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August 27, 2008

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Something to remember is that the tune, as most of us learn it as children, is a jig, so if dancers are walking the dance (and not skipping), they're walking on beats 1 and 4 of each measure. For this to work, the tune needs to be played rather more briskly than we are wont to sing it to children. In addition, for the dance to work, you either need to go twice through the tune ABAB, or repeat each "line" of the children's verse twice AABB.

It took me a shamefully long time to figure this out, and my first several attempts to reconstruct and teach this dance went painfully badly.

I thought the need to repeat the tune would be obvious (play the tune, walk in the rhythm that comes naturally, and it takes two repeats to get through one repeat of the dance) so I didn't make a point of it, but yes, jennie is absolutely correct about this.

jennie, have you ever tried it with live dancers? What did they think? I have trouble picturing a group of modern adult enjoying it, but I've certainly been surprised before.

I ran "Pop Goes the Weasel" at a Remembrance Day Ball in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, last weekend and it was a success! I ran it a little after the halfway point of the ball, which meant the less dedicated dancers had already left (many come mainly for the dinner beforehand and leave right after the grand march). I used period progression (top-down starts), holding the sets at four couples to keep the complexity minimal and for the sake of the poor musicians. That still meant eighteen times through the tune, but they were fairly good-spirited about it. I was impressed that this group, which does not have a lot of regular dancers in it, managed the progression with no trouble at all. There's something to be said for ignorance in this case: they had no preconceptions about how the progression ought to work, so they just followed my instructions without trying to get clever. I was disappointed not to get more people singing, though. But people were happy with the dance and want to do it again next year.

I am now trying to decide if I want to add a second, more complicated longways progressive dance for them next year as well. Such dances are found all over period dance manuals, but are rarely called at vintage dance community balls, since differing roles for couples and that sort of progression are challenging to people unfamiliar with them. Most callers (myself included) just find it easier to go with the couple-facing-couple "form as for the Spanish Dance" progression, which gives out balls a weird skew in the format of our country dances. I doubt I can find one as easy as "Pop," but if I do "Pop" early and a second one later, it might work.

Gettysburg in November is my only current Civil War-era gig, so I don't know if I'll have another chance to experiment before then.

Sounds like it went well!

Patri used to use this dance several times at the Returning Heroes Ball, back when it was held in Winchester. No one complained about it being childish.

It also appears to be part of Cecil Sharp's repertoire, though I haven't checked the sources. Intriguing if true; I've always felt he was influenced by 19th century contras*, but this is the first solid evidence of it that I (personally) know of.

*In this case, I am using the term "contra" to distinguish between country dances of the 19th century and either the earlier Playford dances that Sharp mostly referred to or the EFDSS dances that he started.

I may have to recalibrate my estimate of what adults enjoy doing after watching a group of them become fiercely competitive at a Victorian dance-game version of musical chairs a couple of weeks ago!

Since Sharp was born in 1859 and thus grew up with mid- to late-19th century social dancing, it's hardly surprising that it influenced his work. His versions of 17thc country dances display 19thc style tics. I'm not sure the distinction you're making between country dances and contra is valid, though; both terms were used by different people to refer to the same dances for much of the 19th century. I think the division between the forms is a 20th-century artifact.

You can't really say "what adults enjoy doing" without specifying which adults. I called "Pop Goes The Weasel" (one of the versions in the Community Dances Manuals, basically the same as you've got here, but as a simultaneous-start duple minor rather than a snowball) for an English dance sponsored by a group of occasional contra dancers but largely attended by International Folk Dancers, years back. They didn't dig it. (Too much standing around for the 2s, I think.) But I'm confident that historical recreationists, mixed adult-child community groups, etc, would do it happily.

Basically, there's not enough in this for country dance hobbyists, but there's plenty for normal adults. (But then, there's plenty of fun for normal adults in the not-even-a-dance-at-all modern cotillon variation with the two long lines and the favor.)

On the "fiercely competitive" front, it turns out that one of the way to get dance-hobbyist adults to have silly fun with simple dances is to make them competitive in some way. (There are a couple of mixer dances where you get three couples in a circle and they make a six-hand handshake star, then the bottom hands pull the lady through and swing, then the next, and so on. (And then maybe the new couples promenade around the ring and find another group, or some such.) Point out that the lowest pair of hands get the longest swings, and contradancers will get really competitive to be that lowest pair, and not notice that there's nothing to the dance. Similarly, describe the galop to the bottom in "Gothic Dance" as a race, and they're all over it.

I agree with Susan that "contra" and "country dance" isn't a meaningful distinction for 19th century dance. Michael should note that some 19th-century sources say "contry" where he'd say "contra".

