Review: The Country Dance Book

by Gerhard Kendal

[ This article appeared in volume 2 of the Letter of Dance. ]

My lady wife, Baroness Amanda, recently gave me a near-complete set of Cecil Sharp's "The Country Dance Book"; the third edition, published by Novello and Company in England in 1927. Cecil Sharp is considered to be the father of English Country Dance, and in fact the folk dance and folk song headquarters in England is called "Cecil Sharp House".

The country dance book is in six parts, of which Part V doesn't count, since it is running set dances collected in Kentucky. However, Sharp and his associate Maud Karpeles felt that the running set was a stage of development of the English Country Dance that was earlier than Playford's English Dancing Master published in 1651. "Up Tails All" is the only Playford dance which, in its construction, bears any resemblance to the running set.

The other five volumes include the steps for 178 dances from the various editions of Playford. Each volume also includes explanations of the steps which are then covered in the individual dance instructions.

The books contain no music, and this is one of the frustrating facets. However, there is succor, at least partially. Cecil Sharp also brought out a series of booklets called "The English Country Dance, Graded Series" which contains both steps and music. There are 9 volumes with a total of 54 dances.

As mentioned, the big problem with the small books, "The Country Dance Book", is the lack of music. Reading through a volume, one sees an interesting dance, works it out in the head or on paper, then looks through the tape collection for music... and there is none! (Of course, equally frustrating is getting a new tape or disc of country dance tunes, then looking through Sharp and not finding the steps! Someday I hope to own all of Playford's volumes and this won't be a problem any more.

However, either of these sets is a joy to own, and if you can find them, even a photocopy is excellent reference for anyone teaching (or learning) English Country Dancing.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (