Articles and Letters Regarding Dargason

Instructions for "Dargason"

by Bjálfi Thordharson

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

Based on a reconstruction by Dr. Ingrid Brainard and Baron Patri du Chat Gris.

"Dargason", also known by the name of "Sedanny", is an English country dance, published (like most of our favorite English country dances) in John Playford's The English Dancing Master. "Dargason" appears in the first (1651) edition of the Master. I take no credit for the actual reconstruction of the dance I am presenting here; I have simply recorded the steps as I learned to dance them in Carolingia.

The pattern for Dargason follows that of many English country dances: siding; arming; hey. Some of the steps, however, differ in execution from the normal country dance steps; I will deal with these steps while describing the dance in detail. (I will note here, though, that "double" means simply four steps either forward or back.)

The figure for Dargason is somewhat unusual (in fact, it is unique in Playford's collection), in that it is neither a round dance nor a dance for longways sets of couples; rather, it is danced by an equal number of gentlemen and ladies in a single line, the gentlemen all on one side and facing the ladies, the ladies on the other side and facing the gentlemen. Although any number of dancers may participate, the number of gentlemen and ladies on either end of the line must be equal (see Figure 1). The music, a sixteen-beat phrase (see Figure 5), is repeated (with variations and embellishments thrown in by the musicians) as often as is necessary until all of the dancers have worked through all of the figures.

figs 1-3

fig 4

The dance begins, as I have said, with a line of gentlemen facing a line of ladies. The innermost dancers, the ones actually looking each other in the face, are called the first lady and first gentleman. The dancers behind these two are called the second lady and second gentleman respectively, and so on to the last lady and gentleman at either end of the line. Each dancer should remember his or her position, as he or she must return to it at the end of each figure. Each figure starts with only the first lady and the first gentleman dancing; as the figure progresses, the two sides of the line "weave" into each other and then sort themselves back out into the starting arrangement.

The first figure: siding

To start the first figure, the first lady and gentleman "side left" -- that is, they take a double step forward and slightly towards the left, meeting right shoulders with each other; this takes the first four beats of the musical phrase. On the second four beats, they take a double step backwards to where they started. Then they set left and right in four beats, that is, each one takes one step to the left and one to the right. In the next four beats, each takes a double step in a tight spiral, turning counterclockwise almost in place and then passing the other on the right (ie, left side to left side) and moving to the left enough to line up once again with the rest of the set. (The "spiral turn" is perhaps the trickiest part of the dance; see Figure 2 for an illustration.)

Now, the first lady and first gentleman are back to back; the first gentleman is facing the second lady, and the first lady is facing the second gentleman. The figure repeats (as does the music), this time with two couples dancing (first gentleman/second lady, and second gentleman/first lady). Each dancer sides left, and back to place, then sets left and right and spirals counterclockwise to move on to the next partner. (The first gentleman should now be facing the third lady, the second gentleman and lady should be facing each other, and the first lady should be facing the third gentleman.) The figure repeats until the ends of the line are completely woven -- that is, the first gentleman is dancing with the last lady, the second gentleman with the last-lady-but-one, the third gentleman with the last-lady-but-two, and on to the last gentleman, who is dancing with the first lady.

Now that the line is completely woven, it is necessary to unweave. So instead of making the spiral turn as before at the end of this repetition, the dancers make what I shall call the "full turn": they turn over their left shoulder, pass each other on the right, and then continue turning until they are once again facing each other, but in the opposite direction from before, and in each other's former places (see Figure 3).

The set is now ready to unweave. Each dancer starts with the same partner as he or she had in the last repetition (that is, first lady/last gentleman, second lady/last-gentleman-but-one, etc.) and dances the same figure but mirror-reversed. That is, all side right and back, then set right and left and perform the spiral turn clockwise to move on to the "next" partner (actually, the previous partner). (Figure 4 illustrates the clockwise spiral turn.)

This figure repeats again and again, until the whole set has unwound. At each repetition, one lady and one gentleman find themselves at their original places, and without a partner; they turn again to face the center and wait for the next figure to bring them back into the dance. Eventually, only the first gentleman and first lady will be dancing with each other; when the time comes for them to perform the spiral turn, they instead perform the full turn to face one another again in their starting positions.

The set is now back to starting position: all the gentlemen are on their original side, facing the ladies; and all the ladies are on their side, facing the gentlemen. We are ready to move on to the second figure.

The second figure: arming

The second figure is much like the first, except that arming replaces siding. The first couple begins by "arming left": they grasp each other's right forearms and, in two double steps, circle each other to the left (that is, clockwise) until they are back in their starting places. Then they release each other's arms, set left and right, and make a spiral turn counterclockwise each to face the next partner. The figure repeats as with siding, until the sides are completely woven. Then all make a full turn and prepare to unwind the set.

As with siding, the unwinding half of the figure is simply a mirror-reversed version of the winding half. The couples arm right (grasping left forearms and circling counterclockwise in two doubles), then set right and left and make a spiral turn clockwise to move to the next (previous) partner. When the first gentleman and first lady have danced with each other, they once again make a full turn to face each other again. The set has now returned to its starting position, and is ready for the third figure.

The third figure: the hey all handing

The third figure takes less time to dance than the first two, as the dancers do not spend a full sixteen-beat phrase with each partner. The first gentleman and lady take right hands and pass each other in two beats, then each takes the left hand of the person in the second place, dropping right hands with each other. Now, each passes the one whose left hand he or she is holding and takes the right hand of the next in line. All continue passing until they come to the end of the line. At the end, each dancer takes two beats to turn around and then passes the next person, who will become the new end of the line. Note that this person will offer the same hand as the previous person; the dancer at the end of the line will have to take the same hand twice. (When in doubt, remember that the person coming out from the inside is correct; the person coming in from the outside should take the hand that's offered. One strategy is to imagine a ghost dancer at the end of the line; if you offer the ghost dancer your hand as you turn around, you will be ready to offer the next real dancer the correct hand.)

All dancers should weave down to one end, back to the other end, and then stop at their original places. For example, the first lady will weave past all of the gentlemen to the gentlemen's end of the line; then turning around, she will pass all the other ladies and (again) all the gentlemen to reach the ladies' end of the line; then (again) pass all the ladies to reach the first lady's place, where she will stop. Note that she has passed through the first lady's place once on the way to the ladies' end of the line; it is very important that she not stop there the first time she reaches it. Although she has come back to position, the rest of the dancers are still mixed together and cannot come to their places. She must continue to the end of the line and then return to her place. This same requirement holds true for all of the dancers.

The first lady and gentleman will come to place first, while dancers farther down the line are not yet in place. As each pair comes to place, they stand and wait for the rest of the couples to fall into position; when all are in their starting place, all reverence, and the dance is over.

music for Dargason


The spiral turn is, as I have said, the trickiest part of the dance, and it is made even trickier by the fact that it must be made in different directions at different times. When in doubt about which direction to turn, it is good to remember that, viewed from above, the spiral turn will always pass the gentlemen and ladies on the same side of the hall. For example, if the dance starts with the gentlemen at the south end of the hall facing north, the spiral turn will cause the gentlemen to pass the ladies on the eastern side, whether they are working their way northwards or southwards. (Compare the turns in Figures 2 and 4.) When teaching, it's not a bad idea to have all the dancers practice this turn before you actually try the dance; have the dancers pair off, facing each other, and practice turning to pass one another.

Although "Dargason" is billed as a dance "for as many as will", I have found that it works best with three or four pairs of dancers in each set; any fewer and and the dance is over too quickly, but any more and the dancers at the ends of the lines will be left with nothing to do for long periods of time. If many people wish to dance, the best solution is to arrange several sets of a manageable size. (It's best if all of the sets are the same size, or else the music will be the wrong length for one or another set.) Since the figure never deviates very far from a single line, it is relatively easy to have two or more sets running parallel in even a fairly narrow room. If you are dancing to recorded music, the length of your recording will dictate the number of dancers in a set.


John Playford, The English Dancing Master (London: 1651). Reprint with music in modern notation by Hugh Mellor and Leslie Bridgewater (London: 1933); reprinted by Dance Horizons (New York: n. d.).

facsimile of Dargason in Playford (1651)

Figure 6: Dargason, as described by Playford

[ Download full-size image in gif or pdf format. ]

Dargason arrangement by Barron

Figure 7: A modern arrangement of the music to Dargason, by Marshal Barron

Alternate Reconstructions of Dargason

by Mistress Jane Lyn of Fenmere and Master Trahaearn ap Ieuan

[ This article assumes you have read the article on Dargason by Bjalfi Thordarson. If you haven't, you'll probably be somewhat confused by what follows. If you have read it, and are convinced you know exactly how to do Dargason, prepare to be even more confused.]

