Hole in the Wall: A Guide to Kidnapping

by Shaul ben Yisrawael

[ This article appeared in volume 1 of the Letter of Dance. ]

I. Introduction

Hole in the Wall is one of the best known and most popular dances in the Kingdoms of Ansteorra and Meridies, and is enjoyed by many throughout the known world. It is one of the many English country dances, or "contredanse" described in Playford (1725) in the 18th edition of his book entitled The English Dancing Master, or Directions for Country Dances. I am not certain whether Hole in the Wall was described in an earlier edition. Playford was first published in 1651, with the 18th edition being the last.

[I checked with my favorite source of dance arcana -- Baron Patri -- and got the following chronology for Hole in the Wall. Between the ninth (1695) and tenth (1698) editions of The English Dancing Master, there appeared an addendum, called The Second Part of the Dancing Master. Some copies of this have an extra sheet, which contains HiTW as well as a few other dances. By the 1698 edition of The Second Part, HiTW was in its main text, and it finally got into The English Dancing Master proper with the eleventh edition (1701). -- Justin]

Playford describes two broad types of dances: rounds, or bransles (pronounced brawls), and longways. The longway, which includes Hole in the Wall, is a dance done in double file with men and women in straight lines facing each other. In general, both rounds and longways are divided into a number of figures which include groups of three, arches, stars, place changing, moving in and falling back, crossing-over, hey, procession, swinging partners right and left, and many others (Sachs, 1965). Types of figures are many, with various combinations of finding and losing partners.

The origin of the country dances cannot be traced historically because at first they were purely folk dances. With the appearance of The English Dancing Master in 1651, the country dances had already been accepted in higher society. At the court of Queen Elizabeth, the contredanse was done by masters and servants together. The contredanse gained popularity rapidly, and remained popular into the early 1800's (Sachs, 1965).

Because of Hole in the Wall's appearance in a late edition of Playford (1725), and its absence from early editions (the first and third at least), there is much conjecture whether this dance falls within the period of the SCA. Because of its folk origins its time of origin is uncertain. The dance may have originated within the time frame of the SCA, but just gained popularity in court in the 1700's, thus gaining documentation in a later edition of Playford.

Kidnapping, cutting a person out of the line from the outside or exchanging partners within the lines, adds spice to the dance, and is generally done in informal situations. Kidnapping, described by Arbeau (1589) with respect to the Alman (as described below), is a period act, and is easily applied to Hole in the Wall. Kidnapping follows the light nature of the dance. The techniques of kidnapping are as varied as the imagination. The basic dance as generally done in the SCA and several kidnapping techniques are outlined herein.

"In dancing the Alman the young men sometimes steal the damsels from their partners and he who has been robbed seeks to obtain another damsel. But I do not hold with this behaviour because it may lead to quarrels and heart burning." -- Arbeau

II. The Dance

The dance is done in two lines, with the woman on the man's right. The odd numbered couples are "active" couples and move down the line. The even numbered couples are "inactive" and move up the line. The dance is based on 6 or 12 beat phrases:

12 count reverence -- 6 to the presence and 6 to your partner


This is repeated with the active couple remaining active, moving down the line until they reach the end of the line, where they sit out one whole set and then take the inactive role. The inactive couple, like the active couple, continues to be inactive until they reach the head of the line, where they sit out one set and become active.

III. Basic Kidnapping Techniques

Kidnaps can occur at almost every step of the dance. For this reason, the diagrams displaying kidnapping at different points within the dance correspond to the same point of the basic dance marked with the same letter. The following are by no means the only possible techniques.

Outside kidnaps and their variations

"Cast-off Kidnap"

The "cast-off" kidnap is the easiest and best known way to cut into the dance from the outside, and works similarly for kidnapping into either male or female active or inactive position. For simplicity's sake, only the description for kidnapping the active man (Ma) out of the dance will be described, all the others will be obvious.

The idea of this technique of kidnapping is to step in front of the person who is "casting off," as in the diagram where Ma is the victim. The easiest way is to be in position to join hands with the victim's (Ma) partner (Wa) on the far side of Mi. All that has to be done is to stand there, without being in the way of the next couple, and wait for Wa to meet you and you have already blocked Ma from joining her.

To do it gracefully, you must be familiar with the counts of the music. For those not familiar with the music, you can stand directly behind your intended victim and pretend to "cast-off", always staying one step in front of the victim. This technique is very effective and is not easily foiled.


The most easily conceived variation is a double kidnap, ie, a couple is replaced by another couple. This can be planned or accidental. Since the "cast-off" point is the most vulnerable part of the dance, it is easy for both partners to be replaced.

As it works out in the dance, when a couple reaches the end of the line of the dance, they stand out for an entire set, but it is possible for one or both members of the couple who are left out to jump in as though they were coming in from the outside, thus replacing, not removing, the victims.

It should be noted that this move can be used from within the line as well as from the ends, but caution must be used, because this can lead to confusion and easily disrupt the flow of the dance.

The Diagonal Crossover Kidnap

The diagonal crossover kidnap can be tricky and needs to be well timed in order to avoid collision with your victim or lady or gentleman from the other couple.

This technique works for kidnapping any position, active or inactive, male or female, but the diagram displays the role of the kidnapper (Mo) kidnapping out the active man (Ma). The idea is to step in front of your victim before he starts to cross over. Because timing is so crucial, it needs to be practiced before it is tried in a formal setting. If you do not successfully cut out your victim, abandon the move! This technique can easily be foiled.

