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About English Country Dancing
It really started with the upper crust and the landed gentry as far back as Tudor times and possibly before, who had the leisure time and the wealth to hire musicians and put on a ball for their social circle. It was some respite from the cold dark evenings and TV was rubbish in those days (I know, it’s not much better now!) so it was something to look forward to. This was a time as well when social “flirting” was an acceptable behaviour, although it did lead to tragedy in some sad cases such as with Anne Boleyn
The servants watched from hidden corners and mimicked the dances as best they could in the kitchens below stairs, and so the dances spread through the working classes as well by the oral tradition.
In 1650, a London book publisher, John Playford published a book of popular dances of the time, The English Dancing Master, with dance instructions and the musical notation, as all dances had their designated tune. This much helped the popularity of the dances and with the changing attitudes following the restoration of the Crown his book became a best seller. There were numerous reprints of the book, by John and his descendants through to 1720, with dances added, changed or deleted. These “Playford” dances are still danced today and you may well see a Playford Ball being advertised. Today dancers, dance clubs and callers choose from a complete range of dances written as far back as the 17th Century right up to modern day which might be Playford, Playford style or more contempory, often with an American influence.
Barn Dance is an expression now used to describe a dance primarily for beginners. The dances will be relatively easy to learn and do with just a quick walk through and with calls that are easily understood as the dance is done. In England a Ceilidh (pronounced Kaylee) is a term used to describe a dance for regular barn dancers, where the dances are very lively and longer. They are high energy dances, and the band might be electric, with drums and driving bass. It should be noted that Ceilidh means something different in Ireland and again in Scotland. In both cases you may find that there is no caller, because everyone knows the dances.
All experienced dancers would like to see more people taking up the hobby. Clubs like ours will slowly introduce more technical moves so that we can explore and enjoy some of the great but more difficult dances, but this is done very gently, because we do not want anyone to feel out of place or embarrassed.
See a youtube clip of a Playford dance, still often danced today.
This is a dance now called The Collier’s Daughter but is also known as The Duke of Rutland’s Delight. I think the two names illustrates how it transferred from a Society dance to a dance of the people. And what a great tune it is, played here by Bare Necessities