A Whimsical Look at Little Known Dances from 1st Edition Playford


By Maestro Lyev Davidovitch


“The Art of Dancing called by the Ancient Greeks Orchestice, and Orchestis, is a commendable and rare Quality fit for yong Gentlemen, if opportunely and civilly used.” -John Playford, 1651


Many people who do some dancing in the SCA are familiar with the English Country dances from Playford’s The English Dancing Master. Even though the work is from 1651, the dances from the 1st edition are popular with many SCA groups. In many places, dances such as Jenny Pluck Pears, Heart’s Ease, and Newcastle are often done. But there are a total of 104 dances in the 1st edition, and only a few of these are commonly done. I feel that the English tradition of picking rather unusual names for their dances is what causes this. The Italian dances of the 15th-16th centuries tend to have names related to admirable qualities of love and flirtation. Dolce Amoroso Fuoco (Sweet Amorous Flame), Rostiboli Gioioso (Roasted and boiling joyously) and Petit Riense (Little Nothings) are some examples. But the stodgy English didn’t seem to have caught on that dancing should be fun and cheerful. For example, would you ever ask someone to, “Have at thy coat old woman”? To support my premise, here are several examples of lesser known dances from 1st ed. Playford:


“An old man is a bed full of Bones” (Ouch!)

“Have at thy Coat old woman”          (I guess what goes around…)

Bath”                                                    (Next time you dance with someone who emits a bad odor, as of rotten meat, you could suggest this dance!)

“Old mole”                                            (Yeeech! Call a dermatologist!)

“The Gun”                                             (It sounds like the argument between the old man and woman has escalated!)

“New New Nothing”                           (But I liked the old old nothing better!)

“The Whish”                                        (If you had to do dances with these names, what would you wish for?)

“Woody cock”                                     (No, let’s not go there…)

“Chestnut, or Doves Figary”             (What’s a figary?)

“Punks Delight”                                   (I guess piercings and colored mohawks were period for England…)


…and many more. Offered in the spirit of fun from Mellor and Bridgewater’s reprint of First Edition Playford (ISBN 0 903102 80 3) and the online transcription of it by THL Filip of the Marche at: http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~flip/contrib/dance/playford.html




Copyright © 2005 by L.J. Sparvero, this document is freely copyable for not-for-profit educational organizations as long as it is copied intact and the only prices charged are to cover copying expenses.