The "Pre-circle" Kidnap

The "pre-circle" kidnap is moderately difficult and is more predictable than the previous ones. In this technique, the kidnapper waits on the opposite side of the line (ie, the man waits on the woman's side of the line and vice versa). The kidnap occurs after the second crossover (D') and before the joining of hands for the circle (E). The kidnapper can replace either the active of inactive member of the couple.

After the crossover has occurred, the kidnapper steps in front of either the active (Ma) or inactive (Mi) partner, as in figure D', which adds unpredictability to the move. It is important for the kidnapper to know which position (A or I) he or she is moving into. The kidnapper must also join hands with the people on either side before his victim has the opportunity and finish the set. It is important to know what you are doing, or this move can lead to confusion.

Inside Kidnaps

Inside kidnaps result in the exchanging of partners and position within a group rather than the removal of someone from the line.

The "Inside Crossover" Kidnap

The "inside crossover" kidnap is different for the first and second crossovers (C & D, respectively). The method used by the active man or the inactive woman is more difficult than the method for the inactive man or active woman, but in either case, the kidnapper's move is made during the second crossover.

The "Inactive Man/Active Woman" Kidnap

For this technique, the first crossover occurs as usual (C), and the second begins normally, but halfway through, the inactive man (Mi) takes the right hand of the active woman (Wa) with his left hand. Rather than moving into his normal spot, Mi walks in front of Ma, and places himself halfway between Ma and Wa, facing into the circle. This changes the role of the men and their partners. The kidnap is basically complete. The roles of the women do not change. In the circle (E), the men must take smaller steps to even out the circle and keep in time with the music. It is possible for the active man to foil the kidnap attempt. If the active man gently takes his partner's wrist or arm above the kidnapper's hand, the inactive man cannot pass. Do not fight for the woman. If the attempt fails, let it!

The only difference between the man and woman who executes this kidnapping technique is that the man starts inactive and becomes active, and the woman starts active and becomes inactive.

The "Active Man/Inactive Woman" Kidnap

This is the more difficult of the inside crossover kidnaps. This technique needs precise timing so as not to collide with the inactive man and active woman as they are crossing.

In this kidnap, like the previous one, the first crossover (C) occurs normally. The second crossover also occurs normally (D), but while the inactive man and active woman are getting into their places and before the circle can be formed (D'), the active man (Ma) steps around the inactive man (Mi), finding a place between Mi and Wi, thus separating the inactive couple. The men's roles are therefore exchanged. In this case, the men must take larger steps in the circle to preserve the continuity of the dance. This move should be practiced because the timing is so important. If this move is not done right, people will be tripping over each other, but when it is done right, it is a difficult kidnap to foil.

The "Hole" Kidnap

The last and most difficult technique is the "hole" kidnap. It is executed by the active member of the set, during step (F), while the inactive couple is pulled through the "hole in the wall". After the circle (E), the active couple peels off and pulls the inactive couple through (F), but the Ma does not let go of the hand of Mi. Ma quickly steps around Mi on the inside and in fact goes through the "hole in the wall" himself (F'). This must be done with complete surprise for it to work. If it is suspected, the victim can break his hand free and foil the attempt. Because you must retain the hand of your victim for this to work, do not fight, someone may get hurt!

IV. Summary

Kidnapping can be an integral part of Hole in the Wall, and like the dance itself, needs practice and timing to be executed smoothly. Continuity is the most important factor in any dance, so be aware during an attempt to kidnap whether or not it is working. Also be aware when you are being kidnapped whether you are too late to foil the attempt. Not everyone approves of kidnapping, and if someone tells you so, then back off.

In a situation such as kidnapping, a certain amount of etiquette is necessary. First, before the dance begins, ask if kidnapping will be allowed. If the consensus is "no", don't do it. If "yes", have fun. Secondly, it is generally bad etiquette when you are kidnapped out of a line to kidnap back into the same group directly. With the many techniques available, it is easy to get your old partner back if you wish. Think ahead and see which way your old partner is moving in the line. Then use an outside kidnap to get back into the line ahead of your old partner and in one of the sets to follow, use an inside kidnap to retrieve your old partner.

Knowing the methods of kidnapping gives you mobility within the line of dance, and allows you to dance with whomever you wish. It also allows you to meet and talk to new people. These are only a few of the many various methods of kidnapping in Hole in the Wall. With a little etiquette, we may avoid the same problems disdained by Arbeau ("... this behaviour ... may lead to quarrels and heart burning.") Most of all, have fun!

V. References

Arbeau, Thoinot, 1589, Orchesography, translated by Mary Stewart Evans, Dover Publications, New York, 1967, p. 127

Care, Alia Wasa (Lynn Symborski), 1979, Eastern Kingdom Dance Book

Clyula, Aiden Glyn, and Rosanore of Redthorn, Nordskogen Dance Manual

Dirk Sterne, Gwendolyn (Sue Wallis), 1985, Dance Manual of Dances Taught at the Stargate Dance Workshop

Playford, John, 1651, ?, 1725, The English Dancing Master, or Directions to Country Dances, 1st, 3rd, 18th editions, W. Pearson, London

Sachs, Curt, 1965, World History of Dance, translated by Bessie Schonberg, W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., New York

Wynthrop, Arianna of (Karen A. Speltnik), A Book of Dance Tunes Arranged for a Quintet of Instruments, East Kingdom Arts & Sciences Publication #3, April 23, AS 17 (NOTE: This book is not copyright, and Karen in her preface encourages the sharing of her arrangements)