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SRFAN: Miscellany:
Thomas Hardy & Country Dance


The following piece appeared in E.F.D.S. News number 12, September 1926, 383-5:

Portrait of Thomas Hardy

Dances Mentioned by Thomas Hardy
in Under the Greenwood Tree

Readers of Under the Greenwood Tree will recall the merry party at the tranter's house on Christmas night, and the country dances which formed its concluding phase when the hour of midnight had struck.

The programme began, it will be remembered, with The Triumph, in which Dick Dewey had Fancy Day for his partner, and, in the progress of the dance, his rival Mr. Shiner, "according to the interesting rule laid down, deserted his own partner, and made off down the middle with this fair one of Dick's ... Then they turned and came back, when Dick grew most rigid around his mouth, and blushed with ingenuous ardour as he joined hands with the rival and formed the arch over his lady's head; relinquishing her again at setting to partners."

No other dance is mentioned by name, and I had long been curious as to the identity of some of the others, of which there is sufficient decription to give material for a guess. The next dance described after The Triumph was the one in which Mr. Shiner, now dancing with Fancy, failed to cast off, and, on Dick's pointing out that casting off was in the dance, replied "I don't like casting off: then very well; I cast off for no dance-maker that ever lived." It is indicated that the dance contained the figures of hands-across, a swing, and leading up the middle, which suggested to me that it might have been Bonnets so Blue. The dance described at the beginning of the next chapter, "that most delightful of country-dances, beginning with six-hands-round," especially excited my curiosity, as none of the traditional dances in Cecil Sharp's collection includes a six-hands-round. I therefore wrote to Mr. Hardy a few months ago, and asked him about these two dances, sending a copy of the Country Dance Book, Part I, to show the figures of our Bonnets so Blue, and mentioning the fact that The Triumph is frequently danced at our parties. I received in reply a letter which, with Mr. Hardy's permission, I quote nearly in extenso.

"I am interested to hear that you have been attracted by the old English dances, which gave me so much pleasure when I was a boy. The dance I was thinking of in Under the Greenwood Tree must have been The College Hornpipe, as that is the only one I remember beginning with six-hands-round. I am sending you the figure as nearly as I can recall it sixty years after I last danced in it. This and other such figures have been revived on the stage here by 'The Hardy Players' (as they call themselves) since they began making plays out of my stories. Only very old country people remember the dances now. I have many such figures in old music books.

These 'Country Dances' were not the same as 'folk-dances', though usually considered to be. They superceded and extinguished the latter from a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago, as being more 'genteel', though sometimes the folk-dances were done within my memory, the motions being more boisterous than in the Country dance, a distinguishing mark of them being the crossing of one leg over the knee of the other, and putting the hands on the hips.

The history of the Country dance is puzzling. If it was the dance of the country people, how comes it that new figures and tunes are first heard of in the London ball-rooms (see London magazines and musical publications throughout the eighteenth century), whence they gradually spread into the rural districts? I for one cannot explain, and am inclined to the belief that the now discredited opinion on the origin of the name ('contre-danse') may be after all the truth of the matter; and this would accord with the fact that these dancers displaced the simpler folk-dance.

Many thanks for the Country Dance Book; also for the two numbers of E.F.D.S. News ... The figure called Bonnets so Blue was called Hands across here, and was probably the one I had in mind when Shiner would not cast off. But it was mostly danced to a tune called Enrico.

I found a copy, or rather a leaf or two, of the original edition of The Triumph (to which you allude) among my grandfather's old music. The page is entitled 'New Dances for the year 1793', so that seems to be when it came out."

I append the notation of the College Hornpipe, referred to in Mr. Hardy's letter.

THE COLLEGE HORNPIPE

As formerly danced in Wessex.

(First strain). Top three couples six hands half-round and back again to places.

(First strain repeated). The same three couples, one hand joined of each, promenade full round to places.

(Second strain). Two top couples down the middle and up again, to places.

(Second strain repeated). The three couples whole pousette (both hands joined) leaving second couple at the top. (Tune ends).

(Tune begins again). The original top couple being now in the third place, do the same with the original fourth and fifth couple. (Tune ends, the original top couple being in the original fourth couple's place).

(Tune begins again). At the same time that the original top couple starts the figure again with the original fifth and sixth couples, the original second couple, which has been idle at the top, starts the same figure with the original third and fourth couples standing below them, so that the figure is now going on in two places, and later, if the line is a long one, in as many places as there is room for.

The original top couple at last finds itself breathless at the bottom of the dance; but gradually works up to the top as succeeding couples dance down and take places below.
W. E. F. M[acMillan].
Note. The "contre-danse" controversy cannot really be proved either way, but the O.E.D. is strongly in favour of the view that the English term is the original. The appearance of new figures and tunes in London publications can, we suggest, be accounted for in two ways; country people might evolve new forms but would not put them in print, and the people of the town would be quicker to invent — also much quicker to discard and therefore to want fresh novelties.

The Dorset tradition seems to have differed from that of Warwickshire and the Midlands, where the dances in Part I of the Country Dance Book were collected. We wonder if in Dorset there was any stepping in position, which we have so far understood to be absent from English Country dances, or to have disappeared as figures developed.

It is, of course, especially interesting and valuable to receive information from such an authority as Mr. Hardy: his recollections must not only command our respect, but will also, we hope, stimulate further discussion.
— Editor. [N.O.M. Cameron]
     English Folk Dance Society, London, 1926.
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