The Young Widow

The Young Widow is a lovely, unusual, triple-minor longways set dance that we often dance and enjoy in Sudbury.   We find no instructions or listing for this dance in England, but It apparently was a very popular dance early in United States history, where we find a copy of instructions for it published as early as 1788 in A Collection of The newest and most fashionable Country Dances and Cotillions. The greater Part by Mr. John Griffith, Dancing-Master in Providence.  It is found in Nancy Shepley’s unpublished manuscript ca. 1794 (courtesy, American Antiquarian Society) and in The Gentleman & Lady’s Companion published by Trumbull in Norwich, CT, 1798.  There is a very different set of dance figures to this tune in Asa Wilcox’s Book of Figures from 1793 and a very different set again in A  Treatise on Dancing published in Boston in 1802 by Saltator. We are aware of published versions of this dance as late as 1830.

This dance allows all three couples to be active throughout the dance, which is somewhat unusual for colonial dances.

The Wayside Inn Steppers do this dance as follows:

The Young Widow (Triple minor longways)

  • Al        First and second couples right hands across (star), return with left hands across.
  • A2      First couple lead down the center, two hand turn half-way, lead back & cast off one place (this leaves the first couple progressed and improper).
  • B1       All double set to their partner (right, left, right, left).  Circle six hands to the left halfway.  End with the third couple facing down the set and the second couple facing up.
  • B2       Second and third couples double set to each other, and dance two changes of rights and lefts.  (Right to opposite, left to partner).

At the end of B1, the first couple wants to be out of the way of the second and third couples when they do the rights and lefts.  If the circle in B1 is made large and round, then the first couple will automatically be in the right place.  (If their side of the circle got flattened, they may need to take a small step back.)  The first couple will want to take a small step forward at the end of B2, in order to be in place to start the right hand star in A1.

We use pas de bourrees (rather than a skip-change step) as the traveling step for this dance, although the 1790s is somewhat late for them.  It is possible to use a skip-change step if you are careful not to travel too far on each step.  We sometimes use contretemps as the step for the right and left hand stars.

Here are the directions from A Collection of The newest and most fashionable Country Dances and Cotillions. The greater Part by Mr. John Griffith, Dancing-Master in Providence from 1788:

Cross Hands—back again–lead down the Middle, then turn your/Partner up again, and cast off–the Gent. casts off one Co. to the Ladies/Side, and the Lady to the Gent. Side–balance all six–set, and go all/round–second and third Co. balance in the Middle, opposite to each other–then Half right and left in the Middle.

Here are the directions in Nancy Shepley’s manuscript from ca. 1794:

Hands 4 across half round and back again, lead down the middle and turn partner, lead up and cast off, set 3 & 3 at sides, hands 6 half Round, 2d & 3d cop – foot it together and half right & left through the first.

Yet another version from The Gentleman & Lady’s Companion published by John Trumbull in 1798:

Four hands across half round at top, back again, lead down the middle, and turn your partner half way, then up again, and cast off one couple, the first gentleman stand between the second and third ladies, so his partner between the second adn thir gentleman, bal-ance all six, then all half way round, first couple stand still, when the 2d & 3d couples balance in the midle, and half right and left, so every one come to their former places.

These three versions seem to be describing exactly the same set of figures.  Although Griffiths says “go all round”, everyone would end up in the wrong place if they circled all the way around at that point.  Therefore, it seems likely that what was intended was for all six dancers to circle halfway around as is described in the other two versions.

Sheet music for the tune can be found here:

A Midi file of the tune can be downloaded here:


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