Fairy Queen

Fairy Queen is an English Country Dance. It was published by Playford (John Young) (website) in 1726 in The Dancing Master, The Third Volume, 2nd ed.. It was interpreted by George Williams in 2022. It is a proper 4 Couple Longways dance. There is no progression in this dance. It is a USA dance. The dance lasts 132 bars.

Playford writes:

First all lead up forward and back That again Turn all Back to back, Faces again, then each Man go about his Wo. not turning your Faces, that again the other way Then first and last cu. meet a double, back again, turn all Back to Back, Faces again, go about each other not turning your Faces, the other way as much Then the other 4, as much ·: Sides all That again Turn Back to Back, Faces again, go about your own as before First and last cu. meet and go back, turn Back to Back, Faces again; take Hands and go round, back again Then the other 4 as much ·: Arms all That again Turn Back to Back, Faces again, go about your own as before First and last cu. meet back again; then Back to Back, Faces again; Right-hands across and go round, then Left round The other 4 as much ·:

This dance is an anachronism. It's a USA dance, and the Playfords stopped printing new USA dances in the 4th edition in 1670. It also uses terms which were out of date in 1726: Turn all Back to back, Faces again probably has nothing to do with the back to back figure we all know but seems closer to The Gypsyes out of Lovelace in the 1640s: then they all turne theire backes, both men, and woemen, towards one another, and then turne themselves as they were before, all their faces together. One performance of Cuckolds All A'Row has dancers coming forward to bump rumps.

The Faerie Qveene is an epic poem written by Spencer and presented to Queen Elizabeth in 1589. There was also an opera of the same name, composed by Purcell which opened in 1692. 1692 seems too late for the terminology of the dance, and 1589 too early.


The first problem with this is fitting the music to the dance. The music is a 12 bar repeat.

It's a USA dance. Every section begins with 8 bars of either up a double, siding or arming. You could stretch that out to 12 bars. Maybe. "Up a triple"? But you can't stretch out siding or arming. Perhaps throw in an honour to the presence? or a set and turn single?.

Each USA section shows the same format, two 4 bar strains of music. If it were only done once it might be a misprint, but it is consistent across all three, so did Playford fail to print 4 bars of music? Did he mean to put a repeat after the first 4 bars?

Let's look at the rest of the dance for hints.

After each USA section we have: Turn all Back to back, Faces again, then each Man go about his Wo. not turning your Faces, that again the other way (I'll go into what I think this means later, for now I'm only interested in timing). My guess is that this will fit nicely into 12 bars.

Then: Then first and last cu. meet a double, back again, turn all Back to Back, Faces again, go about each other not turning your Faces, the other way as much On the face of it this looks like 16 bars rather than 8 or 12. I'm going to guess that the "meet a double" and "turn all Back to Back" are actually part of the same move (coming forward turning your backs). And that would bring it down to 12.

So I think the music should be a (missing) 4 bar A section, and the 12 bar B section we have printed. It should be played 3 x AABBB for the dance.


Playford says the dance is "Longways for as many as will." I think this is another missprint, and it is actually Longways for 4 couples.

There are 8 dancers mentioned in the text "the first and last cu." and "the other 4", (and both are mentioned several times) so I think it is pretty clear that a 4 couple dance is intended.

Because he says "first and last cu." I think a longways formation is likely. If a square he'd say "first and third".


Turn all Back to back, Faces again, then each Man go about his Wo. not turning your Faces, that again the other way. The article at contrafusion on gypsies goes into great detail about this phrase. It sounds to me that "all Back to back, Faces again" was like "foot it", a chance to show off your steps while turning so people could see them at the best angle. It was not a simple turn your back and then finish turning.

While the "not turning your Faces" bit sounds like what we now call "back to back" (except that only the man is going around while the woman stands).

Then: Then first and last cu. meet a double, back again, turn all Back to Back, Faces again, go about each other not turning your Faces, the other way as much As I mentioned before, the only way to fit this into 12 bars is to fold the "meet a double" and "turn Back to Back" into one move, where they all come forward (women too, it seems here) doing a facing step, and in the process turn their backs and then go back.


There is an asymmetry in the description: The women don't go around their partners, but they do go around their neighbors. That seems odd and would annoy me if I were dancing it. So I'm going to have the women go about their partners too.

There's another asymmetry: the bit after the USA with your partner is always the same, even though the bit with your neighbor is slightly different each time through the dance. Even if you restrict yourself to your partner you could do a two hand turn to match the circle, and a right hand turn to match the right-hands across. Or better yet work in foursomes and use the same sequence.


Is this what people danced? Almost certainly not.

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.

I.A11-4Up a double, and back
I.A21-4Up a double, and back (again)
I.B11-2Do half a turn single backward to end with your back to your partner
3-4Come forward half a turn single
5-8Partner back to back right shoulder
9-12Partner back to back left shoulder
II.B21-21s+4s meet turning half round as they do so
3-4Fall back a bit turning to face
5-81s+4s Neighbor back to back right shoulder
9-121s+4s Neighbor back to back left shoulder
II.B21-22s+3s meet turning half round as they do so
3-4Fall back a bit turning to face
5-82s+3s Neighbor back to back right shoulder
9-122s+3s Neighbor back to back left shoulder
II.A11-4Side right
II.A21-4Side left
I.B11-2Do half a turn single backward to end with your back to your partner
3-4Come forward half a turn single
5-8In fours at the ends, circle left...
9-12...and back by the right
II.B21-21s+4s meet turning half round as they do so
3-4Fall back a bit turning to face
5-81s+4s Circle left
9-12...and back by the right
II.B21-22s+3s meet turning half round as they do so
3-4Fall back a bit turning to face
5-82s+3s Circle left
9-12...and back by the right
III.A11-4Arm right
III.A21-4Arm left
I.B11-2Do half a turn single backward to end with your back to your partner
3-4Come forward half a turn single
5-8In fours at ends, right hands across...
9-12...and left hands back
II.B21-21s+4s meet turning half round as they do so
3-4Fall back a bit turning to face
5-81s+4s right hands across
9-12...and left hands back
II.B21-22s+3s meet turning half round as they do so
3-4Fall back a bit turning to face
5-82s+3s right hands across
9-12...and left hands back

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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The dance itself is out of copyright, and is in the public domain. The interpretation is copyright © 2022 by George Williams. And is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. My visualization of this dance is copyright © 2022 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.