These notes were first used at Whitby Folk Week in 2012.  As usual I didn't get through nearly as much as I had hoped.  I then added more for a 4-hour workshop for the Folk Association of South Hampshire in April 2016 — and again I didn't get through all of it.

Lots of people seem to believe that their particular kind of dancing appeared from nowhere and has no connection with any other kind.  Bob Archer upset a lot of people at Pinewoods by saying “Well of course English, American and Scottish are all basically the same thing”.  But he's right!  Dance is a tree with many branches, and I want to look at a few places on the tree and see what grew from them.

Let me talk first about the “longways for as many as will”.  Some people believe it came from Italian dance, but the idea of a longways set where you progress and dance with each couple in turn was certainly extended and perfected in the English Country Dance.  I'm wondering whether it developed from the set dance for a specified number of couples.  When John Playford published the first edition of “The English Dancing Master” in 1651 there were comparatively few longways dances, and a lot of those (even though they were progressive) had three figures with the three “Playford” introductions: Up a double and back, Sides all and Armes all.  (In fact 80% of the dances in the first edition had these introductions.)  By my count there are 68 set dances (including “Goddesses” which is wrongly specified as longways), 21 progressive longways dances with the three Playford introductions, and only 15 other longways dances — none of which are “classics”.  For me the only classic longways published by John Playford is “The Twenty-Ninth of May” from his final edition of 1686: dances such as “Indian Queen”, “Queen's Jig”, “Geud Man of Ballangigh” and all the “Maggots” were added by Henry Playford once he took over from his father in 1688.

It seems John Playford was publishing in a period of transition: the set dances were giving way to the longways for as many as will.  It's possible that he was old-fashioned and published lots of set dances that no-one was dancing any more, but that seems really unlikely — he was only about 28, he was primarily a music publisher and he knew what was going to sell.  Henry Playford didn't add any set dances, just took them out.  Initially the longways dances were duple minor: you danced with just one other couple in each turn of the dance.  Or so I thought until 2024 when I happened to come across “The Silver Faulken” from John Playford's second edition of 1652 (and apparently only there).  You can watch George Williams' interpretation of the dance here.  But I think this was exceptional (though I can't be sure)!  The first triple minor in my repertoire is “Cupid's Garden” from Henry Playford in 1686, but by the final edition of The Dancing Master in 1728 dances were virtually all triple minor.  The triple minor was king for most of the eighteenth century.  With two other couples in the minor set you had a bigger choice of figures than with just one other couple, and yet it was progressive — you worked your way up and down the set and danced with everybody.  It was very much social dancing, and its impact is still felt by social dancers today.  Playford-style, traditional English, Scottish, Contra — they all use the longways progressive formation.  And a lot of the figures would still be recognised by eighteenth century dancers, though the style may have changed.  The connections are there for all to see.

If you want to read a long excellent article about country dances and their tunes, there's a Master of Philosophy dissertation by Celia Pendlebury at

Lady Doll St. Clair's Reel        Lady Doll St. Clair's Reel: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Source: 200 Favourite Country Dances, 1750: John Johnson.
Interpretation: Colin Hume, 2012.
Format: Longways triple minor

Original wording:

The 1st. Cu. cast off two Cu.  Cast up again   Cross over two Cu.  Lead up to the Top, foot it and cast off   Turn Corners with your Right hands, and your Partner with your Left hands  Lead out Sides and turn your Partner

The music has a 4-bar A and a 4-bar B, each repeated, but the time-signature shows that there are 4 beats to the bar so I have written the music out as two 8-bar phrases.  It's dedicated to “Lady Doll St. Clair” but I imagine she pronounced it “Lady Doll Sinclair”.

This is a dance I really wanted to find!  The Fandango was originally a triple minor (from 24 years later) and I've never believed the two-hand turns for corner and partner.  If you look at the facsimile in the “Playford Ball” book or here from Thompson's 1774 collection you will see that the man is supposed to go down and the lady up for the figures of eight immediately following the turns, but that would be very awkward from a two-hand turn so the modern interpretation in the Apted Book has reversed these.  Yet from a left-hand turn it flows perfectly.  Now here's a dance which actually says that it's right hands with corner and left with partner!

Another example is “The Dusty Miller” from John and William Neal's “A Choice Collection of Country Dances” published in Dublin around 1726:

1st ma: turn 2d wo: with his right hand, his partner ye same with 3d ma: at ye same time, & first ma: turn his partner with ye left hand 'twixt ye couples:
1st ma: turn 3d wo: with his right hand, his partner ye same with 2d ma: at ye same time, & first ma: turn his partner with ye left hand:

This one is in triple time and the usual order of corners is reversed — second corners before first corners — but it's still evidence that it wasn't always two-hand turns for this figure.  In fact Susan de Guardiola has two pages of her website discussing “Swing corners” and “Turn corners”: here and here.  Some of her references are somewhat later than this dance, but I must mention Nicholas Dukes, 1752:

Dukes gives no detailed description, but the diagram shows that the active couple approaches first corners directly, passing partners by left shoulders, swing corners by right hands, swing partners by left hands in the center once and a half round, swing second corners by right hands, and finally swing partners half round by the left, with the dancers ending still in the center of the set, the woman nearer the top and the man nearer the bottom

Anyway, back to Lady Doll St. Clair's Reel.

The underlined dots suggest that it's 6 lines of music, but after looking through many of the dances in the book I've decided that Johnson is not at all reliable with these: they seem to indicate figures rather than lines of music.  Let's examine the instructions.  Cast off two couples sounds so simple — the ones cast below the threes — but it would be difficult to pad this out to 8 bars (8 skip-change steps).  Cast up again- ditto.  And yet this sequence appears many times at the start of dances in Johnson's book, always (it seems) using 8 bars for each.  So instead of assuming that he doesn't know what he's talking about, let's assume that we don't know what he's talking about.  Perhaps it's two separate movements: cast into second place and face partner as the twos move up, then cast into third place and face partner as the threes move up.  That could use up 8 bars of music, so let's go with that.

In fact in 2017 I bought a facsimile of “A Concise & Easy Method of Learning the Figuring Part of Country Dances”, written by Nicholas Dukes and published in London in 1752.  On page 3 he shows the diagram of “To cast of two Co. and up again” (he always says “of” rather than “off”), and it's exactly what I've just suggested.  He also shows the figure “Turn Corners right hands and your Partner round with the left hand” followed by “Turn the other Corner right hands & ye Partner left hands half round” which ties up exactly with what I was saying above — he doesn't mention anything similar using a two-hand turn.

Cross over two couples means cross, cast below the twos, cross again, cast below the threes, so that must be 8 bars.  You can see this diagrammatically in Wilson's “An analysis of Country Dancing”, 1808, though unfortunately he also shows “Cast off two couples” which doesn't agree with my earlier suggestion!  Lead up to the Top, foot it and cast off must surely also be 8 bars.  There's a choice between a four-bar lead or a four-bar cast, and I've changed my opinion on this so I'm going for a slow lead up and a quick cast.  (By the way, the turn single after the cast in “Fandango” was added by the interpreters; it doesn't appear in the original.)  And these two figures (cross over two couples, lead to the top, cast to middle place) frequently occur together so I would expect them to use the same music — B1 and B2 rather than A2 and B1 — which they now will.  That's 32 bars.  But what about turning corners and partner?  The man's first corner is the third lady; the lady's first corner is the second man.  So the ones right-hand turn their first corners, then left-hand turn each other about 1¼.  Then right-hand turn their second corners and left-hand turn each other 1¼ to finish back in middle place on their own side, or wherever the next move requires.  English dancers familiar with “Fandango” will assume this takes 16 bars, whereas Scottish dancers familiar with “Duke of Perth” and many other dances will fit the whole figure into eight bars.

