You'll find there are lots of links here to other pages of my website. If I'd created the site all in one go, things would be different, but I've been building it up gradually for many years. So creating this page is like building a new line on the London Underground, trying to work out how to connect to existing stations and what new stations to add!
I get very confused by centuries, so I'm also adding the range of years for each. There are five sessions, so I'm ignoring the 17th and 18th centuries (1601-1800) and running two sessions on the twentieth century (1901-2000).
Links to dances on other pages
There's more information about Arbeau and his wonderful book on my Circle dances page. It's a dialogue between Arbeau, a dancing master, and Capriol, a young man who was Arbeau's student, has travelled around, and has come back to ask Arbeau's advice on how to make headway with the girls. Arbeau teaches him all kinds of dances, and much more besides!
A book from 1949 which quotes Arbeau and also gives information about how these dances were done in England is Mabel Dolmetsch's “Dances of England and France from 1450 to 1600”. My copy is a paperback published by Da Capo Press, New York in 1976.
You can hear the orchestral version from Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite at www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdibDKnp7Mc&t=85 with the drum rhythm set out before the melody starts.
The pavan is easy to dance as it is merely two simples and one double forward and two simples and one double backward.
This would make it a non-moving procession, but he then adds
if one does not wish to move backwards one may continue to advance all the time.
Arbeau calls it a “simple”, but I'm more used to the word “single” which is what Mabel Dolmetsch calls it. She goes into much more detail, no doubt influenced by her knowledge of other historical dances:
The singles: The pair of singles occupies four beats in all and the double likewise four beats. The left single: on the first beat, step forward (but swerving a little towards the left) with the left foot, flat on the ground, at the same time bending the right knee slightly. On the second beat, join the right foot to the left in first position, rising moderately on the toes with straightened knees, and sinking the heels at the half-beat. Proceed with the right single in the same manner, swerving a little to the right, and sinking the heels after rising on the toes.
The left double: On the first beat step forward on the flat of the left foot. On the second beat advance the right foot a few inches in front of the left, rising gently on the toes and sinking again. On the third beat, step again on the flat of the left, swerving to the left, and on the fourth beat join the right foot to the left in the first position, rising on the toes and sinking the heels at the half-beat.
The right double is performed in the same manner, but starting with the right foot and sinking the right heel after the feet are joined. When this pavan was performed out of doors by a procession of ecclesiastical dignitaries, it may be supposed that the movements were less pronounced that when it was danced in a ballroom.
Later Arbeau waxes lyrical:
A gentleman may dance the pavan wearing his cloak and sword, and others such as you [students], dressed in your long gowns, walking with decorum and measured gravity. And the damsels with a demure countenance, their eyes lowered save to cast an occasional glance of virginal modesty at the onlookers. On solemn festivals the pavan is employed by kings, princes and great noblemen to display themselves in their fine mantles and ceremonial robes…
We'll dance a pavan with three sections of moving forward and one of moving backward. Remember that in a single you step forward on a flat foot but when you bring the other foot forward to meet it there's a rise and fall. I don't like the suggestion thet the second step of a double also involves a rise and fall since to me that makes it too similar to two singles, so I suggest three steps on a flat foot and a rise and fall on the fourth as the feet come together. Remember you're lords and ladies, showing off your fine clothes and your deportment to all the menials watching from the side-lines. Ladies may have to work a little at the “virginal modesty”, but see how you get on.
Nowadays, dancers lack these courteous considerations in their lavoltas and other similarly wanton and wayward dances that have been brought into usage. In dancing them the damsels are made to bounce about in such a fashion that more often than not they show their bare knees unless they keep one hand on their skirts to prevent it.
This manner of dancing seems neither beautiful nor honourable to me unless one is dancing with some strapping hussy from the servants' hall.
You will read in many places that La Volta was Queen Elizabeth I's favourite dance, and there's a painting at Penshurst Place in Kent entitled “Queen Elizabeth I Dancing with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” but experts in these matters say that this painting of La Volta is from the French Valois school and depicts unknown dancers — it was probably meant to discredit the Queen. See for instance: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volta_(dance) and a really good article at earlymusicmuse.com/lavolta
Mabel Dolmetsch (rightly) describes Arbeau's version of the music as
a nondescript tune (which is only 4 bars long) and says:
The most beautiful and inspiring volte that I know is by William Byrd; so I choose that for a good practical example for those who would perform this dance.
My music link above is to the Byrd tune, which is 16 bars long. You can hear it played in its original keyboard version at www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7NneG1nS4k
In the notes to the Dover edition, Julia Sutton says:
The alignment of steps with music for the volta shows the saut on beat 4, and the final pieds joints on beat 6. This contradicts the description on p. 119 (the translation is accurate), which gives the saut on beat 3 and the pieds joints on beat 4! Either Arbeau contradicts himself, or the printer was mistaken in the tabulation. If one follows the tabulation, however, the dance takes on a grace and excitement, a swirling movement, which well accords with its literary descriptions. Of the two patterns given, then, the editors have shown the second in the Labanotation.
In the video by students of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music at www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq4y4nQqXpw&t=30s they do it according to Arbeau's wording; in the video by Nonsuch Dance Company at www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXFHcoiKb5I they do it according to Julia Sutton, and I'm with Julia — I think hop-two-three, jump-two-three fits the rhythm of the music much better. Both videos use the Byrd tune. You will find other videos with very different interpretations (sometimes complete fabrications) — this is how I teach it, and other people will undoubtedly tell you it's all wrong!
There's also a long teaching video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8GXGkdLTXo which I initially found too slow but have now decided is really good. If you just want to see the dancing part it's at 17:44. Again they use the Byrd tune.
There are 6 beats to the bar.
The mantra is: “Hop — Step — and — Jump — (5) — (6)”. Take inside hands with partner (man's right, lady's left) and as Arbeau says,
take a few steps around the room, by way of preparation. (My understanding of “step” is that you move your leg forward and then put that foot on the floor, but the first two videos leave the leg in the air, so I was pleased to see that in the German teaching video they put the foot down.) Then at the end of a phrase of music the lady turns round and the man faces her so that they are at right angles to each other; he puts his left hand on her back and his right hand on her waist, while she puts her right hand on his left shoulder (or round his back) and holds her dress down with her left hand.
It's not clear exactly where the man puts his left hand or arm. His right hand is described by Arbeau as
below her busk. The busk was at the bottom of the stiff corset which women wore: you can see the position in the picture above. Now that women no longer wear corsets a man would be risking a slap in the face by putting his hand there, which is why I recommend the waist — but try not to squeeze the breath out of her!
The step is as before, but this time you're rotating clockwise as a couple. When it comes to the jump, the man doesn't jump; instead he lifts his partner by both hands and (in Arbeau's words)
push her before you with your left thigh while she pushes down on his shoulder and jumps in the air — still rotating clockwise which is presumably why Arbeau says
before you. Mabel Dolmetsch describes it as
she practically sitting on his knee for this operation and later
as the lady prepares her upward spring, he must raise his knee so as to project her. The students certainly aren't doing any projecting — the raised knee has no effect — the same with the teaching video — and I'm not sure about the Nonesuch dancers. Arbeau says that you rotate one quarter for each of the hop, step and jump, so in one bar of six beats you have rotated three-quarters, but then adds that this is a hypothetical case as you may be turning more rapidly or more slowly.
It's clear that Arbeau doesn't like this dance one bit, and when Capriol hears the description (without actually trying it, since he doesn't have a partner), he says
The dizziness and whirling head would annoy me. to which Arbeau replies,
Then dance some other kind of dance. Or if you dance this first to the left, begin anew to the right and thus unwind in the second stage what you have wound up in the first.
Only the teaching video shows this, and I really don't want to teach the reverse figure as well, so I suggest that (as in all three videos) four bars of the signature figure are quite enough at one time, and then you take sufficient steps round the room until you feel the urge to repeat it!
