pennsicdance: Gathering Peascods - Clarification?

Alex Clark alexbclark at
Sat Sep 3 08:25:49 PDT 2005

At 06:06 PM 9/2/2005 -0400, David Learmonth wrote:
>Hi.  Henry of Maldon said:
>Sounds good to me. That means that nobody is allowed to teach a "clap,
>clap, don't clap" version of Gathering Peascods in a very large circle,
>right? And no mixer branles except the branle du Chandelier ou de la Torche.
>Since I do know that often versions of ECD I was taught originally
>aren't necessarily what Playford intended, I just wanted to confirm
>what the proper way to dance this dance was interpreted to be?
>Assuming my Playford I really is Playford I, this portion reads:
>Met meet and clap hands, We. as much, while the men goe back, men meet
>againe and turne S.
>We. meet, men meet, while the We. go back, We. meet againe and turne S.
>And this is listed as "Round for as many as will"
>So based on this (although I haven't read specifics elsewhere on the
>true style of ECD in period), I think that the dance is exactly as you
>described:  clap, clap, don't clap (or maybe clap as you turn, but I
>doubt it),  and in possibly quite a large circle.
>Please let me know what the correct interpretation is for the 
>dance.  Thank you.

The figure with the claps in it should be easy enough to understand, but 
unfortunately it can also be easy to misunderstand depending on what 
assumptions one makes. It seems to me that this problem can be resolved by 
a closer examination of the possibilities than is usually attempted with 
this dance.

First of all, let us keep in mind that the authors of these instructions 
wrote for sale to their contemporaries, not for reconstructors of long-dead 
dances. The readers would not have been expected to pick away at every last 
detail, so if one only picks at the details without asking how the 
instructions would have been written for the intended audience, one is apt 
to miss the point. And these authors were likely dancing-masters first and 
dance writers second, so their writing style would have been affected by 
their teaching and calling style.

Now it seems obvious to me that there are supposed to be two claps in the 
second half of the figure (the half where the women go first), matching the 
two that are explicitly identified in the first half. From what I have seen 
of other people's versions of the dance, more or less everyone seems to 
agree on this point. And claps in the second half corresponding to the 
claps in the first half would seem to be typical of the choreographic style 
of the period, as shown by many other Playford dances. But the Playford 
instructions don't specify any claps at all in the second half. Why not?

Either the author of these instructions knew that this was an irregular 
figure, which seems like it ought to repeat with reversed roles in its 
second half but does not really do so, or else the author knew that there 
are at least four claps in this figure; in either case the author *did* 
*not* actually say so. And it seems to me that the first of these two 
possibilities is highly implausible, while the second is perfectly 
compatible with my understanding of how people communicate in real life. If 
the author knew that the second half is a false repeat, from which all 
claps are omitted, then this would be a very remarkable piece of 
information, and it would be amazing that the author failed to refer to it 
at all. The alternative is that the author knew that there are more claps 
in the figure but did not mention them, which is a bit annoying for the 
reconstructor, but not very surprising, considering that we had already 
been given a general idea of where to clap in this figure. The author could 
very easily have assumed that once any reader had actually seen or done the 
dance then they would see that it was a simple and regular pattern. So this 
indicates that the author very likely failed to mention at least two claps 
that were done in this figure.

Then there are the two other times that men or women meet, just before 
their respective turns, and those two can be reconciled with each other 
regardless of whether they have claps or not. But this was written by an 
author who had apparently assumed that the reader would figure out that 
some meetings in this figure ought to be done with claps, without being 
told so. So did the author assume that the reader should have to figure out 
that here one meets and claps, and there one meets and does not clap, when 
the instructions do not say whether to clap at either point? Or did the 
author simply assume that the reader knows that we are meeting with a clap? 
The former is a complicated and downright weird assumption, while the 
latter is a simple and relatively easy assumption--especially since our 
author had already chosen to indicate the second clap only by reference to 
the first.

So any version where some meetings are done with claps, and others without 
claps, must depend on the assumption that the author failed to mention some 
information that should not have passed without mention. Versions where 
there is a clap upon every meeting depend on the assumption that the author 
failed to reassure the reader about how very simple and regular this 
pattern is supposed to be. I find the former assumption to be highly 
implausible compared with the latter.

In any case, our author did not try to give exact and complete information, 
which suggests that he saw this as an easy figure with minimal 
complications, needing little explanation. Once again, a version where 
everyone simply claps upon meeting is indicated, and anything more 
complicated is relatively less likely.

In conclusion, I find the odds to be strongly and very consistently on the 
side of a clap at every meeting, and believe that the author would probably 
have been more specific if the figure had been any more complicated than that.

As for the size of the circle, that is "quite easily demonstrated". The 
instructions say "Men hands, and goe round in the inside, and come to your 
places _._" The apparently indicated strain of music provides just 12 beats 
in which the men must get all the way around and "come to [their] places". 
Then the women, in their corsets, farthingales, etc., have just 12 beats in 
which to do the same. So, as with many other Playford dances "for as many 
as will", it turns out to be inconvenient (at best) to do the dance with 
more than about 7 or 8 couples. Unless we assume that the musicians were 
expected to play very slowly, or else to pause and wait, a very large 
circle would make the Playford instructions practically impossible.

Alex Clark/Henry of Maldon 

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