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Not even coronavirus can stop this dancing

You might have thought 79-year-old Peter Leibert, who founded the Westerly Morris Men in 1974, bringing a centuries-old English country dancing tradition to this part of the world, this year might have considered canceling one of the group's signature events: helping dance the sun up at North Stonington's Lantern Hill on the first day of spring.

Think again.

In an email about plans for Thursday morning's dancing, the retired Connecticut College art professor used a term for the coronavirus I can't repeat here. He said it wasn't going to stop them.

"I owe it to the tradition," Leibert later told me, when I called to ask why, at a time when everything from kids' play dates to hairdressing appointments are being canceled, the dancing at dawn would go on.

Indeed, Thursday's turnout by the Morris Dancers was the group's 34th consecutive annual event at Lantern Hill.

I suspect even Leibert would agree it wasn't their best.

The rainy weather was so miserable they scrapped the hike up the hill, where the music usually greets the rising sun, and performed instead on the road at the trail head. One of the only other times they didn't climb was the year there was so much ice, the trail wasn't safe.

Thursday's turnout for dancers was light, just four. Leibert, on his button accordion, made for five performers.

About a dozen or more others, and a few dogs, turned up to watch.

About halfway through the event, a state police cruiser arrived, lights going. The young trooper explained he was responding to a complaint about the road being blocked.

After he was told what was going on, he parked the cruiser and took pictures, for the police Facebook page, he said.

The tradition of greeting the sun on the first day of spring with song and dance is inspiring in normal times. In the time of a coronavirus pandemic, with the world hunkering down, I found it strangely reassuring and confident.

It's meant to be a celebratory ceremony about fertility and rebirth and the rhythms of nature. Perfect.

"Our souls and spirits are complete. Our lives are on the mend," Leibert sang, from the same song used to start the ceremony every spring at Lantern Hill.

"We will back next year," the song ends, "to greet the sun way up on Lantern Hill."

By then, we hope, a spring of 2020 haunted by coronavirus, will seem like a long time ago.

Here's to the 35th celebration.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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