Letter: More on Hyde Park

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

Greetings to the readers of Letter of Dance from Mistress Caitlin de Courcy Having only recently received all the back issues of this fine publication, I have had some delightful hours perusing the pages, and must profess myself much impressed by the standards of scholarship displayed therein. It is in the interest of such scholarship, rather than intent to quibble, that I here would outline a suggested alternative to one section of a dance described some time ago (but just now having come to my notice).

In issue 4 of LoD there is a reconstruction of Playford's Hyde Park (first edition, dance no. 91) by Dani of the Seven Wells. Most of this was similar enough to the way we usually do it, but the figure of the second section was substantially different, which I found surprising as I had thought Playford's instructions reasonably clear. [People who write dance articles go through four phases: 1. This is how it's done where I come from, so it's right. 2. This is what the original source says, so it's right. 3. This is what I say, so it's right. 4. This may or may not be `right', but it works, and I had fun with it. I was going through phase 1 at the time. - Dani]

Playford describes the figure thus:

The second and the fourth man change places with their We. holding hands whilst the first man and Wo. crosse over and going on the outside under their armes, come the man into the Wo. place and the Wo. into the mans place, the third couple doing the like at the same time.

In the article this was interpreted as:

(Note: as a dance for four couples in a square, each figure is performed first by two couples (facing) then by the others. Hence "head" (Playford's 1 & 3) and "side" (Playford's 2 & 4) couples).

Head couples cast to the sides and meet their opposites while side couples face each other, take hands, turn 180 degrees to trade places and form an arch with their hands
Head couples go through the arch with opposites, take partner's improper hand and return to place (note 14. describes this as a hard figure, requiring taking your partner's hand improper, turning and backing into place)

What we usually do is the following:


      o x

x              o
o              x

      x o
All couples change places with their partners - the side couples end facing their partners, the head couples "pass" rather than change i.e. they don't turn back towards their partners after changing. Use of hands is arbitrary - we usually all use right hands, but you could have head couples without hands and side couples with both hands, to emphasize the difference between `changing' and `crossing'.
The side couples form arches: the head couples keep going (away from their partners) to meet their opposites outside the arches.

Change with partner, sides form arches,
heads keep going away from partner:

[note that this diagram has the head couples in their original positions, not reversed -- greg ]


   <--o x-->

x              o
Arch        Arch
o              x

   <--x o-->

The head couples come through the arches with their opposites.
The head couples fall back into the nearest place, which is where they were after changing with their partner initially. The side couples drop hands from their arch and stay where they are.

Head couples come through arches and fall
into their partner's original place:
x                     o
 \    o   ^  ^   x   /
  \______/    \_____/
  -------      ------
 /    x  \    /      \
o         v  v        x

Now everybody is standing in his partner's original position, so repeating this section with head couples changing and forming arches and side couples crossing and coming thorough will bring everyone back to the original positions.

I think this version is rather more consistent with Playford's description; and it certainly works fine in practice, not requiring any break in the flow or asymmetry in timing, or violating aesthetic rules of English country dance. I believe Cecil Sharp's version involves all couples changing and then the head couples crossing back before going out and through the arches and crossing again to end in their partner's positions: this is also viable but somewhat more rushed, and less clearly what Playford described, than the version above.

Yours in the service of dance,


Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (lindahl@pbm.com)