Finally Lead out Sides and turn your Partner.  Interpreters such as Bernard Bentley in The Fallibroome Collection have assumed that everyone faces out and the ones lead their neighbours out, turn and lead back, as in “Miss Sparks's Maggot” though in “The Green Man” which has identical wording -Lead out on both Sides and turn- he does what I believe is correct.  It's also an assumption made by people interpreting dances from The Ashover Book.  On that page of my website I explain what it really means — and it's a 16-bar figure.  I therefore assume that turning corners and partners is a 16-bar figure, making 64 bars for the entire figure: twice through the tune for once through the dance, just like “Fandango”.  So let's try my interpretation, which I'm going to teach in very short triple minor sets: four couples in each, so that each couple leads the dance twice.  It's very much a dance for the ones — that's what it was all about in those days — but everybody had the same number of turns as a one.

  I'd like you to dance the whole thing with a skip-change step, which is much closer to what they would have done in 1750 than a walk step.

Lady Doll St. Clair's Reel

A1:Ones cast to second place; twos lead up.  Ones cast to third place; threes lead up.
A2:Ones cast up to second place; threes lead down.  Ones cast up to first place; twos lead down.
B1:Ones cross and cast to second place; twos lead up.  Ones cross and cast to third place; threes lead up.
B2:Ones lead slowly up to the top (threes lead down).  Ones set to partner; cast to second place; twos lead up.
A3:Ones right-hand turn first corner.  Ones left-hand turn partner about 1¼.
A4:Ones right-hand turn second corner.  Ones left-hand turn partner about ¾ to finish with the ones facing the men, man on the left.
B3:Ones lead through the men and cast back. Two-hand turn once around.
B4:Ones lead through the women and cast back.  Two-hand turn 1¼ to finish proper in second place.
 On their second time through, the leading couple finish by turning all the way to the bottom.
So I've said there's a connection between the English longways progressive dance and both American Contra and Scottish, and we'll meet “Lead out sides” a couple of times more, but I want to focus on the active couple turning corners and partner.  That figure crops up in all sorts of places.  I've mentioned Fandango, but what about traditional English dances?  Maud Karpeles collected “Bonny Breastknot” in Devon and published it in the revised edition of Cecil Sharp's “Country Dance Book, Part 1” in 1934.  It has the corner-partner figure, though it starts with partner rather than first corner, and uses arms rather than hands since the figure is now only 8 bars.  It also has “lead out sides” though without the turns.

The Bonny Breastknot        Bonny Breastknot (Devon and Somerset): Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: Longways triple.

A1:Ones lead down right hand in right, lead between the ladies, separate, go round one person.  Meet in the middle without taking hands, go between the men, separate, round one to lines of three across.
B1:Kick-balance onto Left, Right, Left, Right.  Ones leap to the left (to middle of own line — no extra time) and balance again in lines.
A2:Ones right-elbow turn partner, left with first corner.  Right with partner, left with second corner, ones finishing improper.
B2:Ones give right hand to right and slip down the middle.  Slip back up to second place, then right hand turn 1½, ready to start the lead down through their new twos

  Let's dance it as she published it (and assume that she notated it accurately rather than using her own preconceptions), though again in a short triple minor set of 4 couples.  It's been through the Folk Process since then, and I've always done it as a three couple dance finishing with “all swing partners”, but as Karpeles records the dance it's triple minor, it starts with a right-hand lead, she doesn't mention the “leap” to get the ones from lines across to lines up and down (though it must happen somehow), the ones finish the corner-partner figure improper, slip down right, hand in right, slip up to the same place and finish with a right-hand turn “rather more than once around” (by which she surely means 1½).

American contras developed from English longways dances (though some contra dancers wouldn't admit it) and the corner/partner figure appears in the traditional contras “Chorus Jig” (see for instance Elias Howe's Complete Ball-Room Hand Book, 1858) and “Sackett's Harbor”, and is still used in many modern contras, though they have condensed the move from triple minor to duple minor.  They call it “Turn contra corners” — the 19th century phrase was “ swing contra corners” but “swing” has now acquired another meaning — and they may think it's quintessentially American.  But Johnson (publishing in London) refers to contrary corners or the four contrary corners in 1750.

  We could do a contra here, such as “Black Beards of Vernals” by Seth Tepfer which uses “turn contra corners” and also the “Rory O'More” slide.

  We could then do “Country Corners Canon” by Ron Buchanan which takes contra corners into a new dimension by putting the move into a square.  Most people are satisfied with just one active couple with two corners each, but Ron likes to take traditional American figures and then do amazing things with them!

And of course Pat Shaw puts the move into an English context, but again turning all four corners, in his dance “Walpole Cottage”.

Wilson's “An analysis of Country Dancing”, 1808 gives diagrams to explain the contra corners move, which he calls “Swing corners”.

Another example of contra corners in a square (but this time not in a canon) is Eddie Upton's ceilidh dance “Strip the Willow Square” which makes us wonder whether “strip the willow” is perhaps another version of the same move!  And this same move appears in the only dance which Jane Austen mentions by name:

La Boulanger        La Boulanger: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Dale's Collection of Reels and Dances, 1798-1803 La Boulanger

I'm not sure whether the image above is from the source given.  The B-music is written as a dotted reel, but I think it works better as a jig at the same speed as the A-music so that's the way I've written it out.  In Anne Daye's book “Dances for Jane Austen” she says that two earlier versions have the tune in 6/8 and Campbell's 2/4 tune [which is the same as above] is a late variant, so I feel moderately justified in making this change!  The wording reads:

NB: This may be Danced by any Number of Couples.

All the Cus. stand up as in a Cotillion and do the grand round & back again to the 1st part of the Tune then the1st. Lady turns the 2d. Gent: with her right Hand & her Partner with the left then the 3d. Gent: with the right Hand her Partner with the Left & so on with every Gent: until She comes to her place to the second part of the Tune every lady does the same figure then the Gent: do the same figure.

“La Boulanger” (various spellings) means “The Baker” (in this spelling presumably a female baker since it's “La” rather than “Le”).  It says “Any Number of Couples” but the dancers are directed to stand “as in a Cotillion” which is a square for four couples — though perhaps this just means to stand with the man on the left and the lady on the right.  I think it works best in a square, as the figure will then fit into the two B-musics.

But both Anne Daye and Susan de Guardiola tell me that it really is a cotillion, even though instead of a set of changes it uses “the grand round” (“La Grand Ronde”) every time.  Anne tells me that the circle goes to the right first (though Melusine Wood in her book “Historical Dances” says it goes to the left first), and that before each circle you must do a Balancé and Rigadoon which I really don't want to explain here!  See it on my Regency Dance page.  So for simplicity I've changed them to “set twice” — and I bet some people did that even in Jane Austen's day!  Of the Grand Ronde, Susan says:

Generally it goes right then left, but it does vary.  And sometimes it seems to go only one way (which is unspecified).  See, e.g., Saltator (1802):

All eight address partners, in the time of chasse, then the ballette.  All eight circinate to the left half round, balance, circinate back to their places.

and Paul Cooper says:

Most of the dance manuals don't state the direction of movement one way or the other.  I tend to think of it as a “house style” issue where either convention is fine, so long as folks know in advance which to use.  That said, I've seen three manuals that do mention a direction:

Saltator (An 1802 American manual) specifies “All eight circinate to the left half round, balance, circinate back to their places”.

Fishar (1773, an English dance collection) has “all Ballance and Rigaudon, and large Ring half round, turning to the Right …  Ballance and Rigaudon, and come back with the Ring, turning to the Left to their Places”.

Whereas Bruckfield (1787, also English) has “The Rounds are either made to the right or to the left, by two, three, four, or all eight”.

One could argue that left-then-right is American, right-then-left is English.  For me the evidence is inconclusive, either option is fine.  Personally I like right-then-left but that's just what I was taught when I first started dancing, it's what has stuck with me.  There may be other dance manuals that explore the subject further, I don't have a lot of insight into the French sources for example; from an English centric point of view either convention remains plausible, it's the kind of thing that could have varied from one town to the next.

La Boulanger

Formation: Square.      Music: 8½ x own tune

A1:Set twice to partner.  Circle right (skip-change step).
A2:Set twice.  Circle left.
B1/2:First lady turn her right-hand man by the right, partner by the left, opposite man right, partner left, left-hand man right, partner left, to place (and keep turning partner if you're there too soon).
 Same (chorus and figure) for 2nd lady (on right of first), 3rd, 4th.  Then the men do the same figure, going in the same direction.
 I suggest you finish with the chorus.

Click to play videoThis was a standard finishing dance in Jane Austen's time, possibly because it was simple and energetic.  And John Sweeney has pointed out that it's the same figure as in the “Shoo-Fly Swing” from (what we in England would call) Appalachian Running Set.  Cecil Sharp thought this dance form came from the old traditional English dances (and by “old” he meant before John Playford published them as court dances), though other people dispute this.  Yet again, click the image on the right to see a dance called “Running the Goat” — the same figure (along with many others) being danced in Newfoundland, which maintains a separate tradition from the USA and the rest of Canada.

Scottish        Print this danceTop of page

Now let's move on to Scottish dancing, which is the bastion of triple minor dances — though the dancers and most of the teachers don't realise that!

A lot of Scottish dances were originally triple minor; many of them were simply 18th century English dances with a Scottish title.  The style of Scottish Country Dancing now is very different from the style of English Folk Dancing now, and the Scottish style is actually closer to the way they danced in the 18th century.  I'd read that Miss Jean Milligan (the Cecil Sharp of Scottish dancing) switched to four couple sets early in the 20th century as an efficient teaching technique, but Joan F. Flett and Thomas M. Flett in their authoritative book Traditional Dancing in Scotland  (1964) say on page 232:

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the sets for Country Dances usually consisted of ten or twelve couples, and in one or two places in the Borders and Angus such 'long' sets were still in use at the beginning of the period covered by living memory.  In most places, however, relatively short sets have been used for as far back as living memory extends; thus in Angus and Perthshire the number of couples in a set was usually five, in the West Highlands it was anything from four to seven, and elsewhere in Scotland it was almost invariably four.

The Fletts found that there were four main types of social dance in Scotland in earliest living memory (which would have been the beginning of the 20th century):

  Reels: Setting steps on the spot alternating with a travelling figure such as “Foursome Reel” also known as “Scotch Reel” or “Highland Reel” — Dorset Four-Hand Reel would be a perfect example except that Dorset is the other end of the British Isles, but follow the link and see my comments

  Country Dances: To the older people this meant “longways for as many as will”, such as “Petronella”, “Rory O'More” and “Flowers of Edinburgh”.  They were introduced to Scotland by the upper classes by 1775-1800 in the lowlands and adjacent highlands, but not accepted until 1880 in the Western Isles.

  Square Dances: This meant Quadrilles, which I'll be coming to later, such as “La Russe”.  They came directly from Paris in 1816.  There were about twelve in circulation by the mid-nineteenth century, but these gradually dropped down to three: the First Set of Quadrilles (just called The Quadrilles), The Lancers (about 1817) and The Caledonians (between 1820 and 1830).

  Circle dances: This is what became ballroom dancing: couple dances such as Waltz, which came from the continent about 1810, though it wasn't until the Polka arrived in 1844 that circle dances achieved real popularity.

The Reels were the only native Scottish dances; all the rest were imports, and even in 1964 (when the Fletts' book was published) old people in the Outer Hebrides spoke of everything but Reels as “modern dances”.  There were also dances which were not true reels but were in the same style, such as the “Eightsome Reel” composed between 1870 and 1880.

Here's an interesting quote from page 6, especially for RSCDS devotees:

Nowadays we have come to think of Reels and Country Dances as 'National Dances', and they are regarded as being on a different plane from ordinary ballroom dances.  But for the proper understanding of the history of social dancing in Scotland, it is essential to realise that, for as far back as living memory extends, Reels and Country Dances were regarded as being on exactly the same footing as Square and Circle Dances.  Moreover, in common with all the other social dances which were in current use, Reels and Country Dances were taught by professional dancing-teachers in the normal course of their classes.

It is essential to realize also just how thoroughly the teachings of professional dancing-teachers permeated the structure of social dancing in Scotland, for before 1914 most young people in Scotland attended dancing classes at some time or other.

So let's look at one of these “imported” Country Dances.

Duke of Perth        Duke of Perth: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

2012Also known as “Brown's Reel”, “Pease Strae” and “Keep the Country, Bonnie Lassie”.  That's because dances were know by the names of the tunes rather than the other way round, so one set of figures could be set to several tunes.  The first publication, around 1797, was in Boag's “Collection of favourite reels and Strathspeys”.  There's no punctuation, and the description rivals Playford or Johnson for terseness:

First Cu Swing the Right hand and cast off one Cu: Swing the Left hand round Swing the Corners and your Partner each time Set Corners and turn lead outsides.

So again we have turning corners and partner; again “lead out sides”.  Other printed versions replace the “lead out sides” by reels of three, and the Fletts say that virtually all the dancing teachers taught it that way, so that's how we'll do it.  They say that the sequence “set and turn corners and reel of three” is undoubtedly a Scottish contribution to the Country Dance, and it occurs in a high proportion of the Country Dances performed in Scotland during the eighteenth century.  And some versions do all the turns with arm holds rather than hand holds, which makes a lot of sense to me since all four corner-partner turns are done in 8 bars as in Bonny Breastknot.  That's how all the dancing masters mentioned by the Fletts taught it, and that's how we're going to dance it now again for three couples in a four-couple set.

A1:Ones right-arm turn, cast to second place, left-arm turn to finish in middle facing first corner.
A2:Right-arm turn first corner; ones left-arm turn.  Same with second corner, to finish facing first corner.
B1:Set to first corner; right-arm turn.  Same with second (right arm again), to finish facing first corner.
B2:Reels of three (up and down) with your two corners: start passing first corner left shoulder, ones finish in second place improper and link right arms to begin the next turn of the dance

  A modern example of a Scottish dance using this figure in an original way is “Black Mountain Reel” by Derek Haynes, which is a 5-couple longways set.  This works like two 3-couple sets glued together, and once the active couples are in 2nd and 4th place the couple in 3rd place find they have people coming at them from both directions for the “contra corners” figure.  But that's exactly what you get in modern contras which have been condensed from triple minor to duple minor — yet another connection!

So I've looked at England and Scotland — what about Wales?  The fact is, there are very few traditional Welsh dances; what they dance now are either English dances with Welsh titles, such as “Powell's Fancy” (Thompson, c. 1765), “Lord of Carnarvon's Jig” (Playford, English Dancing Master, 1651) and “Meillionen” (Walsh, Caledonian Country Dances, 1735) — all published in London — or 20th century dances composed by Pat Shaw (“Red House of Cardiff”, “The Cowslip”), Gwyn Williams (“Farewell Marian”, “Oswestry Square” also called “Offa's Dyke”) and others.

The Quadrille

Let's move on to the other point on the tree from which so much sprang: The Quadrille.

But wait a minute — where did the quadrille come from?  From the earlier Cotillion (or Cotillon) — both of which came from France, with French dance steps similar to ballet which still uses French terms.  But where did the French get it from?  From the English Country Dance!  In those days we were known as “the Dancing English” and foreigners marvelled at out stepping.  The country dance was introduced to the court of Louis XIV, where it became known as contredanse.  Louis sent André Lorin, a French Professor of Dance, to the English court in the late 17th century to learn some of these dances, and Lorin presented a manuscript of dances in the English manner to Louis on his return.  These were all longways for as many as will, but as Anne Daye points out in her article The English foundations of the French Cotillon the earlier English set dances had also travelled to France.

So maybe here is the prototype for the Cotillion and Quadrille:

Hunsdon House        Hunsdon House: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Source: Dancing Master 3rd Edition, 1657: John Playford
Format: Square

Original wording:

First and 3. Cu. meet, and taking the co. wo. fall back into the 2. and 4. place, whilst the 2. and 4. fall back each from his own, and meet the co. wo. in the first and third place  .  As much againe  : First and 3. Cu. meet and turn S.  .  Men cross over, then we. cross over  :  The other four doing as much  .  Then all this back again to your place  .: 
This as before  : First and third Cu. meet, turning back to back, and hands inward and go half round  .  The other four as much  :  All this again to your places  .: 
This as before  : Meet and honour to your own, right hand to the Co. and left to your own  :  The other four as much  :  All this again, honouring to the co. wo.  : 

The underlined dots don't always seem to make sense.  I think I agree with Cecil Sharp's interpretation, which requires 4 lots of B-music for each figure, though it might be interesting to try it with only two B's.  I have made slight changes though.  Sharp standardised a turn single as being to the right, but in the first figure I think it works better turning single away from your partner: men left, ladies right.  In fact I would describe it as a cast back to your place rather than a turn single which would leave you nose-to-nose with your opposite.  And since the men have cast left it makes sense for them to cross left shoulder.  If they delay the end of their crossing, they can be turning in to meet their partner as she turns in to finish her crossing — much more satisfactory than two unrelated moves.

In the second figure there seems to be far too much music, and most people get there too soon.  You could do it all in 8 steps, but you've got 16, so don't blur the edges.  Four steps to lead in, four beats to make the back ring, four steps to take it half-way round (trying not to do the crab step), four steps to lead out confidently to the opposite couple's place and face in.  And can I make a plea for the hands in the back ring to be down, not up?

Just as you've worked out that you do the same thing twice to get back to place, the third figure is different!  The first time you honour your partner (though I would say “step right and honour” since you have four beats), then four beats to face your opposite.  Two changes of a circular hey with hands, and on the left change with your partner you need to move out to the opposite couple's place to make room for the other two couples.  The second time you lead in, keep hold of your partner, step right and honour the opposite couple, then turn and face your partner.  This time the two changes will be partner right, opposite left, but I would then give right hands to my partner's right and lead her back to our home place.

Strangely Playford doesn't describe it is a square; he says “A Figure Dance for eight, thus:” and then gives a diagram which is clearly a square with numbered couples.  For “Newcastle” he instead says “Round for eight” and the diagram shows a circle — yet he talks about “The first man and 3. wo.” and “the other 4” so it sounds like a square to me!  “Hyde Park” on the other hand is described as “A square dance for eight thus” with much the same diagram as “Hunsdon House”.  Studying the two facsimiles I realise that an “S” which looks like an “f” makes the two words very similar, and I suspect “figure” is a misprint for “square”!  In fact looking at another dance, “Dull Sir John”, you can see that the first edition says “A Square Dance for eight” and a later edition says “A Figure Dance for eight”.  I also mention this in my interpretation of Oranges and Lemons

First Figure:
A:Sides face, heads lead in: Grand Square (one way only).
B1:Heads lead in a double; cast back to place (men left, ladies right).  Men cross left; ladies cross right, to opposite place.
B2:Sides the same.
B3/4:All that again, to place.
Second Figure:
A:Grand Square.
B1:Heads lead in; change hands with partner to form a back ring.  Go half-way round to the right; lead out to opposite place.
B2:Sides the same.
B3/4:All that again, to place.
Third Figure:
A:Grand Square.
B1:Heads lead in; face partner, step right and honour.  Face opposite: two changes with hands, into opposite place.
B2:Sides the same.
B3/4:All that again, but honour opposite then face partner.

The concept of the head couples doing a figure and then the sides repeating it is central to the quadrille.  Coincidence or ancestry?  The two changes of rights and lefts are also a standard quadrille move.  And the Grand Square is a figure in some versions of the Lancers, which was the most popular quadrille of the nineteenth century.  So let's examine the connections.

The Plain Quadrille        Plain Quadrille - Palermo Set: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPaine's Fourth Set: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

The introduction to Ball-Room Instructer, New York, Huestis & Craft, 1841 make it clear.


Have completely taken the place of all former dances which enlivened our ancestors, and are at present the most popular figures among fashionable classes of society in this country and Europe.

The author describes the figures clearly, and also gives drawings of them.  See the facsimile.  He gives the most common quadrille (the A's and B's are for my benefit and are not what they would have played).  The musical notation I've given comes from the Palermo Set by Sep. Winner published in 1877 by J. E. Ditson & Co., Philadelphia and you'll find if the musicians follow the instructions most of them are the right length.  (The fifth figure in this book is missing 8 bars and I had to add a move — one which appears here in other books — to make it fit the 32 bars of music.  I've also added the music from one of the earliest collections: Paine's Fourth Set of 1815.  The standard version can be seen in A complete practical guide to the art of dancing. by Thomas Hillgrove, c.1863.)  The third and fifth figures start with an introduction to the introduction, but don't let that fool you; there's an 8-bar introduction to every figure.

  We're going to dance the first and fourth figures, again using a skip-change step.

Figure 1:       Right and left
A0:Honour partner.  Honour corner.
A1:Head couples: Right and Left.  Across and back.  With hands, and the man turning in towards his partner at the end of each half — but no arm round the waist.
A2:Balance.  Turn partner.  “Gentleman and partner face each other, dancing one or two steps to the right, then to the left, or in one place.  Gentlemen present one or both hands to partner and turn completely round to first position.”
B1:Ladies' Chain.  Across and back.  An open left-hand turn — no arm round the waist and the men move forward all the time.
B2:Half Promenade.  Half Right and Left.
Side Couples the same.    Total: 8 + (2 x 32) bars.
 Figure 2:       Forward Two
A0:Do nothing.
A1:First lady and opposite man forward and back.  Cross right shoulder (and turn right to face each other, I assume).
A2:Chassez: “by dancing two or three steps to the right and then to the left”.  Cross back right shoulder.
B1:Both couples balance and turn partners.
….REPEAT for second lady (the other head lady), third (on right of ones), and fourth.    Total: 8 + (4 x 24) bars.
 Figure 3:       Right Hand Cross
A0:Do nothing.
A1:First lady and opposite cross right shoulder, giving right hands, and turn right to face.  Cross back left shoulder, giving left hands, and give right to partner's right in a wave up and down the set.  For the first move he says “gentleman passing to the right hand of the lady”, which is ambiguous — her right hand is on the left as he faces her — but the title of the figure suggests that they actually take right hands in passing.
A2:Balance the wave twice.  Promenade across to the opposite couple's place.
B1:Ladies forward and back.  Men forward and back.
B2:Both couples lead forward and back.  Half right and left to place.
….REPEAT for each lady in turn.    Total: 8 + (4 x 32) bars.
 Figure 4:       Forward Four
A0:Do nothing.
A1:Heads forward and back.  He says balance rather than lead, but I'm not sure what he means — anyway it's a dance step rather than a walk.  Forward again; first man takes his partner's right hand in his right and the opposite lady's left hand in his left, she turns to face her partner and all fall back: the first man with the two ladies (who take hands behind him), the second man on his own.
A2:Line of three forward and back twice.
B1:Solo man forward and back.  Forward again as the others drop hands; solo man presents a hand to partner, then opposite.  I imagine it's two bars to go forward, then present a hand at the start or bars 3 and 4.
B2:Circle left about half-way until opposite home place.  Half right and left.
….REPEAT for each lady in turn.    Total: 8 + (4 x 32) bars.
 Figure 5:       Forward Two
A0:Do nothing.
A1:First lady and opposite man forward and back.  Cross right shoulder.
A2:Chassez.  Cross back right shoulder.  All this is the same as Figure 2.
B1:All promenade with cross-hand hold.
B2:Balance.  Turn partner.         This move is missing from The Ball-Room Instructer but appears in many other books.
….REPEAT for each lady in turn.
A1:Face partner: all chassez 4 steps to the right (ladies in, men out), four back.  All balance once, then bow or curtsey.

He then says:

To describe any more complete sets would be needless, as they are differently made up by different teachers, or altered to suit various pieces of music; in which case more figures are added or some omitted; but all the following descriptions will be of popular figures, which occasionally occur in every set of quadrilles now composed.

He then gives some of these “Promiscuous figures” as he calls them.  In particular, Right and Left All Round is what we know as a Grand Chain or a Grand Right and Left.  It generally occurs in the last figure of a set, and is used in place of “all promenade” each time.

I'm sure you can see that the first figure could easily be a traditional American Square, with a swing replacing the two-hand turn following the balance.  Also notice that for most of the dance only two couples are involved — either Heads or Sides — and what do Americans call a dance with just two couples working together?!  All these moves appear in traditional American contras: the second half of the first figure is identical to the second half of “The Devil's Dream”, still the most popular contra in England.

But this Quadrille could equally be a traditional English dance.  Dancers in The States think “English” means “Playford-style”, but if you dance in England I hope you will have encountered…

La Russe        La Russe: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

If you've ever wondered why this starts by passing your partner left shoulder to meet the next person, the reason is that it comes from a quadrille movement in which you all face the centre and chassez sideways to pass your partner (it's called chassé-croisé), then balance/set and turn the next person (probably by the right hand), then chassez back again to balance and turn your partner.  Naturally in the chassez the men pass behind the ladies, and that's why it's left shoulder going out and right shoulder coming back.  And the chassez and set are very much like the “sevens and threes” of Irish Set Dancing.  The arching and crossing figure comes from the quadrille, except that it was done without hands: the active couple led through the opposite couple and then separated and turned out (or indeed turned as a couple) as the other couple moved outside the actives and then met to lead back home as the actives moved home outside them.

Here's an early version of the dance, published by H. D. Willock (Dance Teacher from Glasgow) in his book “Ballroom Guide — A Manual of Dancing” — this version is probably from the 1860's:


1.   All eight chasse across, set at the corners, and turn…8
2.   The same back to places, set and turn…8
3.   First couple promenade round inside the figure…8
4.   Same couple poussette round…8
5.   First couple cross to second couple's place; second couple at same time, passing on, outside, to first couple's place: the same reversed to places…8
6.   Repeat No. 5…8
7.   Double ladies' chain, or hands round…8
8.   All promenade…8

Each “…8” is eight bars.

And here's a version from around 1886.


Tunes — “La Russe,” or “The Rose Tree.”

One Figure repeated four times.

Before commencing this Quadrille, Gent. bow to partner and to lady on left.  Ladies bow to partner and gent. on right.  Gentleman always to have partner on right hand, and always turn partner by right hand, and not to swing.

First, go round back of partner, and set and turn next lady to right hand, back to places, all set and turn partners;
Top couple promenade round centre;
Top couple pousette round centre;
Top couple promenade between the bottom couple to opposite place;
Bottom couple passing outside to top couple's place.
Repeat, top couple passing outside to place;
Bottom couple, inside to place.
Top couple promenade inside bottom couple passing outside to opposite places;
Top couple passing outside to place;
Bottom couple, inside to place.
All promenade full round to places;
All join hands, eight hands round to places;
Repeat from beginning, right-hand couple promenading and pousetting round centre, second time;
Bottom couple, third time;
Left-hand couple, fourth time.

This is very similar to the version I know, which was published by EFDSS in 1948 when Peter Kennedy discovered that in the North of England they were still dancing it.  Instead of the working couple swinging for 8 bars and then promenading round the inside, we have first the promenade and then “pousette round centre”.  And in the second version the final circle left and promenade home have been reversed.  But it's still clearly the same dance.

I understand that when the head couples cross over, the ones go between the twos (their opposite couple) then the twos turn in as the ones turn out to go back with the twos in between.  Then the twos turn out to start the repeat.  Each person is dancing an elongated ellipse.

I didn't know what poussette round centre meant so I consulted John Sweeney and Susan de Guardiola.  The dance appears in the book “Miss Milligan's Miscellany of Scottish Country Dances, Volume 1”, but this doesn't say how “pousette round centre” is done, and nor does Pilling (the Scottish instruction booklet in diagrams) or the standard crib.  There are videos at which show the ones in ballroom position dancing round the inside of the set with a pas de bas — and that's exactly what the Irish would do.  If fact the introduction to the first edition of Book 1 (the first book of dances published by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society) said of the poussette, “the modern form is to waltz round each other” (which I suspect would horrify some Scottish dancers if they knew it).

Susan says (see her post here) of a quadrille from the 1840's:

Poussette: This is not the push/pull poussette of earlier country dancing.  By this era, it meant the two couples performing a turning couple dance (waltz, polka, galop, etc.) around each other.  It can be done either as a series of four four-slide galops or as a constantly-turning (two-slide) galop inside the set.

So the consensus is that they stretched the meaning of the word so that instead of one couple dancing round another couple it became one couple dancing round the centre of the set.  John also quoted the dance “Ladies Fancy” where the daughter of David Anderson, who wrote dance books around 1886, confirmed that this description of the pousette was correct:

First and second couples with ballroom hold dance around each other (pas de basque step) and change places (progression).

Click to play videoClick for a video of Burt Hunter calling La Russe and explaining that it's a dance from the North-East of England and that's why he does it to a rant step.

For more information on La Russe, see John Sweeney's page
  So let's dance the first version I've found, and instead of the circle eight we'll use the option of “ladies double chain” which is what we would call “All four ladies chain over and back” — but again, no arm round the waist, chaps, and walk forwards the whole time!  We'll stick with the numbering we're used to, as specified in the second version I've given, so the twos are on the right of the ones.  Here it is as I would lay it out.

A1:Chassé across (man behind partner); set to the next.  Right-hand turn.
A2:Chassé back (man behind partner); set to partner.  Right-hand turn.
B1:Ones take cross-hand hold and promenade round the inside of the square.
B2:Ones take ballroom hold and dance round the inside with a pas de bas step.
A3:Ones lead across through the threes, turn away and come back on the outside while threes dance across outside the ones, turn in and lead back, then turn away to…
A4:Do all that again.
B3:All four ladies open chain over and back (skip-change step).
B4:Promenade with a cross-hand hold.  Then 2's, 3's, 4's.

Cumberland Square Eight: the galloping across with the men passing back-to-back, and back with the ladies passing back-to-back, is straight out of the quadrilles, so is the basket — in fact so is everything.

Yorkshire Square Eight: I've been told this was originally two separate dances and someone from EFDSS joined them together.  The first half would not seem unusual to anyone dancing quadrilles — in fact we'll be dancing a Polka Quadrille next.

And these all end with a promenade, which we saw in the quadrille earlier.  (And so do the majority of American squares.)

Goathland Square Eight: As in La Russe, the arching and crossing figure comes from the quadrille, and so does the grand chain.

There are also lots of modern English ceilidh dances involving all these figures; it's a living tradition.

  Now let's dance the Polka Quadrille using the instructions on my 200 Years of American page, except that we'll reduce the polka round from 16 bars to 8!

Here's a later description of the first figure of the Plain Quadrille, taken from Dick's Quadrille Book, c. 1878.

Plain Quadrille

Figure 1
A0:Honour partner.  Honour corner.
A1:Head couples: Right and left.
A2:Promenade.  He calls it “Balance” but describes a cross-hand promenade.  Inside the set rather than the American promenade outside the set, and across and back rather than around the inside.
B1:Ladies' chain.  Across and back.  An open left-hand turn — no arm round the waist.
B2:Half Promenade.  Half right and left.  He gives this as an alternative to the Promenade this time.
Side Couples: The same, twice

This is exactly the same as the description in the book Dances of our Pioneers by Grace L. Ryan, published in New York by A. S. Barnes and Company in 1926 — see 200 Years of American.

Rock's Ball-Room Hand Book (1845) shows The Lancers ending with a Grand Square.  But writers of dancing manuals are always complaining that dancing isn't what it was.  The Fashionable Dancer's Casket (1856) bemoans the fact that…

The grand square, which used to end these Quadrilles, is now omitted in London, being found too difficult of execution in the ballroom.  This is to be regretted, as it was a very beautiful movement.  It is now danced as above [with a grand chain or promenade].

The Lancers are not often danced, for the reason that the figures are somewhat intricate and difficult, and require to be taught — a single individual not knowing the movement throws out the rest — they can only be properly acquired through the medium of a capable instructor; they cannot be picked up, like the “plain Cotillions,” and awkwardly paced through in the most ungraceful manner, as is the unblushing custom in our ballrooms, and with untaught dancers.

Richard Powers says that eventually the quadrilles were reduced to mostly just two: The Plain Quadrille and The Lancers, each of which would appear in a dance programme more than once.  Eventually even The Plain Quadrille was dropped at most dances, and he has a dance programme from the Mirfield Tennis Dance of 1908 which included The Lancers five times, along with 15 waltzes, a polka and a two step.

The Lancers also inspired a rowdier version called “The Kitchen Lancers”, created by younger dancers who weren't interested in the affectations of their elders.  The third figure contains a basket, and this is probably where the basket in Cumberland Square Eight comes from.  I think the earliest mention of the Cumberland Square Eight is 1939, more than a half a century after the Kitchen Lancers.

The Quadrilles were danced everywhere — and that included Ireland.  Just as the Americans took the English longways dances and changed them to suit their own more energetic and physical way of doing things, so did the Irish with the Quadrilles.  There's a lot of swinging, polkaing in place (which they call “Dance at home”) and polkaing round the set (which they call “House around”).  In fact they don't normally use a polka step, more of a pas de bas, very flat to the ground.  It's one of those dance styles where the regulars put very little effort into it, even though it's all danced, while the beginners exhaust themselves leaping up and down.

I'm not pretending to be an expert on Irish Set Dancing: I'm just showing you the connections.  Here's an Irish version of the First Set of Quadrilles — the Clare Plain Set.  You'll see that the Irish like to get everybody moving at the start before getting into what I'd consider the figure proper.  They also have the 8 bars introduction, but they don't bother to honour their partner and corner — I remember doing that at a set dancing workshop and the teacher said, “Oh no, we don't do that sort of thing”.  What they tend to do is wait for 4 bars and then take promenade position.

Clare Plain Set        Print this danceTop of page

Click to play videoClick the picture to see the video from which I took this, which I'm guessing is from the 1960's.  The man in the first couple (nearest to us) is Connie Ryan (1940-1997), one of the most famous set dance teachers in the world.

There are actually six figures.  I'm reproducing the first and fourth figures only, both of which are danced to Irish reels (no set tune), and I'm using English/American terminology rather than Irish Set terminology — this is aimed at English dancers.  If you want the Irish terminology, see dance/show/clarpl.

You can use a flat pas de bas step if you wish, and for the forward and back you can do 1 — 2 — 123, 1 — 2 — 123, and you can use a pivot step for the swing, all of which you'll see on other videos, but what you see on this video is something akin to Appalachian stepping — now there's another connection for you!  It's called the Clare Battering Step and I will attempt to show you how to do it.  I've watched other videos that try to explain it, but I suspect this is an older version and the Folk Process has been at it again.  They don't use it all the time — they use a straightforward 1-2-3-pause (pas de bas) for the “Pass through” and the house around, for example, but when they're not travelling too far they batter.

I'm describing this using 4 beats to the bar.  The man starts of the left foot, the lady on the right.  (Actually on beat 3 of the last bar of the introduction they step on the other foot to prepare themselves.)  On beat 4 move the leading foot forward and back, tapping the heel and then toe on the floor.  On beat 1 of the bar come down flat on the leading foot.  On beat 2 come down flat on the other foot (possibly preceded by a tap toe but I doubt that I will manage that).  On beat 3, flat with the leading foot.  On beat 4, flat with the other foot.  In the second bar beat 1 is a pause. On beat 3, flat with the leading foot.  On beat 4, flat with the other foot.  And start again on beat 4.  It's similar to the “William Tell” step in Appalachian, but there you do three shuffles and two steps so that the next time you start the sequence on the other foot; in this version of battering you start every two-bar sequence on the same foot.  In fact a mnemonic could be: “Does it always start on — this foot?”!

And if I've got this wrong, I'm hoping someone will contact me and explain things better!

First Figure — Pass Through

Promenade, (cross-hand hold), men turning the ladies clockwise under both arms and into ballroom hold on the last 2 bars.

Dance at home, turning twice.  This is a swing, but battering rather than seeing how fast you can spin round.

Head couples:

Pass through: pass through with the opposite head couple, then box the gnat with partner.  All that again.

Dance at home.

Ladies chain: Ladies cross giving right, then left to the opposite man who turns her under as he dances round her.  Ladies pass back without giving hands, give right hand to partner who turns her under into promenade hold.

Half promenade and pass back: Promenade across, again turning the ladies under both arms.  Pass through and box the gnat as before.

All dance at home.

Side couples now dance this.

House around.  Dance round the square, two pas de bas steps for each quarter.  On the first step the man is moving round the lady while the lady dances more-or-less on the spot; on the second the lady moves and the man stays on the spot — just as in a folk waltz.

Fourth Figure — Three and One


Dance at home.

Top couples:

Ladies chain.

Dance at home.

