York Fusiliers

We have reconsidered our reconstruction of the dance York Fusiliers.  Our thanks to Susan de Guardiola for her comments and advice on our previous interpretation.  Thanks as well to the Milne Special Collections of the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, New Hampshire, for sending us a copy of John Griffiths’ 1794 booklet.

The first known publication of the dance “York Fusiliers” was in John Griffiths’ 1794 booklet, A Collection of the Newest Cotillions, and Country Dances; Principally Composed By John Griffiths, Dancing Master

Here is our interpretation of the dance:

York Fusiliers (Triple minor longways)

  • A: Gents 1 and 2 cross over to Ladies side while the Ladies 1 and 2 hold hands and cross between the men.   Return to place the same way.
  • B: First couple chassee down, beaten step, return and cast off to second place.
  • C: Ones right-hand turn first corner (on the right diagonal), pass partner by the right shoulder, right-hand turn with second corner (left diagonal), 1st couple pass right shoulders.
  • D: Ones lead out the gents side proper to just beyond the gents line, turn alone, lead out ladies side improper to just beyond the ladies line, leave lady in her place, first gent backs into his own side (continuing to look at this partner).

We use skip change steps for all of this dance except the chassee and beaten step in the B figure.

Here is the original text of the dance:

York Fusiliers

First and second gentleman pass to ladies side, ladies lead to gentlemens side, back again, down in the middle, up again, cast off, turn corners, and lead out sides with your partner.

The sheet music is available at:

http://trillian.mit.edu/~jc/cgi/abc/tunefind?P=York+Fusiliers&find=FIND&m=title&W=wide&scale=0.70&limit=1000&thresh=5&fmt=single&V=1&Tsel=tune&Nsel=0

For this country dance,  as published by Griffiths, the music should be played without repeats (ABCD), a 32 bar tune.  (Griffiths also recommends the tune York Fusiliers for the Convention Cotillion in his 1794 book.  For the cotillion, all four phrases of the music are repeated, making the tune 64 bars long.)

We have a few judgement calls in our interpretation of this dance that others may question.  The questions that we are aware of are:

Should the crossing over in the A section be done with the Ladies passing between the Gents, or in some other way?  Griffiths’ description of the dance says, “First and second gentleman pass to ladies side, ladies lead to gentlemans side”. Since it says ladies “lead”, we take it that the ladies are holding  hands.  However, we see two other possible interpretations of this figure.

1. The ladies pass between the gentleman on the way over and the gentleman pass between the ladies on the way back.  Captain George Bush, who served in George Washington’s army and included dance descriptions in a notebook written between 1779 and 1789, describes the dance Sweet Richard as having a figure which is done that way.   That dance is available in the book Social Dances from the American Revolution by Hendrickson and Keller.

2. The two ladies set to each other while the two gentlemen set to each other, then the two ladies take both hands and chassee across between the gents while the two gents chassee on paths behind their partners to the opposite side.  Repeat back to place.  Thomas Wilson, in his book An Analysis of Country Dancing published in London in 1808, shows the figure Set and Change Sides as having that track.  If the crossing over was done with a chassee, then there would be ample time for setting steps to be done before chasseeing.

Is there time for the beaten step in the B section, and what footwork should be used for the casting off?  We believe the most common footwork being used to go down the center of the set late in the 18th century would have been a chassee with your partner.  If two chassees were done, there would be time enough to do some setting step – a beaten step, a rigadoon, or something else – before returning with chassees up to the top and casting off into second place.

In A Treatise on Dancing by Saltator, published in Boston in 1802, one of the steps which is described is “Le Pas Brise, or the casting off”.  He describes Le Pas Brise as gents left foot to second position, hop once, right foot third position, left foot third position in front, right foot third position in front, and says “This step is used to cast off, after the middle chasse.”  (The ladies do the opposite footwork, beginning with the right foot.)  Since this is a dancing manual published in America which both describes footwork and is close in time to the 1794 publication of York Fusiliers, an argument can certainly be made for using this step to cast off.  However, we have chosen to cast off with the skip change step used in the rest of the dance.  This is partly because of a reluctance to teach Saltator’s pas de brise to our dancers, and partly because of a distrust of Saltator as being representative of what was being done in America at the time.

How should leading out the sides be done in the D section?   This figure, as drawn in Wilson’s 1808 dance manual, shows the active couple meeting in the middle of the set, moving together to just beyond where the gents are standing in their line, crossing over to right beyond the ladies on their side; the lady remains there while the gent returns to his place.

Was footwork other than walking steps used in the dance?  Did the name of the dance refer to a set of figures, or did it just refer to a tune to which any figures could be danced? We believe that various kinds of footwork would have been done, and that there were names that were used to refer to particular sets of figures.  However, arguments have been made against our view on both these issues.  We will address the reasons for those arguments, and the reasons for our opinions, in a later post.

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