Maypole dancing is a form of folk dance from western Europe , especially England ,Sweden and Germany , with two distinctive traditions. In the most widespread, dancers perform circle dances around a tall pole which is decorated with garlands, painted stripes, flowers, flags and other emblems. In the second, dancers dance in a circle each holding a coloured ribbon attached to a much smaller pole; the ribbons are intertwined and plaited either on to the pole itself or into a web around the pole. The dancers may then retrace their steps exactly in order to unravel the ribbons.
The first kind of maypole dancing is probably extremely ancient and is thought by some to have Germanic pagan fertility symbolism , although there is a frustrating lack of evidence to support this conjecture. It is traditionally performed in the spring around the festival of May Day , but in Sweden it is during the midsummer festivities.
The Maypole is often considered a phallic symbol , coinciding with the worship of Germanic phallic figures such as that of Freyr . Potential other meanings include symbolism relating to the Yggdrasil , a symbolic axis linking the underworld , the world of the living , the heavens and numerous other realms. Also likely related, reverence for sacred trees can be found in surviving accounts of Germanic tribes, for example, Thor's Oak ,Adam of Bremen 's account of Sacred groves and the Irminsul.
The second kind of maypole dancing originates in the 18th century , derived from traditional and 'art' dance forms popular in Italy and France . These were exported to the London stage and reached a large audience, becoming part of the popular performance repertoire. Adopted at a large teacher training institution, the ribbon maypole dance then spread across most of central and southern England and is now regarded as the most 'traditional' of May Day's traditional characteristics.