The fact is, country dances had become really boring! The older set dances of John Playford (for three couples longways, four couples longways, square, etc.) had disappeared many years ago: everything was “longways for as many as will” and the figures were so standardised that you could look at a book of dances and wonder whether they were computer-generated. (Some people might argue that contra dancing in the States is headed in the same direction.) I don't want to call several boring dances just to make my point, so I'll try and find something interesting — or at least controversial! The waltz as a couple dance was considered scandalous because of the close hold between the couple, but country dances in waltz time were perfectly acceptable, though I don't think they were that common. One of the best known is “Duke of Kent's Waltz” from 1801, but we're going to dance my version rather than the version created by A Simons in the “Kentish Hops” collection. Once again you'll find the instructions (and my justification for them) on another page:
One other reason the longways dance fell out of favour was that it was too inclusive — although you might line up with the most important people at the top of the set, in the course of the many progressions everyone danced with everyone. How much better to choose a group of like-minded people and be able to dance exclusively with them. And so the cotillion came into fashion.
I already have this cotillion on another page, so I won't reproduce it here. Let's dance it.
And now (as in the 18th century) we move on to the quadrille.
As with the country dances, when people talked about new sets of quadrilles they meant new sets of music for quadrilles. The actual figures were the same, or similar, typically with variation in the fourth figure onwards. For instance see “The Select Quadrille Preceptor for 1838” containing the most fashionable and correct Quadrilles and other Dances of the present season. This gives much useful information about the figures (with English translations of the French names) and then lists the figures of Paine's first four sets. The first three figures are virtually identical in all four sets. You can read more about Quadrilles and Paine on my Regency Dance page. The book also contains two sets of “Lancers” and two sets of “Caledonians”. Caledonia was the Latin name for most of what we call Scotland, though I don't believe there really was a Scottish connection. Click the first image to see the first set being danced (I assume by Russians) though I would take things faster. Click the second image for a modern version: the same dance which has gone through the folk process. It's mainly walked but there's lots of two-hand swinging using a pivot step. And in the first volume of Northern Junket in 1949, Ralph Page describes an American version.
Caledonian Quadrilles was published by G. M. S. Chivers in 1821, and the Select Preceptor uses almost the same wording 17 years later, though there are a few interesting differences. As you can see from the front cover, Chivers was very keen to stress the “Scottishness” of this set, from “An admired Highland Set of Quadrilles” to “Respectfully dedicated to the Scotch Nobility & Gentry”, though maybe this was mere hype. But the tunes are certainly Scottish, starting with “My Love she's but a lassie yet” which I still use for the Cumberland Square Eight. I've taken the melody lines from Chivers and added chord symbols implied by the left hand of the piano part. Interestingly Chivers still refers to the figures by their names from the plain quadrille: “pantalon”, “Ete” etc., but then adds “New figure” underneath each.
If you want to follow these figures in the first video, the timings are 1: 0:0 2: 0:50 3: 2: 49 4: 5:49 5: 8:40
- The first and opposite couple hands across and back again.
Set and turn partners.
Half promenade — half right and left.
- First gentleman advance twice.
The four ladies set to gentlemen at their right, and turn with both hands, each taking next lady's place — promenade quite round.
- First lady and opposite gentleman advance and retire — back to back — top couple lead between the opposite couple — return leading outside — set at the corners, and turn with both hands to places.
All set in a circle.
- First lady and opposite gentleman advance and stop, then their partners advance — turn partners to places.
The four ladies move to right, each taking the next lady's place, and stop — the four gentlemen move to left, each taking the next gentleman's place and stop — the ladies repeat the same to the right — then the gentlemen to the left.
All join hands and promenade round to places and turn partners.
- First gentleman lead his partner round inside the figure.
The four ladies advance, join right hands and retire — then the gentlemen perform the same — all set and turn partners.
Chain figure of eight half round and set.
All promenade to places, and turn partners.
All change sides, join right hands at corners, and set — back again to places. Finish with grand promenade.
