Category Archives: Description of dances

Portsmouth Harbour

Portsmouth Harbour is a lovely dance and tune that was first published in London in Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1772  by Charles and Samuel Thompson, and was also included in Thompson’s compleat collection of 200 favorite country dances: perform’d at court [,] Bath [,] Tunbridge & all public assemblies with proper figures or directions to each tune: set for the violin [,] German flute & hautboy. Vollm. 3] circa 1775.  The annual Thompson volumes appear to have come out in the fall of the  year previous to the year mentioned (in this case, 1771) and, as American dancers seem to have really enjoyed learning new dances, were shipped over to America within months.

Portsmouth Harbour is the earliest longways set dance we have yet uncovered that includes the allemande figure. Continue reading

The Convention (cotillion)

The Convention is  found in John Griffiths’ publication Collection of the Newest Cotillions and Country Dances Principally Composed by John Griffiths, Dancing Master. To Which is Added Instances of Ill Manners, to be carefully avoided by Youth of both sexes, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1794. *

The Convention is a cotillion.  Cotillions were danced by an even number of couples, usually by four couples standing in a square set.     Continue reading

Soldier’s Joy

This triple-minor dance has the first and third couples moving around the second couple. This dance keeps most of the dancers moving most of the time, and is fun both to dance and to watch.

There are many surviving eighteenth century texts, from both England and America, that contain versions of dances to this tune.  Our reconstruction is based on versions from four sources.

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Ashley’s Ride

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. Continue reading

York Fusiliers

We have reconsidered our reconstruction of the dance York Fusiliers.  Our thanks to Susan de Guardiola for her comments and advice on our previous interpretation.  Thanks as well to the Milne Special Collections of the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, New Hampshire, for sending us a copy of John Griffiths’ 1794 booklet.

The first known publication of the dance “York Fusiliers” was in John Griffiths’ 1794 booklet, A Collection of the Newest Cotillions, and Country Dances; Principally Composed By John Griffiths, Dancing MasterContinue reading

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.  Continue reading