An Old Man, a Bed Full of Bones

The Old Man with a Bed Full of Bones

An Old Man is a Bed Full of Bones

An Old Man, a Bed Full of Bones or The Old Man with a Bed Full of Bones is an English Country Dance. It was found in the Lovelace Manuscript (written somewhere around the 1640s) and later published in The English Dancing Master. It was interpreted by George Williams in 2021. It is a proper 3 Couple Longways dance. There is no progression in this dance. It is a USA dance. The dance lasts 144 bars.

Playford says this is for "as many as will, but I think 3 couples probably best, it's very dull for the middle couples who just stand with the top and bottom couples show off.

Hmm. It might work even better with only 2 couples.

Lovelace writes:

Leade up once, & sett once, then that agayne, then the first man shall take his woeman by both hands and shall leade her down side long, allmost to ye bottome, very quickly, and then half way up agayne, and then leade her downe agayne; and turne her quite round, and leave her there, and then take up that woeman, in her steade, that was last before, after the same manner, that he carryed down the other; and then the last man shall bring up that woeman, and fetch downe his owne, just after the same manner, as it was done before, and doe you are all in your places;

Sides all 2, and sett twice, then the last man shall begin, and leade up his woeman to the top, and fetch downe the other as before was done, and then the first man shall carry her downe agayne, and fetch up his owne, all after the same manor just as it was done before;

Doe the first part over agayne, after halfe tune, just like as is described before, only at this, if you please, you may turne her arme over her head, and salute her, if you like your mate, when you turne her above, and below;

Playford writes:

Lead up all a D. forward and back , set and turn S. That again First man lead down his wo. between the rest a D. forward and back, then lead her to the lower end and turn her and leave her Bring up the last wo. in the same manner Then the last man do the like to fetch his own.

Sides all, set and turn S. That again This as before, only crossing both hands in the middle

Arms all, set and turn S. That again This as before, holding your wo. by one hand, and let her turn under your arm, and kiss her

There are a number of differences between Playford and Lovelace, and I'm going to pick an choose as suits my fancy.

In the introductory figures, Playford consistently says "set and turn single" while Lovelace says "set once" after "up a double" and "set twice" after "sides all". I'm not sure why "set once". It doesn't fit the timing. I prefer "set ans turn single" to "set twice" so I will follow Playford on that.

Lovelace says the third part should be the same as the first, but I presume he intends it to begin with arming rather than another round of "up a double". Anyway, I'm going to use arming for the third part.

Playford wants the 1s to lead down a double, come back, and lead to bottom. While Lovelace wants the 1s to lead to bottom, lead up and then back down. It's a small difference, but Lovelace is freer with the timing which I think works better.

Playford says the second figure is just like the first except the dancers cross both hands (promenade position?) in the middle. Lovelace, on the other hand, says the figure begins with the last man rather than the first (and doesn't mention crossed hands). I like having the last man start.

Both agree that the third figure is the same as the first except that instead of a two hand turn, the woman turns under the arm and then Playford says "kiss" and Lovelace "salute". (Sharp interprets both kiss and salute as "honour", but he was a bit of a prude).

The animation plays at 120 counts per minute. Men are drawn as rectangles, women as ellipses. Each couple is drawn in its own color.

The dances of George Williams (including this one) are licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: CC BY-NC-SA license.
An online description of the dance may be found here.

I.A11-4Up a double and back
II.A11-4Right shoulder siding
III.A11-4Arm right
5-8Set and turn single
I.A21-4Up a Double, back (again)
II.A21-4Left shoulder siding
III.A21-4Arm left
5-8Set and turn single
I.A31-21s lead quickly to bottom
3-31s fall back a bit
4-41s lead below bottom
5-81s two hand turn
I.A41-2M1 leads W3 to top (W1 moves into W3's place)
3-3They fall back a bit
4-4They lead to top again
5-8They two hand turn
I.A51-2M3 leads W1 to top
3-3They fall back a bit
4-4They lead above top
5-8They two hand turn
I.A61-23s lead quickly to bottom
3-33s fall back a bit
4-43s lead to bottom again
5-83s two hand turn
II.A31-23s lead to top
3-3They fall back a bit
4-4They lead above top
5-8They two hand turn
II.A41-2M3 lead W1 to bottom (W3 moves into W1's place)
3-3They fall back a bit
4-4They lead to bottom again
5-8M3+W1 two hand turn
II.A51-2M1 lead W3 quickly to bottom
3-3They fall back a bit
4-4They lead below bottom
5-8They two hand turn
II.A61-21s lead to top
3-3They fall back a bit
4-4They lead to top again
5-8They two hand turn
III.A31-21s lead quickly to bottom
3-31s fall back a bit
4-41s lead below bottom
5-8The man turns the woman under his arm and they kiss
III.A41-2M1 leads W3 to top (W1 moves into W3's place)
3-3They fall back a bit
4-4They lead to top again
5-8The man turns the woman under his arm and they kiss
III.A51-2M3 leads W1 to top
3-3They fall back a bit
4-4They lead above top
5-8The man turns the woman under his arm and they kiss
III.A61-23s lead quickly to bottom
3-33s fall back a bit
4-43s lead to bottom again
5-8The man turns the woman under his arm and they kiss

If you find what you believe to be a mistake in this animation, please leave a comment on youtube explaining what you believe to be wrong. If I agree with you I shall do my best to fix it.

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I do not have a publication date for the dance and not know whether it is under copyright or not. The interpretation is copyright © 2021 by George Williams. And is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. My visualization of this dance is copyright © 2021 by George W. Williams V and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website is copyright © 2021,2022 by George W. Williams V
Creative Commons License My work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Most of the dances have more restrictive licensing, see my notes on copyright, the individual dance pages should mention when some rights are waived.