pennsicdance: Variations & categories (was: Gathering Peascods and "GOOP")

Alex Clark alexbclark at
Thu Sep 8 08:31:34 PDT 2005

At 09:57 AM 9/7/2005 -0400, Jane & Mark Waks wrote:
>Alex Clark wrote:
>>My usage is compatible enough with that of others to be correct.
. . .
>You're making a big deal about precise interpretation of the text, but in 
>that respect I think you're doing the form a disservice. Playford wasn't 
>like a modern choreographer, describing a desired dance with crystalline 
>perfection, where every nuance has to be correct to accurately represent 
>the artistic intent. He was the editor of a squad of researchers, 
>redacting a living dance tradition. The odds that those dances were 
>precisely the same from place to place is pretty damned low -- that's not 
>how dance traditions work. So saying "this was the one and only way that 
>things were done" is itself a gross misrepresentation of period dance, and 
>by over-emphasizing ambiguities like this, you're mis-teaching more 
>important and fundamental lessons. A real period dance teacher wouldn't be 
>focusing on nits like this -- he'd be worrying about whether the style was 
>broadly right, and generally not worrying about small variations. 
>Variation was, if anything, far more accepted, even expected, in period 
>dance than it is today.

I did not say "this was the one and only way that things were done" during 
this debate. I challenge you to cite anything that I have ever written 
where I said that. Not only did I not say it, but I did not mean or imply 
it. Arguing against this straw man is beneath you, especially when at some 
points you state your argument so forcibly as to amount to "raking over the 

I already know that there were probably a lot of variations in period and 
slightly post-period dancing. In _Court & Country Dances_, which I wrote 
over eleven years ago, I argued that All a Mode de France was a distinct 
variation on Nonesuch, not just a different set of instructions for the 
same dance. I have taught, and have done in an SCA context, my 
reconstruction of the version of the courante that Arbeau seems to have 
disapproved of, in which the only concession to precision of footwork is a 
landing on the cadence. I have at least twice taught an hour-long class 
about variation in the performance of period dances.

But there is a huge middle ground between "this was the one and only way" 
and "never do this way; instead adopt a comparatively implausible 
reconstruction as the standard". The missing clap in question is a 
variation that is based on a way of reading the written instructions that I 
would hardly suspect anyone but a modern reconstructor of attempting. It is 
not a variation that sprang up spontaneously, and I doubt that it would 
have been anywhere near as likely to turn up in the 17th century. Also, 
some dancers tend to fill in the "don't clap" moment with obnoxious or 
silly gestures that I think tend to be as out of place as any "galumphing", 
and perhaps more so. I could easily come up with a dozen and more 
variations or embellishments for Gathering Peascods that would all seem 
(IMO) to be more appropriate than even the more innocuous versions of 
"don't clap".

>In this case, I believe you've lost perspective -- you're on such a 
>crusade about this particular detail that you're making a mountain out of 
>a molehill. And that does a grave disservice to your students, because it 
>doesn't teach *them* perspective.

As I mentioned in my previous reply, the detail that you named is not what 
I most object to in the version of Gathering Peascods that I call "GOOP". 
It's hard to judge anyone's perspective when one has lost sight of the 
content of the discussion.

>  Equating the missing clap in Gathering Peascods with something wholly 
> and completely wrong like Korobushka

You are quite mistaken here. First, I am not equating even the version of 
Gathering Peascods that I most object to with Korobushka. Placing two 
things in the same category is not the same as equating them. For some 
simple and literal examples, 15 and -666 are both in the category of 
integers, while .054 and 753 googol are both in the category of positive 
numbers. Jimmy Carter and Josef Stalin are both in the category of former 
heads of state, but I would have to be mad to equate them.

Besides, Korobushka is not as wrong as you say. The basic steps of the 
dance, and stamps, claps, turns across the floor, and going apart and 
coming together, are all compatible with the period repertoire of dance 
movement. Leading forward with doubles first and singles afterwards is odd, 
but I don't know that it is strictly OOP. The turn under the arm is not 
necessarily out of place; such turns may be atypical of some late period 
dance styles, but IIUC they appear in earlier iconography. The Varsovienne 
position and accelerating music both seem wrong to me, and I can't think of 
any period support for leading forward in a diagonal zig-zag pattern or 
balancing in and out with singles forward and back, but AFAIK only the last 
of these has ever been typical of how it is done among international folk 
dancers. Other than this last group of features, the main thing that is 
really modern about Korobushka is the melody.

If I knew nothing about Korobushka as a modern folk dance, and the same 
sequence of steps and figures that is typically done in the SCA was shown 
to me as a supposed SCA choreography, I would recognize it as being in most 
ways an unusual and not very plausible recombination of period dance 
concepts, with no more than a few specifically modern features. I think 
it's more OOP than any version of Gathering Peascods that I can recall 
seeing, but not nearly by so much that it has to be in a separate category.

Rating OOP on an integer scale of 1 to 10, I would say that versions of 
Gathering Peascods range from 1 to 3, versions of Hole in the Wall range 
from 3 to 6, Korobushka as typically done in the SCA is about a 5, and the 
medley of figures from Road to the Isles, Gay Gordons, and Korobushka that 
is done to the tune of Scotland the Brave is a 7 or 8. And that's assuming 
that anything so obviously GOOP that it is unlikely ever to be taught for 
use in the SCA is off the scale. So it seems to me that I'm drawing the 
line at 3, while you are drawing it at 4.

>(which is essentially what you're doing here)

And that is an example of why I hope to have gotten out of the habit of 
saying what anything "essentially" is. When your understanding of the 
question is based on forgetting half of someone's thesis, and also on the 
fallacy of assuming that putting things in the same category is as much as 
equating them, it is hard to explain how you have grasped the "essence" of 
what they said while losing the substance of it.

Alex Clark/Henry of Maldon 

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