We'll dance the first three figures. And I mean dance, not walk. You can do a skip-change step for most of it, but to be more authentic you need to replace the final skip-change of each figure with a Jeté Assemblé. If you start the skip-change on your right foot, you will start the final bar of music on your left foot. Step onto your left foot while throwing your right foot out forwards and to the right — it doesn't have to be that far — then jump, landing on both feet, bending your knees to avoid injury. I'm not going to mention all the foot positions, the turnout and so on. “Jeté” means “thrown” and “Assemblé” means “assembled”, so just remember that you throw one leg out and then bring everything together again. See it Here or Here
For “set” I'm using Susan de Guardiola's suggestion of four little slips to the right and four to the left. “Promenade” is with a skaters' hold: right hand in right above, left hand in left below. “Lead” is with inside hand: man's right, lady's left. In the second figure,
First gentleman advance twice actually means the first gentleman dances whatever solo he wishes for 8 bars, as you will see in both the videos. In the third figure, the final
All set in a circle isn't correct. Chivers says
all round and the French version says
le grand rond which definitely means circle round and back — there are different opinions about which way to circle first so I'd go for what we think of as the standard: Circle left then circle right. In the fifth figure,
Chain figure of eight is nothing to do with a figure of eight — it's a grand chain for eight people. And the promenade is done just once, at the very end of the dance.
Chivers also says how many times to play the tune, which is always useful, but as I explain on my 200 Years of American page the music doesn't follow the AABB pattern we expect from English and American country dances, so it needs an extra A at the end.
|B:||Heads right-hand star. Left-hand star.|
|A:||Face partner and set: Four small slips right, four left. Two-hand turn.|
|A:||Half promenade. Half right and left.|
|Sides repeat from the right-hand star.|
|A2:||First man solo.|
|B:||All set to corner. Two-hand turn so that the lady finishes where the man's partner was.|
|A:||Promenade to the man's place.|
|The other three men repeat from the solo.|
|A2:||First lady and opposite man advance and retire. Back-to-back.|
|B1:||First couple lead between the opposite couple and turn out while opposite couple move outside first couple and turn in. Return with the ones outside.|
|B2:||All set to corner. Two-hand turn hands to place.|
|A1:||Circle left. Circle right.|
|Repeat for the other three ladies and their opposite men.|
|A2:||First lady and opposite man advance; their partners advance. Two-hand turn partners to place.|
|B1:||All the ladies move right, curving in to take the next lady's place. Men the same to the left.|
|B2:||All that again, to meet partners half-way round.|
|A1:||Promenade home. Two-hand turn.|
|Repeat for the other three ladies and their opposite men.|
|A2:||First couple lead round the inside of the set|
|B1:||All the ladies move in, make a right-hand star, then fall back. Men the same.|
|B2:||Quick grand chain half-way round. Set to partners.|
|A1:||Promenade home. Two-hand turn.|
|A1:||All chassez across; give right hand to corner and set — this time it is just a regular set. Chassez back; give right hand to partner and set.|
|Repeat for the other three couples. After all couples have led the figure, all promenade round the set.|
And what about steps? A historical dance teacher with a regular class would spend hours teaching these, but not me! You can see a list of steps at regencydances.org/paper021.php#steps but you'll get by with a skip-change or pas-de-bas most of the time. If you study
Trois Chassés Jetté et Assemblé closely, I think you'll find it's three lots of pas-de-bas and then a jump and feet together to finish the move. I know this is different from a fleuret step, which was derived from and sometimes known as a bourée step, but it's good enough for me. If you want to learn more, see regencydances.org/steps.php which has links to videos. On the other hand, I was at a workshop at the May Haydays Festival in 2022 and Liz Bartlett who leads the Jane Austen Dancers of Bath said it should be danced with an allemande step — again with a Jetté and Assemblé at the end of each figure.
We didn't have time to look at the scandalous waltz. Given more time I'd make sure we can all do a reasonable waltz step, and then show a few moves to vary your dancing, possibly impress the other dancers, and certainly give you a break from all that whirling round. Once again the notes are already on another page, wittily entitled Waltz Steps. We would dance to a couple of tunes from the period — The Rose in June from 1802 and The Cambridge Waltz from 1816 — though both of these were actually published by Thompson for country dances.
