Pea Straw

Pea Straw is a dance that was described in several manuscripts and publications in the early United States, and we enjoyed dancing it for many months (before the pandemic paused our dancing together.) It features a version of the contra corners figure, done with colonial-style allemandes.

“Pease Straw” was published in several dance manuals in England before being transcribed in America, the earliest we know of being “A Choice Collection of 200 Favorite Country Dances” by J. Johnson in 1744, with several others (Walsh, “24 Country Dances of 1745”, Walsh, “24 Caledonian Country Dances”, Book the Fourth, 1745, Walsh, “The Complete Country Dancing Master”, Volume the Fourth, 1755), that are extremely similar, if not identical. The final British publication of a version of Pease Straw was published by Rutherford in 1759, and is quite different from the other British versions of the dance.

The earliest written mention of Pea Straw in America is in a missing dance manuscript that George Champlin Mason mentions in his book Reminiscences of Newport, published in 1884. George Washington came to Newport in 1781 and Mason mentions various dances from that unlocated dance manuscript, Pea Straw, unfortunately, not being one of the dances he describes in detail. In addition to that early manuscript, there are versions of the dance in “The Scholars Companion, Containing a Choice Collection of Cotillions & Country-Dances”, by M.J.C. Fraisier, Boston, Printed by D. Bowen, at the Columbian Museum Press, for the Author [ca. 1796], “A Collection of Contra Dances of Late, Approved and Fashionable Figures”, Walpole, NH, Printed at the Museum Press, And Sold at the Walpole Bookstore, 1799, in the handwritten manuscript “Cotillions & Country Dances” from Boston in March of 1807, and in the Otsego country dance manual from 1808.

The three descriptions that we have (from Frasier, Walpole and the Cotillions & Country Dances of 1807) are all somewhat different, and it wasn’t clear exactly how the music fit the dance. Jacob Bloom, our dance master, put together a version that includes the distinctive pattern of the dance and works easily with the tune we found, “Clean Pea Straw” – which is also written as Pea Strae, Clean Pease Straw, Clean Please Straw, Old Buttie was a Bonnie Lad, Pea Straw, What’ll all the lasses do?, “Na ‘m bithadh alum trader Bodich, and Ducking the Carle, which is either a Scottish tune, or one from the English/Scottish border. The tune we use appeared as early as around 1757, as per the Tune Archive https://www.tunearch.org/wiki/Clean_Peas_Straw. Clearly, the English publications used a different tune.

Here are the instructions from Frasier:

No. 28 Pea Straw

The 1st cou. cast off,  1st gent. cast off a-/gain and enter the set, 1st lady return to/your place and enter the set too, 1st gent./ allemande to your partner with the right/ hand, then to the 3d lady with the left, and/ your partner to 1st gent. then to your part-/ner again with the left hand, and your part-/ner allemande next with 3d gent, and the/1st gent. to 2d lady, then turn 3d lady, then/the 2d and swing outside holding your part-/ner with both hands.

Here are the instructions from the Walpole manual:

First gentleman falls down two couple, up the/middle, the lady falls down one couple, up again/meets her partner, allemande with the third lady,/the lady with the second gentleman, then with her/partner, the gentleman allemande with the second/ lady, the lady with the third gentleman, set corners,/lead outsides.

Here are the instructions from “Cotillions & Country Dances”, March, 1807, Boston

10. Pea Straw

Lead outside, down 2 couple, rig, chasse/ between 2 and 3 Couple & come opposite partner/ allemande with partner, then with 3/ Lady, again, with partner, then with/ 3 lady, turn with 2 Lady, then with/ partner, & then with 3 Lady, balance/ to partner & change sides.

Here is the way the Wayside Inn Steppers have been doing it:

Pea Straw  (Triple Minor Longways)

  • A1 Actives cast off one couple
  • A2 First gent cast down and around while first lady casts up and around, meeting in second place
  • B1 First couple allemande right once and a half, allemande reverse (left) once around with their first corner, actives allemande 1 1/2 and allemande reverse with second corners once around
  • B2 Actives lead out the sides

Footwork: We use a skip-change step for this dance, with chassees for the lead out the sides.

The corners referred to in B1 are the same people as in the figure swing corners. The first gent allemandes his partner, the third lady, his partner, and the second lady. The first lady allemandes her partner, the second gent, her partner, and the third gent. They meet in the middle of the set to lead out the sides.

Here is the sheet music:

Here is the tune for you to listen to: 

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