many ways.
Over the years our dancing has attracted quite an audience. We've had up to 100 people come along to watch our ritual and it appears that watching our dancing has become habit-forming. Some of these spectators not only return year after year, but bring along others who are not familiar with our May Day tradition.
This May morning I looked around to see folks that are either currently active in the Morris community, have been in the Morris community, or are considering becoming a participant in this world of folk dancing. There were people who have left teams for interpersonal reasons, people who are in failing health and are no longer able to dance, and people I have never met before who've recently joined a Morris side. This event provides an opportunity for us to offer support to each other and enjoy the healing bonds created by community involvement.
After dancing in the park many of the dancers and invited members of the audience head back to our backyard for a potluck breakfast. On the years when May Day falls on a weekend we can expect up to 80 people for breakfast. This year the numbers were lower as many of us had to hurry off to work. I say usually, because after many years out of the full-time workforce, this year I needed to go straight to work from the park. Some of us take the day off of work to continue dancing through the day. There was a year when a child of one of the dancers stayed home for the day, then protested his teacher's refusal to allow him to write a retest - it was all because of this ritual holiday that his family celebrated. In the end the board agreed that he was within his rights to claim a religious exception (!) and he was allowed to write the test.
May Day breakfast is an intensely social time where eating and drinking is interspersed with a song or two. I say intensely because there is almost something conspiratorial about this tradition. Neighbours used to walk by our house on May Day wondering why all of these folks dressed in white were standing around, outside, drinking coffee and singing. These days, our neighbours wave as they pass by, even if they haven't anticipated the scene they are not as puzzled by it, as our belled guests party on the lawn.
As I walked along the halls of my school, it was with a real 'spring' in my step. All day long I had this May Day secret that I was happy to share with any of my workmates who seemed the least bit interested. The reason for my perkiness on May morning was not the gallons of tea I had already consumed by the time I arrived at work, it was because I managed to squeeze in a performance, a cardio workout, a walk in the park and some socializing with my dance friends (old and new) all before 7:30 am. Now I was awake.
Vol. 26, No.1, May, 2006