Bonny Lassy Take a Man

Bonny Lassi (sic) Take a Man was included in Caledonian Country Dances, published by I. Walsh in London in 1736. A page from Walsh’s book containing this dance was found in the notebook of Captain George Bush (1753-1797) of Delaware, indicating that the dance was known in America. The dance is carefully described in Social Dances from the American Revolution by Charles Cyril Hendrickson and Kate Van Winkle Keller, published in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 1992. We have found some reason to deviate slightly from Hendrickson and Keller’s interpretation of the dance. 

Here is our interpretation of the dance:

Bonny Lassy Take a Man

Can be danced as a triple minor contradance, a duple minor contradance, or a two couple set dance.

  • A1:   First and second couples give both hands to partner. First man push, and second man pull for one pas de bourree so that first man and second woman are in the center of the set.
    Set to partner
    First man and second woman (first corners) face each other and dance a back-to-back (dos a dos) with two pas de bourrees
    First corners go to their own left and behind their partners to change places with each other, while the second corners (first woman and second man) right-hand turn once around (two pas de bourrees) to end directly across from each other. The four dancers are now in a diamond-shape formation.
    First corners right-hand turn with two pas de bourrees, to end directly across from each other.
  • A2: First and second couples two-hand turn partner once around with two pas de bourrees.
    Circle four to the left with four pas de bourrees, returning to the diamond shape.
    Change places with partner by left hand and fall back on the diagonal.
  • B1: Change places with partners by the left hand on the diagonal, then move straight towards the center line of the set and turn to face partner up and down the set. The dancers are now in a single column, 2nd woman, 2nd man, 1st woman, 1st man, from the top to the bottom.
    Clap own hands, partner’s right, own hands, partner’s left
    Second woman and first man cast to their left to their own side of the set, then continue turning left across to the opposite side of the set. Their partners follow them but stop on their improper side of the set. The dancers are now progressed and improper.
    All change sides, passing left shoulders with two pas de bourrees. The dancers are now progressed and proper.
  • B2: All cross over, passing right shoulders, turn to face partners and clap twice.
    All cross back, passing right shoulders, turn back to face partners and clap twice.
    First and second couples, two changes of rights and lefts.
    Circle four to the left halfway.

Here is the original text of the dance.  We have used the [ symbol in place of the strain markings in the original.

Bonny Lassi take a man a Scotch country dance

The 1st man put his Wo. from him and the 2d man pull his Wo. to him and sett. then the 1st man and 2d Wo. back to back. and go round their partners both on the left hand at the same time then the 2d man and 1st Wo. turn right hands round to the figure of a Diamond [ the 1st man turn the 2d Wo. and right hands round. then each to their own partners. and hands round. till they come to the Diamond again [ each man cross over with his own Wo. with their left hands one to the other then back again to the left. till they come all on a Row longways. then clap both hands against each other the 1st man cast off to the left hand. and his Wo. follow him. the 2d. Wo. cast off to the left hand. and her man follow her. then each cross over with his own partner. the 1st Cu. being in the 2d. Rank [ then move to the left hand to each others  places and clap hands the same back again. then right and left twice. each beginning with his own partner. then hands half round to the left

You can find this at

The sheet music is available both at the above site, as well as in Social Dances from the American Revolution.

While we have borrowed heavily from Hendrickson and Keller’s interpretation of the dance, we have made two significant changes. We are indebted to Chris and Clare Hurley for spending an evening practicing this dance with us and for pointing out how these changes improved the dance.

While the original text for the dance does have some strain markings to indicate the phrasing of the dance, these seem highly unreliable and so we feel justified in putting the second right-hand turn in the first strain of music (the A1) instead of the second strain of music. This allows there to be enough time to do the circle once around in A2 with four pas de bourrees rather than two. While it is possible to do the circle with just two pas de bourrees if the dancers concentrate on moving the circle around, the entire feel of the first half of the dance is more relaxed and consistent when timed this way. Also, having both right-hand turns in A1 lets the two matching movements be done to music that is much more similar than is the case if the two two-hand turns are done in different phrases.

In B1, when the second woman and first man cast out of the column of dancers, we have them cast to their left, which matches the instructions published in 1736. This lets the dancers follow a shorter track with less turning than in the Hendrickson and Keller version.

Footwork: We have recommended that this dance be done with period-appropriate pas de bourrees. Hendrickson and Keller remark that it can also be done with a contretemps de gavotte. We find the pas de bourrees easier for our group, and they fit the music well.

2 thoughts on “Bonny Lassy Take a Man

  1. John Millar

    Thank you for bringing your dance blog to my attention. As far as I can see, the dance directions are thoughtfully done. However, I have one major policy disagreement with you. English Country Dance, which can be traced back at least as early as 1480 and maybe even centuries earlier, got to be the only surviving folk dance of the Europeanized world by the 1770s because it had just the right combination of ease and difficulty. It was easy enough that people with 3 left feet (like me) could comfortably do it, and yet it was a lot more challenging than, say, a French Branle.

    About 1805, it started to disappear in a quick, almost complete collapse. Why? If you look at newspaper advertisements for dance and music teachers in the UK and USA before the French Revolution, hardly a French name can be seen. By 1805 nearly all the names were French. What was going on was this: rich French people were leaving France with no more than the clothes on their backs in order not to have their heads cut off, but the only jobs they were qualified for in the UK and US were music & dance teachers. Unfortunately, they also brought with them the gratuitous pas-de-bourree, minuet, and other complicated steps used by the rich in France BUT NOT USED (for the most part) IN THE UK OR US (the occasional dance teacher TRIED to inflict these steps on their students, but as soon as they were released the kids dropped those steps like hot potatoes). Suddenly you find letters and diary entries saying, essentially, “I don’t know what has happened to Country Dancing, but it’s no longer fun, so I’m not going to do it any more.” Even in France, these complicated steps were done ONLY by the rich people: this was their way of saying, “We don’t have to work for a living, so therefore we have time to learn these complicated steps, but you work and can’t do those steps, and therefore you are so far beneath us that we don’t have to talk to you.” No wonder, then, that a French aristocrat visiting the US just before the French Revolution wrote that he was amazed to see that all American girls loved dancing, whereas “in France we just dance because we have to!” All this information I got straight from the pen of Kitty Keller, but somehow she will say all that with a straight face and then tell people that for authentic American period dancing one has to use those steps! That’s absolute rubbish! The only steps normally seen in an English or American dance assembly were walking and slipping (or strathspey if they happened to dance those Scottish dances). PERIOD. Otherwise, I worship the ground Kitty stands on.

    1. Jacob and Nancy Bloom Post author

      Thanks for your comments, John. We don’t completely agree with you – We think that at least some of the people who had learned steps in classes would have kept some of them. We’ll do a blog post about our opinions about footwork sometime soon.


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