A Reconstruction of Playford's The Spanish Gipsy

[ This article appeared in volume 4 of the Letter of Dance. ]

By the Honorable Lady Catriona Sterling de Liston & Lord Francis Owen Roderick Keith

"The Spanish Gipsy (or Jeepsie)" is found in every edition of the English Dancing Master and is here taken from the first (#23). As in so many cases, we began our reconstruction with a recording of the music and Playford's description of the dance. Our problem was to reconcile the two. Later, while reading W. Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time (pages 272-3), we discovered that the music may have come from a play, thus giving us three elements to reconcile. This actually made it easier, as you will see. We will consider 1) the play and the song, 2) Playford's music, 3) the recording, 4) Playford's dance directions, and 5) our reconstruction of those directions. To be consistent with our previous terminology, we will designate Playford's divisions of his dances as Verses and Choruses (capitalized) and divisions of the song as verses and choruses (uncapitalized).

[The Spanish Jeepsie from Playford 1651]

The Play and the Song

The name for the tune and thus for the dance, "The Spanish Gipsy (or Jeepsie)", was probably taken from a song in a very popular play of the same name by Middleton and Rowley (Chappell, page 272). The play was first presented at the Phoenix by the Lady Elizabeth's Company on July 9, 1623 and was first printed in 1653 (Gayley, p. 116). This song, sung by the Gipsies and found in Act III Scene II lines 92-121, consists of 5 verses of 16 stressed syllables and 5 choruses of 8 stressed syllables, each different. No music is given and the stage directions do not indicate a dance, but this does not preclude dancing in the scene. The song is given below:

Come, follow your leader, follow;
Our convoy be Mars and Apollo!
The van comes brave up here:
As hotly comes the rear:

Our knackers are the fifes and drums,
Sa, sa, the gipsies' army comes!

Horsemen we need not fear,
There's none but footment here;
The horse sure charge without;
Or if they wheel about,

Our knackers are the shot that fly,
Pit-a-pat rattling in the sky.

If once the great ordnance play,
That's laughing, yet run away,
But stand the push of pike,
Scorn can but basely strike;

Then let our armies join and sing,
And pit-a-pat make our knackers ring.

Arm, arm! what bands are those?
They cannot be sure our foes;
We'll not draw up our force,
Nor muster any horse;

For since they pleased to view our sight,
Let's this way, this way give delight.

A council of war let's call,
Look either to stand or fall;
If our weak army stands,
Thank all these noble hands;

Whose gates of love being open thrown,
We enter, and then the town's our own.

Playford's Music

The music given with Playford's dance consists of two 16-beat phrases, and he does not indicate if either of these two phrases is repeated. We will designate the first 16-beat phrase as "A". Since Playford's second 16-beat phrase consists of two identical 8-beat phrases, we will designate each individual 8 beat phrase as "B". Thus, we may surmise that Playford's scheme is some multiple of ABB (32 beats).

The Recording

The Broadside Band recorded "The Spanish Gypsy" on Danses Populaires. Their arrangement is ABBB ABB repeated 3 times, where B is the same as half of Playford's second 16-beat phrase, which consists of two identical 8-beat phrases. Their recording is a faithful redition of Playford's music. When the song in the play is sung to the recording, it is obvious that each verse of the song fits Part A and each chorus of the song fits Part B and that verse and chorus are not interchangeable. The recording then, in terms of the song, gives 6 verses, each followed by alternately 3 or 2 repeats of the chorus. By repeating each chorus the required number of times and repeating the first verse and its chorus at the end, this song may be sung to the recording. The recorded verses 1, 3, and 5 and their choruses each contain 40 beats, while verses 2, 4, and 6 and their choruses each contain 32 beats. Dividing the whole recording into thirds to match Playford's three divisions leaves verses 1 & 2, 3 & 4, and 5 & 6 with their respective choruses with 72 beats.

Playford's Dance Directions

Playford's directions are for 3 dance Verses and 3 dance Choruses. While each Verse and each Chorus is different, they are related, as they are in so many of Playford's dances. All of the movements in the Verses are done with your partner, while all of the movements in the Choruses are done with another member of the same sex.

The Verses consist of Movement 1 or M1 (the standard Double Forward & Back twice in Verse 1, Sides in Verse 2, and Arms in Verse 3), followed by M2, "turn all back to back, faces again, go all about your We. not turning your faces. That again the tother way" in all 3 Verses.

The Choruses consist of M3 (a Double Forward & Back by the end couples), M4 ("turn all back to back, faces again" and either "go about each other not turning your faces" in Verse 1, "take hands and go rund" in Verse 2, or "right hands acrosse and go round" in Verse 3). M5 & M6 are repeats of M3 & M4 by the middle couples.

Our Reconstruction

Playford is ambiguous about the number of beats in each verse of the dance, but at first glance he would appear to use 96 beats for each, or ABBABBABB (3 repeats of his music as given). In his first Verse and Chorus, M1 would comprise A1+BB1, M2 would comprise A2, M3 would comprise the first B2, M4 would comprise the second B2 & the first half of A3, M5 would comprise the second half of A3, and M6 would comprise BB3. This is a very poor division of the verses and choruses, so we rejected this scheme.

The M1's are standard, but he is obviously mistaken when he allows 16 beats for the first Double Forward & Back and 16 more for the repeat, since this beat count is found in none of his other dances that we have seen. By assigning these movements a total of 16 beats, thus restoring them to their normal form, M1 occupies the first verse of the music and we reduce the number of beats to 80. This is 8 beats more than the Broadside Band recording.

The M2's are steps we have never encountered before. While Playford sometimes names his steps, sometimes he does not. Cecil Sharp, in his reconstruction of "Cuckolds all a row" (Playford Ball page 46, which Sharp called "Hey, Boys, Up Go We" for some inexplicable reason) calls each of these 8-beat steps a "gipsy". He defines a "Gipsy" thus: "Dancers face each other and move clockwise (keeping to the left) completely around one another, facing inward. The movement may be compared to a two-hand turn without hands" (Playford Ball, page 115). This definition does not resemble Playford's directions, a facsimile of which is printed on the same page. While this facsimile is from the 1686 edition, a look at the 1651 edition shows the two to be identical except for a mistake in the way the couples are set in the 1686 eidtion. The only thing on which we agree with Sharp concerning this step is that it takes 8 beats.

The problem is with "(T)urn all Back to back, faces again", which occurs, not just in M2, but also in M4 and M6. This means that the step is a seaparate entity. It could be called a "Turn Single", but the Turn Singles take 4 beats each and Playford almost always names his Turn Singles. From experience, we also know that the next step, "Go all about your We. not turning your faces", which is obviously a Square dance "Do-Si-Do", is best done in 6 beats. This leaves only 2 beats for the step. We will therefore call this 2-beat Turn Single a "Spin". This divides each step in two; a Spin taking 2 beats plus some other step taking 6 beats. Since the Spins always occur in pairs, we do the first Spin over the right shoulder and do the second over the left shoulder. This makes the subsequent movements easier. For example, it allows you to stop short of a full 360 degree turn and move to the left as you begin the first Do-Si-Do and to pass right shoulders. M2 then occupies the first two B's of the first chorus of the music.

M3 is again a standard step, occupying 8 beats, and fits the 3rd B of the first chorus of the music.

M4, like M2, occupies 16 beats of the music, but, like M1, is different for each Chorus of the dance and is done to, and fits, the second verse of the music. Chorus 1 repeats the Spin Do-Si-Do's. Chorus 2 consists of a Spin plus "Take hands and go round" (for which we use the word "Circle") and its repeat "back again". Chorus 3 consists of a Spin plus "right hands acrosse and goe round" (obviously a Square Dance "Star Right") and its repeat "then left round".

M5 & M6 are repeats of M3 & M4 by "The other four". However, the middle couples are so close together that they are precluded from doing M5 and we may delete the step altogether. This reduces the beat count by 8 beats to 72 to match the Broadside Band recording and makes the dance much more consistent.


Playford, John, The English Dancing Master, Dance Books Ltd, 1984 (1651) #23.

Chappell, W., Popular Music of the Olden Time, In two volumes, Dover Publishing, Inc., New York, 1965, Originally published by Chappell and Co., 1859.

Van Winkle Keller, Kate, and Shirmer, Genevieve, The Playford Ball, A Cappella Books, Chicago, 1990, pages 46 & 115.

MUSIC: The Broadside Band, Danses Populaires Francaises, Harmonia Mundi, HMC 1152.

PLAY: Gayley, C.M. ed., Representative English Comedies Vol. III, The MacMillan Co., New York, 1914, pages XX-XXV & 107-117 (on the authors), pages 119-203 (the play).

Our reconstruction of John Playford's: The Spanish Gipsy

Parts Beats
1st Verse & Chorus
A8All Double Forward, then Double Back.
B18Face your partner, and all Spin over your Right shoulder 2 beats, then Do-Si-Do with your partner, passing Right shoulders in 6 beats (Spin Do-Si-Do).
B28Repeat, Spinning over and passing Left shoulders.
B381st & 4th Couples face each other and Double Forward and Back through the middle of the set.
C81st & 4th Men Spin Do-Si-Do Right with each other, while the 1st & 4th Women do the sme.
8Repeat Left.
DD162nd & 3rd Men and 2nd & 3rd Women do the same.
2nd Verse & Chorus
A16All Side Right with their partners, then Left.
B,B,B24Repeat B1,2,3 above.
C81st & 4th couples Spin Right, join hands in a circle and go halfway round to your Left.
D,D162nd & 3rd Couples do the same.
3rd Verse & Chorus
A16All Arm Right with their partners, then Left.
B,B,B24Repeat B1,2,3.
C81st & 4th couples Spin, form a Star with your Right hands, and go halfway around.
8Spin and Star Left back to your places.
D,D162nd & 3d Couples do the same.

"The Spanish Gipsy" was taught at the Fourth Annual Unser Hafen Dance Collegium and Ball held on March 13 AS XXVII to 8 sets of dancers and was a great success. The recorded music has been designated ABBB CDD (for ABBB ABB) in each Verse.

By the Honorable Lady Catriona Sterling de Liston & Lord Frances Own Roderick Keith. Copyright April 1993. Members of the SCA are expressly allowed to copy this dance. We ask only that you do us the honor of attributing this reconstruction to us.

Catriona Sterling de Liston (GoA, CAH, CBP of Unser Hafen, AoA) & Francis Owen Roderick Keith (CGR of Unser Hafen, AoA) have taught dance twice a month in the Barony of Unser Hafen since Spetember AS XXIII and at all four Dance Collegia held by the Barony. Kay & Francis Laird are, respectively, a chemist with the US Forest Service, working on her doctorate at the University of Wyoming, and an unemployed biologist, seeking employment. Both reside in Ft Collins, Colorado.

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