The Return of Spring: A New English Country Dance in the Style of Playford

By Lady Ellisif Flakkingskvinne

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

[Editor's Note: the following dance and music won second place in the "misc misc" and "music composition" categories at the AS XXIII Ice Dragon arts competition, a large East Kingdom arts event.]

This dance is modelled after those in The English Dancing Master by John Playford (March, 1651). While this collection of dances was published just outside of SCA period, the argument can be made that Playford was collecting traditional tunes and dances and that the contents are therefore period. (Margaret Dean-Smith, in her introduction to Playford's English Dancing Master, 1651, Facsimile Reprint, also claims that the book was registered for publication in November of 1650.)

The music for this dance is an original composition, in the style of the tunes in Playford. I have tried to match the basic rhythms of the music to the dance steps, by studying Playford's tunes and figuring out -- to the extent that there is any correlation -- what rhythms tend to go with what steps.

The "A" part of this dance has the same sequence (double, set and turn single, that again) as many other dances, and some of those have the "syncopated" rhythm of quarter note, eighth note (e.g. Heartsease, Jenny Pluck Pears). In this case the syncopation is used for the forward and back, and a less syncopated style (three eighths instead of quarter-eighth in places) is used for the set and turn single.

The "B" part of the dance breaks down into four basic pieces (per repeat), three for a hey and one for a turn. The music also breaks down this way, using the long notes at the ends of the second, fourth, and sixth measures to accentuate this. (This is similar to Jenny Pluck Pears, for instance.) It has been suggested that these gaps bring the music to too much of a stop (and a hey is a fluid motion); I have left the long notes in (at least for now), but would suggest that any arrangement of the music for multiple instruments should have the underparts fill in these gaps.

Playford dances fall into a number of basic categories -- circle dances, longways for as many as will, longways for a certain number of couples, etc. One of these forms is longways for three couples; we see this layout in many dances, including: Upon a Summer's Day, Blew Cap, The Night Peece, Boate Man, The Beggar Boy, The New Exchange, and many more. This is the layout I have chosen for this dance.

Almost all Playford dances follow the basic formula of:

The double, siding, arming, and set and turn singles are repeated, but the ordering may be either of the following:


(and likewise for siding and arming).

Dances that follow the first form include: Blew Cap (with a variation on the setting), Bobbing Joe, Woodicock, The Saraband, The Cherping of the Larke, etc.

Dances that follow the second form include: Upon a Summer's Day, Boate Man, Grimstock, Jenny Pluck Pears, The Old Mole, Mage on a Cree, A Health to Betty, etc. (This seems to be the more common form.)

I have chosen to follow the second form in The Return of Spring, as this is the form suggested by the rhythms of the music.

Figure 1 shows the music with a summary of the dance steps lined up underneath (a la Playford's layout).


The chorus is basically a hey for four. A "normal" hey for four would have the second couple starting to move at the same time as the first couple. Because the couples all start proper, this would involve everyone passing someone of the same gender on the second part of the hey. I thought the dance would be better if I avoided this, so I started the first couple ahead of the second. As a result, everyone always passes someone of the opposite gender (the partner twice and the opposite once). The idea of starting a hey with just two people and adding to it is not unheard-of; we see it in, for instance, Dargason. (We see the more "normal" hey in several dances, including The Saraband, Nonesuch, Sedany (or Dargason), Saturday Night and Sunday Morn, etc.)

Choruses that advance the couples (so there is a new first couple each time) are found in Maiden Lane and The Night Peece, among others.

Note that while the chorus takes a lot of space to describe, it is actually a fairly fast sequence; each exchange of the hey takes only two measures of music.

The issue of styling (i.e. how to do siding, arming, and set and turn single) is far from a closed one, and I will leave that debate to others. Our group has found that the following styling works well:

Take a double toward your partner, ending with shoulders next to each other, then double back. Maintain eye contact at all times. ("Side right" means to move slightly to the right, so left shoulders will end up next to each other.)
Hook elbows (rather than grasping forearms) and pivot/walk/skip around the "center" point. (Except for a few energetic fanatics, we do arming as taking one full turn.)
Set and turn single
While facing your partner, "set" up the hall, then down, then turn single over your "upper" shoulder (right for women, left for men). A "set" is three steps; the first is a step in the appropriate direction, the second closes the gap between the feet, and the third is just a change of weight to the first foot. We usually hold (lower) hands during the sets, which gives us something to "cast off" from during the turns.
The dance was written with the above styling in mind.