Leading couple house within the set (ballroom hold and dance round with a pas de bas).  As this ends the man places his partner on the opposite man's left so that both ladies face the leading man; he takes nearer hand of both ladies while the other man takes outside hands on top.  Everyone has right in right and left in left.

Forward, back and ladies turn under: The line of three moves forward across the set (leading man going backwards), backward, forward again (6 bars).  Both ladies ½ turn outwards under the men's raised arms and into line with leading man (2 bars).

Forward, back and basket, Forward, back and forward.  The ladies again turn outwards under the men's arms on the last 2 bars to form a basket (known as a little Christmas) — left arm over the right arm of the person on the left.

Basket.  This time they do use a pivot step to turn it round.

Ladies chain.

Dance at home.

2nd couple (opposite the ones) repeat the figure; the final move is All dance at home.  Now 3rd couple (on left of ones) and then 4th couple (on right of ones) lead the figure.  Again the final move is All dance at home.

House around.

  As with the Quadrille, we'll dance the first and fourth figures.  You can see where almost all of it comes from.  The “Pass through” is rights and lefts, only instead of left they give right and instead or a courtesy turn they give a twirl — just as some contra dancers do, only they would be twirling with the left hand.  The ladies' chain is done with a twirl — again as some contra dancers do it today.  The half promenade finishes with a twirl and the pass back is a half right and right.  It's clearly a descendant of the Quadrille.  The fourth figure has an equally clear derivation — the quadrille doesn't have the men turning the ladies under (which I really like) and is much more gentle, but that's where the Irish got it from.

Of course people now write modern Irish Sets, just as they write modern Playford-style dances, modern ceilidh dances and modern Scottish dances, but they're still drawing on the same tradition.

There won't be time to do it, but here's another Irish Set which I believe is quite old.

Cuirassiers Set        Print this danceTop of page

Click to play videoCuirassiers were mounted cavalry soldiers equipped with armour and firearms, first appearing in late 15th-century Europe. They were the successors of the medieval armoured knights. This French term means “the one with a cuirass” (cuirasse), the breastplate armour which they wore.

Click the picture to watch the video I learnt this from, which shows two of the figures.

There are instructions for all five figures at ~ltaylor1/cuirassiers.htm

Second Figure:
A0:Take promenade hold, man's right hand on lady's waist.
A1:Promenade round the set, pas de bas steps starting right foot: 1-2-3-& 1-2-3-& etc. — turn lady under at end.
A2:Dance at home (pivot step gentle swing, probably three times around).
B1:Both top ladies to right (two pas de bas) to make circles of three with that side couple; all balance (step on L raising R, hop on L possibly raising R higher, same on R).  Circle left (four pas de bas starting L foot) to leave top ladies facing opposite top man.
B2:Take two hands with this man and balance twice.  Two-hand turn to finish back in the square with the lady on this man's right.
A1:First top man with current partner advance and retire.  Both top couples advance, ladies cross left shoulder, take inside hand with partner and turn left under his arm to place.
A2:All dance at home.
….:Repeat for first sides (on left of first tops), second tops, second sides.
A1:All house around.
Fifth Figure:
A0:Take promenade hold.
A1:Promenade round the set.
A2:Dance at home.
B1:First tops advance; retire.  Both tops advance; top ladies turn to face each other across the set in a diamond (though they don't take hands with the other man).  Balance twice; fall back, lady turning left under man's arm, to place.
B2:Tops lead to the right (inside hand) as sides separate (sevens and threes), tops lead through this side couple and wheel to the right to finish on the left end of side lines, while side men move right to meet partner (ladies do sevens and threes more or less on the spot) into the line.
A1:Lines advance and join up into a circle.  Circle left a little so that all are one place left of their original places.
….:Repeat for each couple in first tops' place.  (second sides, second tops, first sides).
A2:All dance at home.
A1:All house around.

And finally, a look at the quadrille's influence on Scottish dancing.

Round Reel of Eight        Round Reel of Eight: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Format: Square.     Note: Twos are on the left of the ones.
Dance: RSCDS Book 27
Music: 32 + 32 + 16 + 8 bar reels.

A1:Ladies cast behind partner and dance all the way around the outside.
A2:Men the same.
B1:Grand chain half-way (6 bars); set to partner.
A3:Heads cross over, ones leading through the threes, then ones turn out, threes turn in and cross back with the threes inside, then right-hand turn partner into a Gay Gordons hold — yes I know it's actually called an allemande hold.
A4:Heads promenade inside all the way: plenty of time, so acknowledge the side couples as you pass them
B3/4:Sides the same.
A5:Heads half rights and lefts.  Then sides the same — the moves don't interlock as they might in an American Square.
B5:All circle left.  Circle right.

This one is said to come from “an old book”.  It may have come from a 19th century quadrille, but the Scots aren't good at giving references except to their own books — if you asked an RSCDS teacher where the dance comes from they would say “Book 27” — they might know it was published in 1947 — and that would be the end of the matter.  The leading in A3 is the same as in the early version of La Russe and there's nothing in the dance which wouldn't have appeared in a quadrille except the Gay Gordons hold.  As in “La Russe”, in the cross over in A3 the ones turn out rather than in before returning.  Note that the crossing over is twice the speed of the earlier version.  Maybe the RSCDS added the right-hand turn because people were getting there too soon — who knows?

I wonder about the music though!  If you added another 8 bars it would be a very standard 3 x 32 bar dance, so maybe the circles at the end should be 8 bars each.  On the other hand the quadrilles didn't use the AABB format that we're so used to — see my 200 Years of American page for more details about that — so perhaps it really is right.

There's nothing in this that would seem unusual to someone who danced quadrilles.

If we had time we could dance…

Clutha        Clutha: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Formation: Square.     Note: Twos are on the left of the ones.
Dance: RSCDS Book 31 — apparently first published in 1983.
Music: 4 x 48 bar reels.
A1:First lady third man right-hand turn, pass right shoulder round partner, right-hand turn again, give left to partner.
A2:Set in a wave; left-hand turn half-way.  Set again in a wave; left-hand turn partner to place (¼ for the ones, ¾ for the threes).
B1:Heads: Rights and lefts (across and back).
B2:Head ladies chain across and back.
C1:Right-hand turn corner (2 dance steps), keep hold, give left to partner; set.  Left-hand turn partner (4 steps).
C2:Promenade partner.
 Repeat for 2nd, 3rd, 4th ladies.

“Clutha” is the Gaelic name of the river Clyde.  Again there's nothing in this that would seem unusual to someone who danced quadrilles, though I think they would find the first move rather busy.  Setting in a wave of four appears in the third figure of the Plain Quadrille, but also in the English longways dance “Pins and Needles” which is almost identical to the Scottish longwise dance “Scottish Reform” and very similar to the traditional American contra “Hull's Victory” published in Elias Howe's American Dancing Master, and ball-room prompter in 1862.


That's my survey of some of the connections between various kinds of social dance.  I'm in favour of all kinds of social dance; I don't demand that everybody should dance the kinds I particularly enjoy.  But I do like to know enough about the others to see some of the connections — I hope you do too.

