dance


dance
   A standard basic distinction in folk dance scholarship is between 'ceremonial' and 'social' dance. Ceremonial dances are performed by a special group within the community for display at special times, in special costume (as, for example, *morris dance, *sword dance, *Molly dance, *Bacup Coconut Dance, and the *Helston Furry Dance) or as an integral part of a *calendar custom performed only on certain occasions (such as *Wishford Magna, *Padstow Hobby Horse, and the *Shaft-esbury Byzant). Social dances, on the other hand, are performed in everyday situations by both sexes, without special training beyond knowing the basic steps and movements. This entry will concentrate on social dance.
   In the sphere of social dance, the notion of a separate identifiable English 'folk' dance repertoire is difficult to sustain. It would be difficult to find a dance form which is not 'traditional', that is, informally learnt, passed on, and practised. More than most cultural forms, dances have moved up and down the social scale, have gone in and out of fashion, and undergone revival at different times, and at any given historical moment there were several possible dance repertoires existing side by side, as now. The 19th century, for example, was dominated by new dance crazes introduced from the Continent, including the Quadrille, a lively square dance for four couples, which arrived from France in 1816 (although it was based on earlier English country dances) and several 'round' or couple dances such as the Waltz (1812), the Polka (1844), and the Schottische (1848). Each of these was characterized by its own musical rhythm, and the Waltz and Polka in particular took the middle classes by storm, with thousands of new tunes and variations flooding the market. Each took its time filtering down the social scale. Quadrille dancing underwent a vigorous revival in the late 19th century in middle-class circles. Since the late 19th century, new dances have tended to come from America rather than Europe. What the ordinary working village or town dweller was dancing before these fashionable new dances arrived is still open to some debate.
   The usual assumption, based largely on the writings of Cecil *Sharp, is that the indigenous English folk dance was what became known as the 'country dance'. The key difference between the old country dances and the new couple dances is that while in the latter couples progress independently round the room, repeating a short sequence of specified steps, in the country dances couples are included in a particular formation (circle, square, lines, etc.), and they perform a series of figures and steps in co-operation with other couples. Sharp started trying to collect country dances in rural areas about 1907, with only limited success:
   In the village of today the polka, waltz and quadrille are steadily displacing the old-time country dances and jigs, just as the tawdry ballads and strident street-songs of the towns are no less surely exterminating the folk-songs. (Written in 1909; Sharp: i. 9)
   There is abundant evidence from literary and historical sources that 'country dances' had been extremely popular at court and other fashionable balls, particularly in the 17th century. Samuel Pepys, for example, recorded a ball in the presence of the king and queen on 31 December 1662; after a bransle and a coranto: '. . . very noble it was and a great pleasure to see. Then to country dances: the King leading the first which he called for: which was, says he, 'Cuckolds All a-Row', the old dance of England . . .' Sharp's basic assumption was that these fashionable 'country dances' were the existing vernacular village dances, tidied up and developed for the court and the ballroom, while they also continued in their natural habitat, the remnants of which he had hoped to find in the villages. He used early dance manuals, in particular John Playford's English Dancing Master, first published in 1650 and then in sixteen other editions until 1728, to attempt a reconstruction of earlier 'country dance' forms. The problem is that there is no real proof that the courtly country dances were taken from the village at all, but may have been largely invented for the court, and only loosely based on the 'folk' dances of the time. What evidence there is concerning the latter points to people dancing in circles, linked lines (moving in serpentine fashion), heys, or weaving in and out when two lines met, and a *thread the needle movement as the line passed under an arch made by two dancers holding up their hands. The first uses of the term 'country dance' (from 1579 onwards) rarely give clear information but seem to refer to these types of dances. It was probably these which Queen Elizabeth I was delighted to watch the 'country people' dancing at Warwick in 1572, but by 1600 she was present to 'see the ladies dance the old and new country dances' (JEFDSS 3:2 (1937), 93-9). It seems likely, but at present still unprovable, that the new fashionable figured country dances were invented at court, probably using Italian models, and simply utilizing the lively music of the older English folk dances. These new country dances only filtered down to village level at a later date. Thomas Hardy, for example, offers some cor-roboration. According to him, there were two classes of people in the Dorset villages of his youth and his parents' time (i.e. the first half of the 19th century); the tradespeople, freeholders, upper servants in one group, and the labourers and lower servants (work people) in the other, and the two had quite distinct gatherings at which they rarely mixed. The 'country dances' were the regular fare of the respectable tradespeople, while the work people had different dances, 'which were reels of all sorts, jigs, a long dance called the "horserace", another called "thread-the-needle", &c. These were danced with hops, leg-crossings, and rather boisterous movements' (EFDS News (Sept. 1926), 383-5; JEFDS 2s:1 (1928), 52-6). He maintained that 'country dances' were introduced to the tradespeople class in the village in about 1800, and the work people were extremely reluctant to take them up. Sharp was disdainful of town-dwellers' traditions, but a detailed account of London coster-mongers' 'tuppenny hops' in the 1840s, written by Henry Mayhew, gives weight to Hardy's view. These events included jigs, hornpipes, polkas, and country dances, 'the last mentioned being generally demanded by the women' (Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (1861), i. 12; a much shorter version was contributed by Mayhew to the Morning Chronicle (27 Nov. 1849), letter XII).
   Both Mayhew and Hardy indicate the factor which is missing in most accounts of 'folk' dancing, in that at least in the 18th and 19th centuries, and probably before, an extremely common form of dance for the working classes, both rural and urban, was 'stepping' or 'stepdancing'. In its basic form, this involved 'the rhythmic beating and scuffling of the feet on the floor' (Hall, 1990: 77) and could be performed solo, or in pairs facing each other, in threes or fours, with alternate sequences of stationary stepping and changing places or doing a figure of eight, the latter being the basic form of dance called a 'reel'. Stepping could be done any time, any place, providing there was music and a reasonably suitable floor, and there are descriptions of people taking barn doors off their hinges to dance on. It could also be taken seriously enough for competitions to be organized, often dancing on a farm cart, with the musician and judges with their backs to the dancers to avoid favouritism. In some parts, stepping developed into clog-dancing (also mentioned by Mayhew), in which the wearing of clogs with metal tips gave a more satisfying aural dimension. Regional styles of clogging developed (e.g. Lancashire and Westmorland), and champion dancers were famous enough to appear on the local music hall stage.
   Until recent years, studies of dance history have usually concentrated on the dance forms themselves, and have largely ignored the social context, the venues and events, and, most importantly, the style of dancing. What little information we have in these spheres must be gleaned from other sources, such as novels and newspapers. The Mayhew description quoted above is unusually informative, while Thomas Hardy includes several descriptions of 19th-century rural dance events in his novels. His short story, Absentmindedness in a Parish Choir (1891) revolves around the fact that the same musicians played for dances and in church, and other works include dancing at a Christmas party (Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) part 1, chapters 7, 8), the social gradations of an outdoor village dance (The Return of the Native (1878) book 4, chapter 3), the innocent dance of the girls in the fields on May Day (Tess of the d'Urbevilles (1891), chapter 1), and many more. Dance venues and settings can be categorized according to the social class of the participants; the degree of formality involved; the social cohesion of the group (family, friends, work colleagues, strangers); the physical venue (pub, hired village schoolroom, village hall, commercial ballroom), and so on. Other regular venues not already mentioned include dancing-booths at fairs, where couples paid for each dance they wished to do, while in some areas a peripatetic dancing-master might stay a few weeks in the locality, giving lessons and organizing a social at the end of his stay.
   The 'country dance' was vital for Sharp as the basic social dance in his planned revival movement, and he formed the *English Folk Dance Society (EFDS) in 1911 to help spread the message. While country dances continued to fade from the village repertoire, the EFDS produced dedicated enthusiasts and dance teachers for whom country dancing at clubs, festivals, and garden parties became a normal hobby pursuit, and Sharp also succeeded in getting country dancing accepted on to the school curriculum. Throughout the inter-war years, country dancing remained a regular hobby pursuit of thousands of enthusiasts up and down the country, but had no appreciable effect on the mass popular culture which took its various dance crazes from America. Some revivalists continued Sharp's work and collected further traditional dances, and, indeed, discovered that some 'country' dances were still danced in amongst other dance forms, at village socials in many places in the country. After the Second World War the *English Folk Dance and Song Society (as it had become in 1932) was shaken by a sudden national craze for American square dancing and, a few years later, on the back of the *song revival, a boom in interest from a younger generation of enthusiasts. The new revival deliberately shunned the 'plimsoles and gymslips' image of the pre-war dance scene, and created a much livelier movement. The terminology changed - the word 'ceilidh' (under various spellings) was adopted from Ireland, coming to mean a much livelier type of event than a 'country' or 'folk' dance implied. At the time of writing, however, the term 'barn dance' is used by most lay people, while 'ceilidh' is mainly restricted to the cognoscenti. There is still a thriving barn dance/ceilidh scene in England, as one of many types of vernacular dance forms from which people can choose. There are specialist clubs and festivals in most parts of the country, and the EFDSS continues to co-ordinate and encourage. It is also quite common for non-specialist groups, such as sports and social clubs, PTAs, staff associations, churches, and so on, to organize occasional barn dances as social events, and many people also choose to have barn dancing at their wedding receptions, as it is ideal for all-age gatherings. The basic repertoire of these events is usually based loosely on the old country dances, with some newly composed dances on the same lines, and often a few similar dances from America, Scotland, and Ireland. Thus the repertoire is deliberately revived/contrived, but the informal gathering - the event itself - has many claims to be termed 'traditional'.
   ■ Reg Hall, I Never Played to Many Posh Dances: Scan Tester, Sussex Musician (1990); Cecil J. Sharp, The Country Dance Book (6 parts, 1909-22); Belinda Quirey, May I Have the Pleasure: The Story of Popular Dancing (1976); Cecil Sharp and A. P. Oppe, The Dance: An Historical Survey of Dancing in Europe (1924); Julian Pilling, FMJ 1:3 (1967), 158-79; Anne-Marie Hulme and Peter Clifton, FMJ 3:4 (1978), 359-77; Theresa Buckland, FMJ 4:4 (1983), 315-32; Derek Schofield, FMJ 5:2 (1986), 215-19; Melusine Wood, JEFDSS 3:2 (1937) 93-9; Melusine Wood, JEFDSS 6:1 (1949), 8-12; J. P. Cunningham, JEFDSS 9:3 (1962), 148-54.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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