Ecossoise #2 ~ Chivers, Old Style Progression

Ecossoise #2 ~ Chivers, Old Style Progression is an English Country Dance. It was devised by G.M.S. Chivers in 1821 and published in The Dancer's Guide, London. It was interpreted by George Williams in 2021. It is an improper duple minor longways dance. The minor set lasts 16 bars.

When I learned to Contra Dance, and later when I learned English Country Dancing, the whole set would begin dancing at once. But that's not how Playford expected people to dance. In his day only the top two couples of a duple minor set (three for a triple minor, of course) would start. After they had danced once the top couple would go down to the next couple(s) below and dance with them. No one started until the top couple reached them.

When the original top couple reached the bottom they would start up the set as 2s. When they reached the top they would stop. But the dance would not. Now the top couple would wait, and the dance would end when each couple had reached its original place. (if there are n couples then this takes 3*n-3 repetitions of the dance in a duple minor, and 4*n-4 in a triple minor (because the 3s do not progress)).

In part this was because the top couple would choose the dance, and would teach it to each couple below by dancing it with them. They did not have walk-throughs beforehand to teach the dance.

There is still a vestige of this style of dancing in Scottish Country's 2 couple dance in a 4 couple set, where only the top two couples dance the first time through.

See Colin Hume's interpretation of Jamaica for a description of how progression worked.

In Playford's day the top couple would have started the dance with the next couple, then they would have progressed to the next, and so on all the way down the set as ones and all the way back up as twos. They would then started the second figure (while other people were still doing the first figure), and again gone all the way down and back, when they would have waited until all the other couples were back to their original places.

I have simplified things here and have no "second figure" (though the full version of this dance does have one) so once they reach the top, they simply wait until everyone else has reached their original places. The progression is rather like a progressive hey or progressive progression.

Unfortunately, Playford never says this specifically, he just assumed everyone knew, however if you read his directions they make more sense if they are directed only to the top two (or three) couples rather than the entire set. Here's an example that I was working on last week so it is fresh in my mind, but there are others: "The first Cu. turns single, then lead down thro' the 2d Cu. and cast up again · The 2d Cu. do the same : Then the three first Cu. go the Hey · The first Cu. cast off and turn Hands ··" from "Masquerade Royal", John Young (Playford's son in law), 1718: Now, why say "the three first Cu." when you mean "all the couples" unless those first three were the only ones dancing at the start?

Another bit of circumstantial evidence: "Pride and Prejudice", Chapter 18, Mr. Darcy + Elizabeth at the Netherfield Ball: "When the dancing recommenced, however, ... They stood for some time without speaking a word" The dancing has started, but they are standing and not dancing. Even if you are out at the bottom you are out for less than a minute (well in almost all dances Fandango might take a bit more), not long enough for standing without talking to be uncomfortable. I suggest they are waiting for the dance to work its way down the set until it gets to them.

The first indisputable evidence I can give comes from "The Dancer's Guide", London, Chivers, 1821: In his description of an improper duple minor (Ecossoises, page 45), he has a diagram of the initial layout of the dance and only the top couple is improper, all the others are proper. This only works if the top foursome is the only one active at the start. He says: "Any number of persons can join, observing that the first couple exchange places (each couple doing the same as they regain the top), and when they get to the bottom, they take their own sides"

In 1857, Thomas Hillgrove in The scholars' companion and ball-room vade mecum (New York) is still specifying this form of progression: This is performed in the same manner as the Country Dance, the ladies and gentlemen being placed in lines opposite to each other. The couple at the top begin the figure.

However, in The Complete Ball-Room Hand-Book, Elias Howe, Boston, 1858 says In forming for Contra Dances, let there be space enough between the ladies' and gentlemen's lines to pass down and up the centre. It is usual for those at the foot of the set to wait until the first couple has passed down, and they have arrived at the head of the set; but there is no good reason why they should so wait, as every fourth couple should commence with the first couple. In other words he is saying that traditional dancers would only begin with the top couple, but there is no reason why the whole line couldn't start at once.

This may reflect a difference in behavior between New York and Boston, (Hillgrove distinguishes between Country Dances and Contra Dances, while Howe says they are two names for the same thing), or just a difference between traditional and innovative behavior.

Finally we get to Cecil Sharp and his description of a minor-set dance in The Country Dance Book, Part 1 (1909):

The top minor-set, headed by the leading couple, opens the dance by performing the complete figure, the rest of the couples being neutral. This results in the exchange of positions between the leading and second couple.

The second round is now danced by the minor-set composed of the second and third couples, of which the second one is the leading couple. The rest of the dancers, including the top one, remain neutral. This brings the leading couple down to third place from the top of the General Set.

In the third round two minor-sets will now participate, namely those consisting, respectively, of the two couples at the top (the second and third of the original set), and of the the third and fourth couples (originally the first and fourth).

However, at the end of the section Sharp adds the comment:

Expert dancers will sometimes constitute themselves into minor-sets for the performance of the first round, and thus avoid the gradual and somewhat tedious opening as above described; that is to say, they will omit the first six rounds in our first illustration and begin with the seventh round.

As far as I can tell, later parts of the The Country Dance Book omit this entirely. So perhaps Sharp changed his mind. And that may mark where this style of starting a dance was lost.

Chivers does not give this dance a name, it is the second dance in his list of Ecossoise dances. Écossaise is a French style of contredanse which means "Scottish", though it is unlike any Scottish Country dance I've ever danced (but I don't know what the Scots were doing in 1780). For one thing all Ecossoise are improper dances, but no modern Scottish Country dance is.

This dance is not particularly interesting in itself. It's major advantage is that it is a 16 bar improper duple minor so going though all the many iterations of the progression takes as little time as possible.

Chivers writes:

Hands across — back again — cross over one couple — turn your partner to places —

I suspect that turn your partner to places originally refered only to the 1s, but the dance is fairly even and I think it won't hurt to have the 2s turning as well.

The animation plays at 120 counts per minute normally, but the first time through the set the dance will often be slowed down so people can learn the moves more readily. Men are drawn as rectangles, women as ellipses. Each couple is drawn in its own color, however the border of each dancer indicates what role they currently play so the border color may change each time through the minor set.

The dances of George Williams (including interpretations like 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.

A1-4Right hands across...
5-8...and back by the left
B1-41s cross, go below as 2s lead up
5-8Partner two hand turn 1s once and a half 2s once

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.

If you wish to link to this animation please see my comments on the perils of youtube. You may freely link to this page, of course, and that should have no problems, but use one of my redirects when linking to the youtube video itself:

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The dance itself is out of copyright, and is in the public domain. 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.

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