BackGipsy



Having decided that a draw Poussette is a twentieth century invention, I'm wondering the same about a gipsy (or gypsy).

I'm no expert on Morris, but I believe the Morris Book was originally published in 1907 and The Country Dance Book Part 2 (Cecil Sharp's first publication of Playford dances) in 1911.  If he'd known about the three Playford introductions in 1907, maybe he would have referred to the first morris introduction as “Up a double and back” rather than “Foot up”, which suggests to me that the morris terms were those used by the dancers themselves rather than invented by Sharp.  Certainly the tradition has come down to us that the leader calls out the name of the next figure just before it is executed, and if Sharp recorded this from watching and listening, it means that the terms were those used by the dancers themselves.  And Derek Schofield has pointed out that in Sharp's handwritten notes here and here he uses the word “gipsies” which again suggests this is the term the dancers used.

I don't believe Sharp ever uses the word in his Country Dance books.  He describes “Whole-gip facing centre” and “Whole-gip facing outward”, and in his interpretation of “Hey, Boys, Up go we” he uses these two terms.  He repeats these descriptions in the other three volumes which refer to Playford's dances, but the only other dances in these four books which I know use the figure are “Lord of Carnarvon's Jig” and “Saint Martin”, though there may be others I don't know.  He might have used it in the second figure of “Chelsea Reach”, but he didn't.

If we look at the original instructions for “Cuckolds all a Row” (the original title of “Hey, Boys, Up Go We” since presumably the word “cuckolds” was too risqué for him to use) we see the move described as “Turn back to back with the Co. We. Faces again, go about the Co. We. not turning your Faces” and then the same with your partner.  In “Lord Carnarvon's Jig” the original instructions say “Each man and wo. go about each other, not turning your faces.  That again:”.  These could just as easily be a back-to-back, but Sharp's interpretation has whole gip facing outward, first clockwise and then counter-clockwise — I don't see any justification for facing outward.  See also Mike Barraclough's interpretation of “Cuckolds all a Row” which does indeed use a gypsy for the second half of each move but points out that the first half is something quite different.

The original instructions for “Saint Martin's” describe the move as “men cross about each other, and fall back to your first places, We. doing the like not turn your faces”.  Sharp does what we would now call pot-hooks, but he has changed the first figure (by turning 1½ at two points) so that everyone is back home whereas I believe the second and third figures start with the couples in opposite places — that's why Playford says “to your first places” when they do get home.  And that means it's a “Hole in the Wall” cross, which you could describe as a half gipsy though I wouldn't — they are crossing over but looking at each other rather than just walking past.

I know one other dance (not interpreted by Sharp) which uses the same words — “The Spanish Jeepsie” (called “The Spanish Gypsie” in some later editions of The Dancing Master) — so maybe that's where the name came from.  The original instructions (the version below is from the first edition) say:

Lead up forwards and back  .  That again  :  turn all back to back, faces again, go all about your We. not turning your faces. That again the tother way  .  First and last Cu meet a D. back again, turn all back to back, faces again, go about each other not turning your faces, the other way as much  :  The other four as much  ·: 
Sides all  .  That again  :  turn back to back, faces again, go about your own as before  .  First and last Cu. meet and go back, turn back to back, faces again, Take hands and go round, back again  :  Then the other four as much  ·: 
Armes all  .  That again  :  turn all back to back, faces again, go about your own as before  .  First and last Cu meet, back again, turn back to back, faces again, right hands a crosse and goe round, then left round  :  The other four as much  ·: 

See here an interpretation of the dance (I'm not saying I agree with it) and much background material.

The question is, what does “go about each other, not turning your faces” mean?  If Playford meant “do a back-to-back” he would surely have said “back to back”, as he and his successors did in Country Courtship, The Merry Milkmaids in Green, A Trip o'er Tweed, Camberwell, Childgrove, Dick's Maggot, Indian Queen and many other dances.  Does it mean “not turning your faces away from each other”?  Then that sounds like a gipsy, with eye contact.

So this figure which has been used in many modern “English” dances and imported so enthusiastically into modern contra may or may not be what Playford was describing.  As to why the morris dancers called it “Half-gip” or “Whole gip”, I don't know, but the word “gypsy” seems to be a much more modern invention based on this.

In 2015 there was much discussion of the word “gypsy” on the Callers' List after a dancer had objected strongly to the word.  Jacob Bloom said:

I'll go out on a limb and make some historical pronouncements which cannot be proven, but which seem most probable to me:

The dance title The Spanish Gypsy came from the dance being done to a tune associated with the play The Spanish Gypsy.

The dance figure Gypsy got its name from the prevalence of the figure in the dance The Spanish Gypsy.

The Morris dance figures whole-gyp and half-gyp were originally called whole-gypsy and half-gypsy.  (Although parts of England had an ancient tradition of seasonal dancing under the name Morris Dance, it seems likely, from the nature of the dances, that the form of the Cotswold dance traditions collected by Cecil Sharp only went back to the Elizabethan period.)

I offer the above hypotheses to counter the claim that the dance term “gypsy” was based on an ethnic stereotype.  Of course, even if I'm right about these hypotheses, they have nothing to do with the fact that the term “gypsy” offends some people, which we want to avoid.

Jeff Kaufman also posted a link to his page History of the term “Gypsy”.

Then I heard from Paul Cooper, a researcher into social dancing of the Regency era from Winchester in the south of England.  He writes:

I thought I'd write as I know of a Country Dance published in late 1811 that featured a figure called 'Gipsy', albeit with a different interpretation from that used today.  It appears in the dance “Clasemont or Miss Caroline Morris”, in W. Burton Hart's “Annual Cambrian Trifles or South Wales Polite Repository of Country Dances for 1812”.  Hart lived in Swansea at the time, so his figures may have had a local Welsh influence.  The collection was written in English and published in London in late 1811; a Welsh edition/translation was published in the mid 1990s.  I've been able to study the original publication at the British Library.

Hart's figures include “The 1st couple cross over one couple and Gipsy”.  Hart provided an explanatory footnote: “To gipsy is, after crossing over 1 Cu. to pass your Partner back to back & cast up again turning your Partner with both hands to your own side.  N.B. This is a fashionable and pretty Figure.”

Paul has animated an interpretation of the dance at regencydances.org?wL=985 — but what does Hart mean by “pass your Partner back to back”?  Does he mean “do a back-to-back”?  Or does he mean what we now call a gipsy?  The mystery continues.