Pleasures of the Town

Pleasures of the Town is a dance that we have been enjoying for a few years. Reconstructing it raised some interesting issues about the different ways the term “allemande” was used, and about how to interpret manuscript versions of dances.

The dance uses the popular 18th century figure of the three gents going around the ladies, and the three ladies going around the gents. We found it in the manuscript written by Jeremiah Brown of Seabrook, New Hampshire, in 1782, on the same page as Black Dance. It is clearly related to the dance “The Pleasures of the Town” that was published by Charles and Samuel Thompson in 1777, and to the dance “Pleasure of the Town” that Asa Wilcox wrote down in his Book of Figures in 1793, but it is a completely different dance from the various dances named “Pleasures of the Town” that were published by Thomas Wilson in London in 1809 and 1816.

Here are the instructions from Charles and Samuel Thompson’s Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1777:

The Pleasures of the Town

The 1st 2d and 3d Gentm take hands & go/ round their Partners – the Ladies the same -/ the first Cu go round with the allemand till/ they come in their places again the 2d and/ 3d Cu follows – cross over and right and/ left –

Here are the instructions from Jeremiah Brown in 1782:

pleasures of the town

Three first gentlemen lead round their ladies/ Three ladies do the same round the gentlemen/ first second and third couple prominade round/ cast off one couple six hands round right/ and left

And here are the instructions from Asa Wilcox in 1793:

Pleasure of the Town

The 1st 2nd & 3rd Gentm pass round their Partners/ they turn to them Ladies Do the same lead Down 2/ Couple up again cast Down one Couple Right & left/ at top –

Notice the differences between these versions. The Thompson version uses the term “allemand”, but uses it for a figure which the first couple leads, followed by the second and third couples. This sounds similar to the figure named “allemande” which is currently used in Scottish Country Dancing (and which can be seen here). However, the Scottish figure changes the order of the couples, while the Thompsons’ “allemand” brings everyone back to “their places again”. Jeremiah Brown’s description says that the three couples “prominade round”. There are probably other interpretations which could be made, but our conclusion is that the term allemande, which in baroque times had referred to a couple dance in which the dancers intertwine their arms, came to be used for a figure in which couples followed each other around in a circle (with hands joined to partner’s hands), and that the term “prominade” (from the French word “promenade”, meaning “walk”) came to be used for that figure in America late in the 18th century.

Notice also that the progression is different between the versions. Brown has “cast off one couple”, while the Thompsons have “cross over”. “Cross over” would be short for “Cross over one couple”, which meant that the active couple would go across the set and below one couple (and to their original side of the set if the next figure required them to start from there), so both figures get the first couple to the same place. Then comes the major difference between these two dances: Thompson has “and right and left”, while Brown has “six hands round right and left”. Did Brown mean that the six dancers should circle all the way around, and then the top two couples should dance Rights and Lefts? Or did he mean that the six dancers should circle to the right, and then circle to the left?

Comparing both of these versions with Wilcox’s version, we find that Wilcox’s version is much more straightforward. The second half of the dance has the first couple leading down the center, returning, casting off, and the top two couples dancing Rights and Lefts, which is identical to the second half of a great many other dances of the period.

We have decided to dance a version based upon Jeremiah Brown’s description, and to interpret “six hands round right and left” as meaning “circle right and circle left”, not “circle, then rights and lefts”. Our primary reason for this interpretation is the music. In order to have enough music to circle six then dance Rights and Lefts, we would have to add an additional phrase to the music instead of having it played with two A phrases and two B phrases, and we think it more likely that the dance figures were chosen to fit the tune as it was usually played. Although circling right before circling left is unusual, it is easier for the first man if the circling is done in that order, and it is not unusual for the dance figures to favor the first man. Also we have to admit that, for the sake of variety in our dancing, we prefer to dance a version which doesn’t end with Rights and Lefts, as so many other dances do.

Here’s how the Waysiders dance Pleasures of the Town:

Pleasures of the Town (Triple Minor Longways)

  • A1 The three gents lead around the ladies
  • A2 The three ladies lead around the gents
  • B1 First, second and third couples promenade around to the left and back to place, First couple cast off
  • B2 Circle six hands to the right and left

Footwork: We use a skip change step for this dance.

The promenade needs to be tight, in order for the dancers to get back in time for the first couple to cast off on the seventh and eighth bars of the first B music. To get into the promenade, we join hands with partner, right hand in right and left hand in left with the right hands on top, and bring the right hands over the lady’s head. At the Wayside Inn we like to have the first couple bring the right hands over the lady’s head on the first bar of the music, the second couple on the second bar of the music, and the third couple on the third bar of the music, but that’s an aesthetic choice on our part, and not something that we claim has a historical basis.

Here is the sheet music:

Here is the tune for you to listen to: PleasuresOfTheTown

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