Let's start with a couple of what we call “traditional” dances, in other words dances that were passed down orally rather than learnt from a book — and I know there's a lot of argument about what “traditional” and “folk” mean but I'm not going into that here! These days, with an ageing dance population, dances with a step are seldom done except at ceilidhs. I wouldn't want to step everything all evening, and some dances, such as those in triple time, work perfectly well with a walking step. But let's look at how they did things in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century.
We'll start gently with a Pas de bas and then dance:
Pins and Needles
Then a Polka step, and a dance which was to some extent invented by EFDSS — it was originally two separate dances, each only twice through the tune, and someone had the bright idea of combining them to form what we now know as the:
Yorkshire Square Eight
Nowadays there are so many people writing new dances and interpreting old ones, it's hard to realise that for a long time the only dances that were done were those interpreted by Cecil Sharp, and nobody thought of questioning his interpretations, even less of writing new dances. He died in 1924 and his followers put him on a pedestal — I don't think it was his fault. But in 1931 the 13-year-old Pat Shaw wrote a new dance, “Monica's Delight”, inspired by a beautiful blonde Edinburgh lady he had a crush on at the time. He used the traditional tune “Up at Piccadilly Oh!” — no, it isn't by Gordon Hitchcock: he just did an arrangement of it for choir. Pat used the three standard Playford introductions, but the figures are very inventive and still challenging — as you'll see! Interestingly the formation is two couples longways, both proper, rather than the standard couple-facing-couple format that he must have known from Sharp's interpretations of “Rufty Tufty”, “Hey, Boys, Up Go We”, “Parsons Farewell” and many more. I don't know why he did that, but whatever the reason it's a brilliant dance! I wrote my first dance when I was in my thirties and it's rubbish!
The next year (1932) a whole book of new dances appeared: “Maggot Pie”. This was certainly controversial, particularly in Cambridge where it was published! I have a whole page about it, which I won't repeat here. Let's dance one of my favourites: “Cupid's Garden” which brilliantly uses the three standard Playford introductions — not at the start of each figure, but at the one point where the tune switches fron 3-time to 2-time.
Now we need to return to the traditional side of things and look at the Rant Step! This used to be very popular in the North-East, and popular in the rest of the country too, but now it's seldom seen, and I think that's a great pity. If you've never tried it you probably won't pick it up first time, but we'll have another go tomorrow! I'll show you how to do it, and we'll dance the classic:
Pat Shaw wrote and published many dances during the 20th century, mainly in the Playford style, but I'm choosing one from 1963 which is in a different style: “The Pride of Newcastle” which is to a slip-jig for three couples in a circle — it's a very busy dance and I love it!
Jill Lawrence was not nearly as well known as Pat Shaw, but she wrote some interesting dances and I think she was ahead of her time — Robert and Hazel Moir feel the same way. There are several of her dances on my website and I'll be adding others when I get round to it. We'll dance:
Then back to traditional, and one which can be danced with a bouncy walk or more of a skip-change step. This is the Devon and Somerset version — the Sussex version is a longways and is completely different.
And now something much more energetic: “The Royal Albert”, published in CDM 7, described as “A popular English Country Dance from the 19th century” when Nibs Matthews taught it at the University of the Pacific Folk Dance Camp, Stockton, California in 1972.
Charles Bolton was well known for both his original dances and his interpretations (reconstructions), now available on the CDSS website (because EFDSS weren't interested). Here's one of my favourites: Terpsichore to a tune from Michael Praetorius's collection of the same name published in 1612.
And then back to the rant step for the other classic:
which is really quite a tricky dance to do well (as you will discover)!
“Moonflower” is an easy dance on paper, but most people finish every move too soon and they're standing waiting for the music to catch up. It's not the band's problem — it's yours! Click the image on the right to watch a YouTube video, called by Susan Kevra who wrote the dance — smooth and flowing with no complex figures — and in the band is Rachel Bell who wrote the beautiful and hypnotic tune. Obviously they know what speed to play it, but almost all the dancers are ahead of the music — getting into the circle, finishing the roll-away, finishing the two-hand turn. It's in triple-time — that's something Americans love. I want you to wait for the anacrusis — the up-beat — before preparing for the next move. So when two people turn single I want 1-2-3, 1-2-and — and it's on the “and” that you all take hands in the circle, not on the “1”. Think of it as being “almost late” and I hope you'll get the idea.
