Believe it or not, warm summer days are just around the corner here in Tooele County.
To help celebrate the coming of better weather, students at Scholar Academy have been working hard to learn a centuries-old European tradition — the maypole dance, which they will perform on May 6 as part of the Clark Historic Farm’s annual Baby Animal Days celebration in Grantsville.
“It’s been a privilege to share the culture with them and with the community,” said Louisa Tomlinson, who has helped teach the maypole for the past three years. “These kids are amazing. Every year, groups of kids have had a go at this and have given it their all, and it’s just been a really, really fun thing to be a part of.”
Tomlinson, a native of England, saw a post on Facebook three years ago from Laurie Hurst, the president of Friends of the Clark Historic Farm. Hurst was looking for girls to take part in the maypole, a tradition that many of Grantsville’s early settlers brought with them from Europe. Tomlinson wanted her daughter, Olivia, to get involved, partially because she had danced the maypole during her own childhood.
“ When you move to another country and you have kids somewhere else, one of the things I felt was a sacrifice was that there’s not a whole lot of culture I can pass on to them from where I come from,” Tomlinson said. “We do our best at our house — we try to do some of the English holidays on our own, but something like this, obviously I can’t do it on my own. So when the opportunity came up, I felt like it was a really good opportunity to pass that on to them and give them that opportunity to see what I had done when I was a kid, when I was their age.”
Since Tomlinson had prior experience with the maypole, Hurst asked her to get involved. Since Hurst is out of town, Tomlinson is fully in charge of the maypole this year, and has had plenty of help along the way. Scholar Academy in Tooele has allowed her to use the school’s gymnasium for practices, and the students have embraced the opportunity to participate.
“I went to the principal and asked if we could base our practices here and offer it to the students here, and they were happy to let us use the gym,” she said. “The kids are just great here. Loads of them, straight away, were like, ‘yeah, we want to do it.’ That’s been a huge help. We’re not out in the elements trying to practice.”
The maypole has not only allowed Tomlinson and her children to embrace their English roots. It has also offered the other 16 children who are involved in this year’s performances to learn about other cultures.
“For the children here, teaching them about other cultures and what people do around the world and broadening their horizons and helping them understand that Tooele’s one small part of a huge world, and they can be a part of that huge world that’s out there — I think it shines a light on another country, the whole of Europe really, and hopefully gets them thinking about, ‘there’s other things out there,’” Tomlinson said.
In its earliest days, which date back to the 16th century, the maypole was primarily a girls-only activity, but it has expanded to include boys. This year, there is one boy in the Scholar Academy group participating in the maypole, with another serving as an understudy.
Tomlinson said when she was growing up, the maypole was a regular part of physical education in primary school — the English equivalent of American elementary schools. The dance, in which participants weave between each other in a circle with brightly colored ribbons connected to a pole in the center, provides an opportunity for kids to be active while enjoying themselves at the same time, which is something Tomlinson feels has been lost in recent years as there has been a push in schools for kids to be more fit.
“No one likes to run drills unless they’re in the Army,” she said. “This is a great way for them to get active and do something that’s super fun and social. That’s what they need as well — they need the social element. I think that’s probably one of the reasons elementary schools in England all do (maypole dances). It keeps the kids active and it gets them socializing.”
It takes a lot of effort and practice to get the maypole perfected, which also benefits the kids, Tomlinson added.
“It’s something that gets them physically active and mentally active,” she said. “You have to remember where you are in the routine and you have to make sure you’re not going ahead of anyone. You have to keep to the beat so you’re learning the beat.
“There’s so many things it teaches — they’re social, they’re getting active and it’s fun. A lot of times, I think we try to ram getting active down kids’ throats a little bit, and forget the fact that it can be fun. You can have a laugh with your friends doing stuff like this and you’re incredibly active.”
This year’s maypole will be performed twice on May 6 during Baby Animal Days at the Clark Historic Farm. The first performance will be at 11 a.m., with the second at 1 p.m. Admission to Baby Animal Days is $3 for adults, $2 for children and $12 for families, with all proceeds going to the farm, located at 378 W. Clark St. in Grantsville.