(It's meaningful *now*, of course, when (modern) contra dancers and (modern) English country dancers are two largely separate communities, music styles are really different (even when it's the same musicians), dance styles are really different (even when it's the same dancers and callers).)

There's not necessarily enough in the dance for the vintage dancer subset of historical recreationists, either. The Gettysburg ball is more a CW reenactor ball than a vintage dance event, and it went over fine there. Returning Heroes is also heavily populated with CW reenactors. I'm not sure either group could be described as normal, exactly. :)

I'm not sure I'd try calling it at an event aimed more at any specifically-dance-oriented community.

On the other hand, my very dance-oriented cotillion group was perfectly willing to spend a lot of time sitting in chairs in a circle watching people act out various bits of silliness. So you never know.

I *did* specify that the scope of my use of "contra" vs "country" was that comment. I needed to make the distinction at that time, in my context as a 20th century person (I haven't lived long enough in the 21st yet). I agree that the division is a 20th century artifact.

I have also noted the "tics" -- what I was pointing out was that here we had a whole dance, lock, stock, and barrel. I expect there are others, and would be interested in an analysis showing how many. It could be useful in friendly conversations with modern ECD enthusiasts who think that Sharp's work was an accurate reconstruction of 17th and 18th century dances.

Alan has an interesting point about the benefits of competition. On the negative side, the "race" figure in "Gothic Dance" is so obviously a race that Patri and Barbara found/find it helpful to maintain decorum by asking dancers NOT to race during it. De-fanging it by giving the first couple to the bottom the *bottom*, rather than top, position in line seems to help.

All that aside, I'll admit that I find it a somewhat boring dance myself.


Michael:
It's listed in Sharp's Country Dance Book Pt. 1 and Pt. 1 2nd Ed. (two versions in the latter), though since I don't have copies of those I can't check to see what his version actually looks like. Sharp didn't just go back to Playford for dances -- he also collected current community dances in the U.S. and England. It seems reasonable that this dance would have hung around in folk tradition for a couple of decades given its apparent popularity (it was still appearing in dance manuals at least to 1900). I expect there are others in his collections. It wouldn't be hard to just get a list of the dances in his books for comparison, if you're all that curious.

Here's how it was done in Ilmington, Warwickshire in 1926 (notated from a film)
Pop Goes the Weasel
A1 In groups of three (2nd lady and 1st couple), right hand star. At the ‘pop’ 1st lady is sent under the joined hands of the other two to the top position.
A2 The second man joins the star, and the first man is popped out to his home position
B1 First couple leads down and back.
B2 Everyone swing and change.

Sharp collected a version from Armscote in Warwickshire (version 1 in the Country Dance Book) which is close to, but not the same as this one.

I've also found that it was popular with Queen Victoria and her family - see A New Most Excellent Dancing Master: The Journal of Joseph Lowe's Visits to Balmoral and Windsor (1852-1860) to Teach Dance to the Family of Queen Victoria
By Joseph Lowe, Allan Thomas
Edition: illustrated
Published by Pendragon Press, 1992
ISBN 0945193300, 9780945193302
135 pages
(you can read some of it via Google books)

Elaine,
Interesting later version, though obviously folk-processed from the mid-19th century one. It would help if you would define your terms; "swing" could mean at least four different figures and "change" could likewise mean a couple of different things, so I'm not quite sure how that last figure looks.

Good catch on Lowe's journal! I've read that, and I completely forgot about the mentions of "Pop" there. I think all the actual entries in which he mentions doing it are children's dances, though in the introduction it's mentioned (with no supporting cites) that the Queen used it at Court Balls. I'll update the post to reflect this.

The following ad appeared in The Times of London of December 22, 1852:
POP GOES the WEASEL: the new dance recently introduced with such distinguished success at the Court balls and at the balls and soirées of the nobility, is now published with the original music and a full explanation of the figures, by Mons. E. Coulon. Price 1s., postage free, Jullien and Co., 214 Regent-street.

This is two years earlier than the once cited by Michael Quinion

In a review of a show at St James's Theatre, London, on November 5, 1853, The Times stated that, the music for a ballet divertissement having been lost, the 'gods' started singing "Pop goes the weasel" in chorus. This rather suggests that it already had words.

Only just revisiting this now. Swing and change - I'm not a dance teacher or caller, but a musician, so this may be vague. It's a common English Ceilidh figure these days. Basically 2 couples swing (and the type of swing varies depending on the dancers)and change places by rotating around each other while they swing. In the film it's a two-handed swing (done by pre-teen girls).

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