AUBURN — Darlene Morabito is the director and choreographer of a dancing witches group in Auburn, and she certainly looked the part at its rehearsal Thursday.
Wearing a small witch’s hat and the group’s T-shirt, Morabito stood at the front of the banquet room at Falcon Lanes in Auburn with a microphone in hand.
She was leading members of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Broom, which she founded last October. The sisterhood’s popularity has only been growing since it performed in the Auburn Memorial Day Parade and the Owasco Fourth of July Day Parade, where it won the “most entertaining unit” award.
Morabito said she always tries to make one thing clear in her conversations with the public: “Our agenda is not anything controversial or religious or political. Our agenda is fellowship for women and empowerment.”
In other words, no actual witchcraft is brewing. “It’s strictly theatrical,” she said.
Two Auburn women, Barbara Foster and Vicky Meyers, came to the rehearsal Thursday as prospective members.
They sat to the side and watched the members. Some wore witch hats and carried brooms, which are part of the choreography.
“I saw them marching in the parade, and my kids said, ‘You really ought to do this because you love to entertain.’ And I’ve been a witch in a haunted hayride,” Foster said.
Meyers added, “I’ve been watching several of their YouTube videos, and it just looks like fun."
Morabito said the performers usually get curious reactions from people who are unfamiliar with the group.
“I think people are surprised when they see us. Because it is something different and they get a kick out of that,” she said. “And the kids love us. The little kids are like, ‘Witches!’”
The inspiration for the performances goes back to 2016, with a viral video of German women in witches’ garb doing choreography in a wooded area. They dance to the reggae song “Schüttel deinen Speck,” which translates to “Shake Your Bacon," by Peter Fox.
The Walpurgis Wolfshagen witches in the video were borrowing from pagan traditions associated with May Day and the beginning of summer.
And Morabito wasn’t the only one who wanted to try the performance.
Witches doing the original choreography to “Shake Your Bacon” have popped up in North Carolina, Ontario and the United Kingdom, making the song something of an anthem for modern witches.
The sisterhood has another signature dance to a song called “Monsta” by Culcha Candela, which the German witches also used. But the sisterhood’s choreography came from Morabito.
Morabito first taught the “Shake Your Bacon” dance during her Zumba classes at the Auburn Public Studio. After some encouragement, she started the sisterhood in the fall of 2018 with about eight members.
“At first, when we started this, I thought: Where are we ever going to find someone that wants to watch us get up there and dance?” she said. “Now, it’s like we have this whole calendar of stuff.”
The sisterhood is slated to perform at nine different events from the end of July through November, when they will appear in the annual downtown Auburn Holiday Parade.
The sisterhood first performed in December at a psychic fair in Fingerlakes Mall with about 12 members, then regrouped after the holidays in January. That was when “it just started exploding,” Morabito said.
There are currently about 35 core members from Auburn and elsewhere in central New York, including Waterloo and Seneca Falls, who attend weekly rehearsals.
On Thursday, they practiced the two staple dances and went over new performances to “Time Warp” and Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River,” which is thought to be inspired by the Salem witch trials. They added their own drum circle and instrumentation to the Delta Rae song.
Morabito said the sisterhood gives many of the women a creative outlet, as well as exercise and time to socialize.
“Some make jewelry. One lady makes the hats and the brooms. So, we have a lot of artistic people in one way or another. And they share their talents, and we have made so many new friendships,” she said.
The sisterhood also accepts members regardless of experience level, size or physical ability — factors that Morabito said have barred some of the women from performing with other groups in the past.
Kimberly Thompson is the youngest member at 30 years old, and the members’ ages range up to the 60s.
“No matter what, we all at the end of the day have each other's backs. We’re all accepting,” she said. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Broom is a sisterhood.”
“I always say we’re good witches,” Morabito said. “It is all about how women interact with one another.”