The earliest known version of the dance Ashley’s Ride in North America is found in a manuscript by Nancy Shepley of Pepperell, Massachusetts, circa 1794. This is a hand-written manuscript of over 50 dances (dance figures are included, but no tune). Nancy Shepley’s manuscript was sent to us courtesy, American Antiquarian Society. Thank you to them for their support!
There is, as well, a copy of a dance called “Ashley’s Ride” in a book entitled Twenty Four Country Dances for the year 1790. With proper tunes and directions to each dance, etc. by W. Campbell, published in London in 1789 or 1790. The dance figures in Campbell are quite different from the figures in the Shepley manuscript, but it is interesting that the tune apparently was first introduced in England and moved to New England after the American Revolution.
A reconstruction of this dance can be found in A Choice Selection of American Country Dances of the Revolutionary Era 1775-1975 by Kate van Winkle Keller and Ralph Sweet, New York: Country Dance and Song Society, 1975.
This is how we have reconstructed the dance:
Ashley’s Ride (Triple minor longways)
- A1: First lady and first gent cross between the second couple to start mirror-image heys for three on the opposite side of the set. *
- A2: First couple cross back and hey on their own side of the set.
- B1: First couple chassee down the middle of the set, beaten step, return and cast off one place.
- B2: First and second couples rights and lefts.
The dance continues with the first couple now in the second couple’s original spot.
Here’s the original description of the dance from Shepley:
Hays contrary sides, then on your own sides, lead down the middle, up again, cast off, right and left at top.
As this dance was written down in Massachusetts in the mid-1790s, it is most likely that the dancers were using the ‘skip-change step’ (also notated by Kellom Tomlinson earlier in the 18th century as the ‘chassee forward’) for the heys and the rights and lefts, especially as it covers more ground. It will work with pas de bourres, but the heys are much easier with a skip-change, which is the more period-appropriate step. This is followed by the first couple chasseeing down the middle, then using a beaten step, re-chasseeing back to their home place and casting off, then dancing the rights and lefts.
The sheet music is available at: http://trillian.mit.edu/~jc/cgi/abc/tuneget?F=GIF&U=/~jc/music/abc/Contra/reel/Ashleys_Ride_RJ.abc&X=1&T=ASHLEYSRIDE
* In the first mirror-image hey, the lady and gent cross over the set, crossing between the second and third men (for the lady) or second and third ladies (for the gent). All the couples are dancing this hey directly across the centerline of the set from their partner, moving up and down the set together. The dancers move away from their partner when in the middle of the set of six, and meet their partner at the top and bottom of the set of six. The couples can take hands with their partner at the top and bottom of the set of six if they wish – there is not documentation for this having been done in the 18th century, but it is a practical way for dancers to guide their partner in the right direction, especially when learning the dance.