Here's some background material which I didn't want to fit into the main part of the web page:


from The Thistle No 1, November 1961, probably written by Hugh Thurston

The dance first appeared in a manuscript known as the Blantyre manuscript, written in 1806, and at present in the public library in Perth.  Perhaps this date does not look very old to anyone who scans the dates in the footnotes in the Scottish Country Dance books, but in fact most of these dates are of documents which recorded old dances which were quickly forgotten, and were, after a lapse of years, reconstructed (some more accurately than others).  The Duke of Perth, however, was never forgotten, but was handed down from one generation of dancers to the next.  Indeed the RSCDS did not get the dance from the Blantyre MS: the source quoted is The Ballroom 1827, which is the earliest printed version of the dance.  And they could, if necessary, have done without documents altogether but have recorded the dance from traditional dancers.  Here is the description in the Blantyre MS:

Hook right hand with partner, turn around, throw off a couple.  Hook partner with left.  Turn round downmost lady with right, partner with left, upmost lady with right, partner with left twice round.  Sett across corners, reels.

There follows the instruction End with four round, four across, r and l once.  These figures are not part of the particular dance.  They (or something similar, such as End in the usual way) occur at the end of every dance in the MS, and were evidently a general finale.  Throw off means simply cast off.  The hook seems to me to imply that an elbow link was used for the fast turns.  Our elbow cup hold has presumably descended from this (I think it is a better hold: the elbow link is slightly awkward with our steps, and it is not easy to let your partners go smoothly at the speed at which we dance.  In any case, nobody uses an elbow link today as far as I know).  A one-hand hold would have struck the Scots of the early nineteenth century as very English — in those days country dancing was still done in the English aristocratic ballroom, and was done in a more genteel fashion than would appeal to the more vigorous Scots.  The custom, which has become unfortunately prevalent in some quarters, of trying to dance the turn with a handhold and (on finding that it cannot be done) twisting wrists together in what looks like a Jujutsu grip, or pushing one's partner round with one's free hand, is a consequence which any sensible person ought to be able to foresee of the use of an inadequate technique.  The name Duke of Perth is the name of a tune (as indeed all names of country dances were in those days).  It is the familiar tune to the dance in the Scottish Country Dance Book.  This sequence of figures has, from time to time, been regularly danced to other tunes, and so has had other names.  In The Ballroom, for instance, the dance is called The Duke of Perth or Keep the Country, Bonnie Lassie.  Many books give it as The Duke of Perth or Brown's Reel.  In the Scottish Country Dance Book, Brown's Reel has become Broun's Reel; while in D.R. Mackenzie's National Dances of Scotland it has become The Brownie's Reel.  Another tune which was very commonly used is Pease strae (sometimes called Clean pease strae).  All these tunes are reel tunes.  However, if you compare the tune as played nowadays with the written notes you will find that it being played at exactly half speed, i.e. one bar of the written tune is turned into two bars.  At this speed of course the tune is not a reel tune, because the quaver rhythm of the reel has been slowed down into a crotchet rhythm.  The rhythm has, in fact, become that of the Scottish measure, which is a very suitable rhythm for country dancing, though of course it could not be used in a reel (such as the eightsome or foursome reel).  It seems very likely that this is the original way of playing the tune, for it appears away back in 1750, under the name Lord Rockingham's reel or Scampden's Cade in John Johnson's 200 Favourite Country Dances published in London.  Here the bars are half as long as the bars in the reel version.

Flett and Flett in their Traditional Dancing in Scotland add further detail.  Duke of Perth or Brown's Reel was particularly popular in Angus, Perthshire and Fife and featured in the repertoires of the many dancing masters there.  The alternative name Pease Strae was confined to Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Arran and Galloway and appeared in the dancing master repertoires there.  The last alternative name, Keep the Country, Bonnie Lassie seemed to be restricted to Ettrick where it was taught by dancie James Laidlaw.  The travelling step for all of these was usually the chassé except for Pease Strae in which it was usually hop one and two: setting was pas de Basque.  The use of linked arms for all turns was universal in this dance but strangely not in any other in the dancies' repertoire.  Hop one and two is the closest to our current skip change of step, while the chassé is similar but without the hop.  It is interesting to note that the sequence 'set and turn corners and reels of three with corners' which is the last half of the Duke of Perth in a Scottish contribution to the Country Dance, and was particularly common in Country Dances in Scotland in the 18th century.  After 1800 the sequence tended to fall out of use.  It is striking that no new dance with this sequence was published after 1835.

And here's some information from Tony Parkes, excellent caller of squares and contras and exceedingly knowledgeable about their history.

I admit I haven't read every book in “An American Ballroom Companion”.  But judging from the ones I have looked at, Lloyd Shaw was right when he said they tell only half the story.

Here, in as brief a form as I can manage, is what I believe we can say with certainty about square dance history:

1.  There are two distinct traditions that contributed to present-day square dancing (of all styles).  One comes from the 18th century cotillion and the 19th century quadrille, and features primarily movement across and along the set.  The other comes from a mixture of sources that is still uncertain but may include English, Scottish, Irish, French, Native American and West African, and features primarily circular movement.

2.  There is vastly more documentation of the quadrille tradition than the visiting tradition.  This is because, by and large, quadrilles were danced by the upper classes who were used to writing and publishing, and visiting dances were done by the lower and enslaved classes, who were either illiterate or too busy scratching a living to document all their doings.  If a pioneer did keep a diary, it was unlikely to include descriptions of such things as the prevailing social dances, which “everybody knew”.  Similarly, a newspaper account of a frontier dance was unlikely to describe the figures, though a mere list of dance titles is helpful.

3.  The line between the two traditions is fuzzy.  By the mid-1920s (when the first 20th century book-length collections of dance descriptions, apart from Cecil Sharp 1917 on Southern sets and Elizabeth Burchenal 1918 on contras, appeared), there were visiting figures in books of quadrilles and vice versa.

4.  Lloyd Shaw appears to have been correct in his theory that the farther west the dances traveled, the more blending there was of the two strains.  (I'm speaking, as I'm sure Shaw was, of the 19th century.  After 1925, due to improved communications and increased interest in square dance, all bets are off.)

5.  Traditional Western square dances were primarily of the visiting type.  For the first few years of the Modern Western Square Dance movement (that is, the movement characterized by organization into clubs and learning through lessons), visiting/circular figures outnumbered quadrille-derived figures; but gradually the balance shifted, due partly to the adoption of Eastern figures into the repertoire and partly to the invention of calls (like square through and star through) that lent themselves to grid-type choreography.

Tony Parkes
Billerica, Massachusetts

Susan de Guardiola isn't convinced by Tony's arguments.  She points out that the “visiting couple” format goes all the way back to Playford's rounds, and I would suggest that a good example is “Put on thy Smock a Monday” from 1670 (see the original here) in which each figure (after the standard Playford introductions) involves one of the three men leading his partner and corner forward and back to the remaining lady, then he turns the remaining lady (while the other two ladies turn each other), keeps her and repeats the figure twice more towards a different lady until all are home.  Susan also quotes a cotillon figure in which the first couple circles hands four with the right-hand couple, then adds the opposite couple of hands six, then adds the final couple for a grand round (hands eight).  [This figure is still used in the singing call “Hot time in the Old Town Tonight”.]  Two better parallels are in some of the “promiscuous figures”, which are single figures that can be dropped into other quadrilles to replace the original figures.  The jig figure has the ladies progress around the quadrille counter-clockwise, balancing and turning each gentleman.  The cheat figure has each couple going around in succession, doing a balance and then a turn, with “cheating” by choosing a different partner for the turn allowed.  These are very common figures, but here's an example of both on one page from Wehman's complete dancing master and call book.

I would add that “cheat” figures are still called today — I've seen Tony Parkes call them — and the cheat figure mentioned above is identical (apart from the cheating) to the first figure of Peppers black published by John Playford in 1651.  Once again, the Connections are everywhere once you start looking for them!

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