But fortunately they're not all slow. Jenna Simpson likes lively dances — she also does Scottish, and it shows. “Gambols” takes a move from the Playford dance “Lull me beyond thee” and mixes it with several other ingredients.
Here's another one by Jenna Simpson — we're back to waltz time, but she also uses the Scottish move “Set and Link” — and why not? It was invented by John Drewry, who was as English as I am! (I mistakenly called it as “Set and Rotate” when I was teaching the dance, but that's a different figure.) The dance is “Revelations” to a traditional Scottish tune “She's sweetest when she's naked”, which (it seems) refers not to a woman but to neat whiskey — no water or ice to clothe it.
We were all tired by the end of the week and I didn't get through nearly as many dances as I had hoped!
I felt I had to end with a genuine English dance — one of mine, bang up to date — written this year for “The Round” — the Cambridge University Folk Dance Group where I dance, call and lead the band. We've had a lively bunch of students this past academic year, and when term started in January I wanted a lively dance suitable for people getting together again after the Christmas break and probably a number of beginners too — so a reasonably simple mixer. And into my mind came a song composed by Henry VII about the time he was crowned — “Pastime with good company”. So the newest dance in this exploration of “Dancing through the ages”, with probably the oldest tune — around 1509.
If I'd had more time I would have probably included the following dances available on my website:
And a gentle dance in waltz time: “Spanish Dance” or “Spanish Waltz”. There are many, many versions of this traditional dance, and no evidence that it actually comes from Spain! Some versions finish with forward and back and pass through, some with promenade 1½ times round the opposite couple to progress, but I'm going for a ballroom hold waltz around 1½ times.
In the 20th century selection I would have put in one of my own dances which is a bit of a mixture. It's nominally Playford-style, but it ends with a swing. And it's not symmetrical, which really throws some dancers. I wrote this one in 1979.
The Twist of Fate
And my final representative of the 20th century would have been Brian Wedgbury, who lived in Hitchin in Hertfordshire, a few miles from where I now live. Andrew Shaw has produced a book called “The Dances of Brian Wedgbury: An Ongoing If Occasional Pastime” containing all 22 of Brian's dances. He certainly wasn't prolific, but several of his dances really stand out, including this one: “Flixton House”.
Now all those I missed out in the final (21st century) session:
One by Anna Rain — for some reason a lot of these 21st century dances are by women. It's called “The Road Not Taken”. She gives a note: “When all dance smoothly, the covering between 1s and respective long corners is striking”- and covering is a term that Scottish dancers use but not English dancers in England. Again it's in triple-time, to a tune by Dave Wiesler, but it's most definitely not a waltz.
Philippe Callens was Belgian, but in his approach to writing English Country Dances he was more American than English. He wrote “Westward Bound” in 2002:
This dance was written for Sharon and David Green and Michael Siemon on the occasion of their moving from New York City to Oakland, California. The choreography somewhat suggests the long-distance moving. I presented the dance during the dedicatees' farewell party in Brooklyn, New York, an appropriate event put on by CD*NY on 19 May 2002.
You can see the instructions and the musical notation at greenerywest.net/Dance_Pages/Westward_Bound.html.
Next one of the classic modern English dances from America — it flows so smoothly from one figure to the next, it's got one of those trendy dolphin heys in it, and it's set to a hypnotic tune that — like the dance — just flows on and on. It's probably been on every Ball programme in North America for the last few years. It's written by a beautiful Canadian dancer now living in Boston — she likes it faster than I do, but she's not here! Christine Robb's dance “Sapphire Sea”.
And one by Jenny Beer, whose most famous dance is probably “Key to the Cellar” from 2004 (though I also really like “Now is the Month of Maying” from 1997). “Cobbler's Hornpipe” isn't the sort of hornpipe you'd dance “Nottingham Swing” to — Americans aren't keen on that sort of thing — the tune is a triple-time hornpipe published by Henry Playford with its own dance, but Jenny decided to write a new one.