Few dances illustrate the vaguenesses of Playford's instructions better than Dargason. The sixty-five words he wrote barely list the steps of the figures, and hint only at the existence of a progression without explaining how it works. In our travels and research into this dance, we have found six different reconstructions. In this article, we will attempt to address these different possibilities for reconstructing this English Country dance. The sources of these versions are:

  1. Sharp from The Country Dance Book.
  2. Handout from a handout we got from Baron Gerhard of Lions Gate, An Tir.
  3. R+N from the Rose and Nefr Dance Manual.
  4. Ball from The Playford Ball.
  5. Bjalfi as described in his article, and as danced in the Barony of Carolingia, EK.
  6. 3M as taught to us by several folks from the Barony of Three Mountains, An Tir.
Cecil Sharp's reconstruction in The Country Dance Book seems to be the ancestor of four of the reconstructions; there are minor variations but they have much the same flavor. The reconstruction presented by Bjalfi is one of these. The sixth reconstruction has significantly different figures, which we present as an alternate concept.

The Siding Figure

The first figures of the Sharp-based reconstructions basically involve doing sides, set and turn single, and pass on to the next turning single. The 3M version did set left and right, turn single, trade places facing partner throughout, set right, and turn over the left shoulder to face the next dancer. This was so radically different from what we had seen before that we initially did not believe that it could have been based on Playford's description. After some careful thought, we overcame our original bias, and worked out how it matched up with Playford; this is illustrated in the chart below. The numbers given in parentheses are counts. A specifies the first couple dancing; B refers to the second time through, when they have moved on and two couples are dancing. Note that Sharp assumes that Playford is describing the first two times through the figure during two phrases of music, versus the 3M version which assumes that Playford is describing one time through the figure during one phrase of music, then progressing on from there.

Playford Sharp, et al. 3M
First man and Wo. sides once set (8) A: Side left (2) Set right
(2) A: Set left (2) Set left
(2) A: Set right Sides once set is taken to mean
Sides once set is taken to mean set to both sides.
siding, then sets.
and turne S. . Passe forward (4) A: Turn single left trading (4) Turn single
each to the next sides places (4) Trade places facing partner
(8) B: Side left throughout the turn.
The pass forward to the next is
done during the turn single.
set (2) B: Set left (2) Set right
(2) B: Set right
and turne S. : (4) B: Turn single left trading (2) Turn over left shoulder to
places face next dancer.

When we looked at the reconstructions in this manner, we were able to see the 3M version's connection to Playford; however, it also brought to light an argument against this reconstruction: The underlined dot (.) and underlined double-dot (:) appear in Playford, and indicate the ends of the first and second repetitions of the music given. Each repetition is 16 counts. Reconstructions 1-5 take 16 counts to get to . and 32 to :. Reconstruction 6, on the other hand, takes only 16 counts through :.

The Arming Figure

The following chart shows what the different reconstructions do for the second time through, arming. (Note that our instructions specify direction of motion; thus Arm left is heading to the left of your partner and taking the inside (right) arm.)

Playford Sharp, et al. 3M
Armes all as you sided, till you (8) Arm left (2) Set right
come to your owne places (2) Set left (8) Arm left 1 1/2 times around
(2) Set right (6) Arm right once around, drop
(4) Turn single left trading arms to face next.

The Hey All Handing

Interestingly enough, the 3M reconstruction does the third section, the "hey all handing", exactly as described by Bjalfi. So do the other reconstructions descended from Sharp... but Sharp's description itself has one small difference. Instead of the hey beginning with just the first couple, Sharp instructs "first, third, fifth, etc., men, and second, fourth, sixth, etc., women face down; the rest face up. Standing thus, all dance the straight hey one complete circuit to places, handing as they pass." In other words, all dancers immediately start handing, rather than waiting for the first gentleman or lady to percolate down to them.


There are two different ways that progression can occur. In three of the reconstructions descended from Sharp (Handout, Ball, and Bjalfi), as well as Sharp's reconstruction, the progression works as described by Bjalfi: the line of gentlemen weaves into the line of ladies until all are dancing; with the next turn single, the dancers face the other way and unweave the set. In the R+N reconstruction, as well as the 3M reconstruction, the progression is similar to that of Hole in the Wall and other later progressive Country Dances: when a dancer reaches the end of the line, he or she sits out one repetition, and then re-enters facing the other direction. (We'll call this the cyclic progression.)

An attempt at diagramming Cyclic: Assuming 4 couples, positions being what they are when each repeat of the music begins, numbers indicating which repeat of the music you're on, and dashes show who's dancing together. Repeats 1-4 are the same regardless of whether you're doing cyclic or weaving.

Playford's only clue to the progression is his initial mention of "passe forward each to the next" or "and so forward and back till you come to your places where you began." This doesn't really tell us anything useful. An argument could be made that the weaving and unweaving progression seems closer to "forward and back" than the cyclic progression of Hole in the Wall, but that's pretty weak. A slightly more convincing argument is the observation that in the weaving progression, gentlemen always dance with ladies, whereas the cyclic progression often has dancers paired with a dancer of the same gender. Interestingly enough, the cyclic progression would keep genders mixed if the line was initially set up with genders alternating MWMWMW instead of MMMWWW. Presumably, having gentlemen always dance with ladies would be preferable. Since Playford does make the inital configuration very clear, and since we think that if the cyclic progression was used the initial setup would have been MWMWMW, we prefer the weaving progression. We can find no stronger reason to prefer one progression style over the other.

The different progression styles do result in significant differences in the amount of dancing people do. In the weaving progression, the first couple is always dancing, but the end gentleman and lady spend most of the dance waiting for the first dancers to weave their way to them; they dance twice through the melody, and then wait for the next figure. This makes the end positions good places for beginners; they can watch the dance as it works towards them, and any errors they might make will usually not significantly affect the rest of the set. The cyclic progression spreads the dancing more equitably; everyone dances the same amount. However, the dance is more than twice as long. Your choice of progression will probably depend on whether you prefer a long dance for everyone, or a shorter dance with uneven participation. (The dance with four couples takes 8 repeats of the music to finsh the siding figure if you're doing weaving progression, or 18 repeats if you're doing cyclical).

All the dances that do a weaving progression mention that arming should be done with one arm while weaving and with the other while unweaving. There is nothing in Playford to indicate this; however, after some personal experimentation, we think this reversal makes the transition from weaving to unweaving much smoother. The reconstruction described by Bjalfi explicitly extends this reversal to siding and to the set and turns as well. Again, Playford's description does not mention this. We are split on this issue: while we do agree that the siding and arming should be one direction winding and the other unwinding because of the transition, we disagree on whether reversing the set and turn is preferable. Janelyn thinks there's a nice symmetry in reversing everything when the set unwinds; Trahaearn observes that in other English country dances, at least the way we do them, set and turns are always to the left, no matter which side the siding or arming was just on. Both ways seem to work fine to us, it's just a philosophy point. Note that with the cyclical progression, such a reversal does not make sense, since there's no clear halfway point.

Turn Single

Two reconstructions (Sharp, R+N) describe the winding passing turn single as having the man turn clockwise and the woman counterclockwise. Bjalfi, on the other hand, describes why the man and woman must turn the same direction if spiraling to avoid a collision. The difference is in the way the two instructions "turn single" and "pass forward" interact. If you say "pass forward, turning single", then each dancer takes a direct path to trade places, spinning as they do so. This is what the Handout, R+N, and Ball reconstructions state. If you say "turn single, passing forward", then the primary movement is the turn single, which is stretched and adapted into a spiraling motion to move the dancer forward to the next person. This is described very well by Bjalfi. Playford's instruction is "turne S. Passe forward each to the next sides", which could be interpreted as turn single in place, and then "pass to" being the siding (or arming) with the next dancer. While this would work well for the cyclic progression, it makes the transition from weaving to unweaving quite difficult. Therefore, we think this indicates that the turn single is the primary movement, with the pass forward its result.

How many dancers?

Two of the reconstructions (R+N, Ball) state that Dargason is a dance for four men facing four women, but there's no reason to limit it to this. Playford describes it as "for as many as will". We agree with Bjalfi that four couples is a good manageable number. Lately, we've actually been running it at our dance practice for two gentlemen facing two ladies. This seems to make it easier to follow the concept of the spiral progression: Keeping track of when you're finishing the second time through the figure and need to turn and go back the other way is easier than keeping track of four times through.


Playford's vague description of Dargason gives the dance teacher an interesting challenge. With so little information to work from, a number of different interpretations can be made. Like interpreting the Constitution, there's no one correct answer we can find, just lots of interesting debate. If you're feeling overwhelmed by all these choices, we'll just toss in one last complication: we have seen at least four very different ways to do the figure known as siding -- just imagine how much more complicated that makes this whole debate of how to dance Dargason! The decision of which version to use is up to you, but to share our choices:

The non-Sharp derived version taught to us by folks from Three Mountains is a lot of fun, very quick moving and very bouncy. It does match Playford's description of the dance fairly well, but the fact that this reconstruction does not match Playford's dotted notation of how many repeats of the music match the steps he describes, we have chosen not to teach the 3M version primarily.

The differences between Sharp and all his descendants is more subtle, but the choice of which to use can still significantly alter the style of the dance. We have chosen to stick pretty closely to the dance as described by Bjalfi, because it seems to come close to Playford's original intent, and, to be frank, because it's what we're used to. Of course, all of the different Dargasons we've done have been lots of fun in their own individual ways. Overall, it's one of our favorite English country dances. However you do it, enjoy!


Henry, Susan G., The Rose & Nefr Dance Manual, (Rose & Nefr Press: 1989).

Keller, Kate Van Winkle and Genevieve Shimer, The Playford Ball, (A Capella Books and The Country Dance and Song Society: 1990).

Playford, John, The English Dancing Master, (Dance Books, Ltd.: 1984). Sharp, Cecil J., The Country Dance Book, Part 2, ed. H. Styles, (The Moxon Press, Ltd.: 1985).

Music Sources (and dance-practice-oriented comments)

Jaravellir Music Guild, "The Rose & Nefr Dance, 1", (Rose & Nefr Press: 1989). Strong beat, comfortable speed, easy to dance to. Music seems a little heavy and droning at times. This works for a cyclical progression for four couples as described in the companion book.

Orange and Blue, "The English Dancing Master, 1", (English Folk Dance and Song Society: 1976). Clear beat, a little slow, but very easy to dance to. The music is nice and bouncy but kind of dull after several repetitions. This is the music usually used in Carolingia and Lions Gate, and works for a weaving progression for four couples, or for 3M style for four couples.

New York Renaissance Band, "Renaissance Dance Music, 4", (Arabesque: 1984). Hard to find beat, VERY quick moving, somewhat difficult to dance to - no room for error! Very pretty, though. This works for the weaving progression for two couple.

Letter on Dargason

[The following is an excerpt from a letter by Fred Blonder (who, among other things, has the distinction of having been the first subscriber to the Letter, back before Issue #1 came out) -- Justin]

Regarding Dargason: I saw an interesting variant recently. On the siding verse, after the men's and women's lines are fully meshed, rather than do the "full turn" everyone just keeps going in the same direction so the sequence is:

Start: M5 M4 M3 M2 M1 W1 W2 W3 W4 W5
Halfway: M5 W1 M4 W2 M3 W3 M2 W4 M1 W5
After Siding: W1 W2 W3 W4 W5 M5 M4 M3 M2 M1

Then everyone turns halfway and does the arming figure as the lines fully pass through, returning everyone back to place, then everyone turns and does the hay. This way, everyone gets to arm and side an equal amount, and with everyone in the opposite line.

Cruciform Double Dargason

by Evaine ferch Brangwen (with some help by Salaamallah the Corpulent)

[This variation on Dargason appeared in the subsequent April issue -- Dani]

Line up like this:

L- Ladies		L
G- Gentlemen		L
          G G G G              G G G G

Always keep in mind that you are essentially dancing a normal Dargason, staying within your own line.


First couples: Side toward your partner -- this forms a circle with all four dancers' right shoulders in the center.

First couples: set left, set right, all turn over left shoulders (counter-clockwise) halfway around circle to each line's second dancer.

Proceed as normally, each couple repeating above steps when they reach the center.

On the return trip: Left shoulders are in center. Set and turns are to the right, and turns are clockwise.


First couples form a star in center with right hands. Go around in a circle to the left, back to your starting places. Set and turn as described above. Proceed as in a normal Dargason, with each couple repeating the above steps when they reach the center. On the return trips, left hands form star, circle to the right.


First couples: form star with right hands in center. Walk halfway around the circle, to the left, as each dancer proceeds along his/her normal line. All dancers do same with hay when reaching center. On return trip, do the same with the left hands forming a star, then walk halfway around to the right.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (