[T]he musicians are to engage in conversation, say half a minute or less...meanwhile, the dancers are meditating what is next
I'm never quite sure whether Elias Howe had a sense of humor, but to my twenty-first-century eyes, the above is the second-funniest bit of dance instructions he wrote or published. Just visualize it: the dancers are standing around looking confused meditating what is next while the musicians stop playing and engage in conversation?
I received a copy of the Mel Bay facsimile edition of Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1050 Reels and Jigs (Boston, 1883) for my birthday last week (thanks, Mom!) and, as one does, sat around flipping through it looking for the dance instructions promised in its impressive subtitle, Hornpipes, Clogs, Walk-arounds, Essences, Strathspeys, Highland Flings and Contra Dances, with Figures, and How to Play Them. As expected, knowing it was produced by Howe's employee William Bradbury Ryan, the music and dance instructions were immediately familiar as Howe's work, printed from Howe's plates, though a lot of the music was new to me. The dance instructions are actually few and far between, but my eye snagged on one tune toward the end of the book, "Hey Daddy, or Norton's Walk Around".
What on earth was a Walk Around?
A little digging around revealed that in the nineteenth century, the walk-around was part of a minstrel show, when each dancer or couple would take turns doing a short individual performance before all the dancers dispersed. Echoes of this format can be seen to this day in other African-influenced dance forms like swing.
The most famous walk-around tune is undoubtably "Dixie", probably composed by Dan Emmett, who was credited in Ryan's as the composer of "Hey Daddy".
The minstrel show connection is obvious when looking at the names of some of the other walk-arounds printed in Ryan's: "Carve Dat Possum", "Brudder Bones", etc. All of these tunes follow the same general scheme: a brief introduction of one or two bars followed by three sections of music, with the first (usually sixteen bars) unlabeled, the second (always eight bars) "Dance", and the third (always two bars) "Break". "Hey Daddy" is both longer than the others and the only one with dance instructions, which indicate that it could be used as the fifth figure of a quadrille.
Once alerted to look for them, I found walk-around figures in several late-nineteenth century American dance and music books:
E. H. Kopp's The American prompter and guide to etiquette (Cincinnati, 1896) includes, among other promiscuous figures, a "Dixie" walk-around that can be used as either the third or fifth figure in a quadrille. The same instructions, word for word, appear in B. Coanacher's Fashionable Quadrille Call Book and Guide to Etiquette (1899), which is incorporated into my much later edition of Clendenen's Quadrille Book and Guide to Etiquette (Chicago, 1917).
J. A. French's The Prompter's Handbook (Boston, 1893) has a lengthier figure which displays further minstrel-show influences by having the dancers, presumably having broken their sets, to "promenade the hall" at the end. French directs the caller to "[u]se two numbers of a plain quadrille, and for third number play a 'walk around.' "
Howe himself, in the 1882 and 1892 editions of his New American Dancing Master, includes instructions for "Norton's Walk Around" which are a condensed version of the ones in Ryan's.
The characteristic of a walk-around figure is exactly what it sounds like: the dancers, individually or in groups, take turns simply walking around inside the set. I think it's possible that the bland "walk around" instructions may have been a euphemism for more than just walking, but I've found no actual evidence that this was an opportunity for either showing off fancy footwork (like the pas seul of the early nineteenth century) or minstrel-show-style clowning, which I would avoid in any case as being wildly racist.
The walk-around segments were interspersed with standard quadrille figures and done variously by individuals (one lady first, followed by her opposite), couples, gendered groups (all four ladies/all four gentlemen), or the entire set.
In the cribbed-directly-from-Howe section of my copy of Trifet's Acme of Dances (Boston, c1900 reprint of 1893 edition), there's a duplicate of the dance instructions in Ryan's with a two-stave arrangement of the tune, which I've included below (click to enlarge):
The memorable lines from the beginning of this post are towards the end.
So how does one dance this? As noted above, it is meant to be used as a replacement for the final (fifth) figure of a plain quadrille. Here's the dance pattern:
8b All eight hands round to the left
8b First lady walk around
8b Opposite gentleman walk around
8b All walk around
8b All balance to corner, turn partners
(repeat the preceding 40 bars three more times, led by each lady and her opposite in turn)
8b All four ladies walk around
8b All four gentlemen walk around
8b All walk around
2b Break, followed by, without music:
- dancers "meditate" while musicians chat
- prompter politely requests “all walk to your seats”; dancers break set and disperse
So there's a five-part section and a three-part section, neither of which matches up neatly with the music as written, which has three strains eight-bar strains ABC, with A repeated, then the "Dance" strain D, and the two-bar "Break".
My best guess is that the "Dance" (D) strain is meant for the "All balance to corner, turn partners" section of the dance. Here's a functional musical repeat structure using that assumption:
Intro: 2b + A
Dance: ABCAD x4 + BCA + 2b break
This keeps the "B" music associated with the ladies (singly or as a group) and the "C" music with the gentlemen, while the "A" music is for the all circle and all walk figures, and the "D" strains is for the balance-and-turn. This is by no means definitive, of course.
For other walk-arounds, which appear to have no standard pattern other than having walk-around sections interspersed with figures for all eight dancers (all promenade, grand right and left, balance and turn, etc.), "Dixie" appears to have been a popular walk-around tune, and sheet music for it is very easy to find.
While original copies of Ryan's Mammoth Collection are occasionally available for sale, if one is in need of a thousand-plus short pieces of period dance music, including six other walk-arounds, it's easier and likely cheaper to just pick up the facsimile reprint: