Petronella ~ Contra Petronella ~ Contra Variants Petronella ~ Lowes Petronella ~ variants Petronella

Petronella is a Scottish Country Dance. It was devised by Nathaniel Gow in 1820 and published in The Cries of Edinburgh. To which are added Petronella and a favorite new medley, Edinburgh. It was interpreted by RSCDS in 1924 and published in RSCDS Book 1. It is R8×32 2C/4C, a proper Duple Minor dance. R32.

The first dance in the first book of the (R)SCDS isPetronella.

According to the RSCDS (Book 1) this dance was "introduced" by Nathaniel Gow, a composer and musician of Edinburgh, in 1820. Although Gow published many tunes (including this one), I have been unable to find any choreographies by him.

Book 1 also says the dance was published in a book called The Ball-Room, 1827 (no editor, or publisher, or location given), but, again, I can't find this work.

The earliest description of the figure I've found was published by the Lowes in Lowes' Ball-Conductor and Assembly Guide. of 1831. The Lowes published in Edinburgh, and their book has three sub-catagories of country dance: English, Scotch and Irish. Petronella is catagorized as an "English Country Dance". They describe it thusly:

First couple chassé round to the right, and set in the middle; round to the right again, and set on the sides; to the right again, and set in places; down the middle, up again, and pousette.

In ~1868 H. D. Wilcock in Ball-Room Guide; A Manual of Dancing page 70, writes:

  1. First couple turn round to the right, and set in centre of dance (4)
  2. Turn to the opposite side and set (4)
  3. Turn to centre and set (4)
  4. Turn and set in places (4)
  5. Lead down the middle and up again (8)
  6. Pousette (8)

In 1868 Elias Howe in The Pianist's Matinee: A Collection of Music for the Piano-Forte, writes:

First couple turn round to the right, and balance opposite to each other in the middle of the dance. (4 bars) Again round to the right, and balance on the sides of the dance. (4 bars) Again to the right, and balance in the middle. (4 bars) Again to the right, and balance in places. (4 bars) First couple down the middle and up again (8 bars) Right and left with the next couple. (8 bars)

In ~1872 J. F. Wallace in The Excelsior Manual of Dancing, (Glasgow), writes:

  1. First couple turn to their right and set in centre of dance (4 bars)
  2. Turn into each other's place and set (4)
  3. Again turn to centre by right and set (4)
  4. Turn to places and set, (4)
  5. Down the centre and back, (8)
  6. Poussette, (8)

In ~1898 J. Scott Skinner in The People's Ball Room Guide, (Dundee), writes:

This is one of the very prettiest Country Dances we have.

The dancers are arranged in the usual way.

First lady and opposite gentleman advance to the centre, one, two, three, and turn with toes to right. Then they execute the first quickstop twice.

They advance to the opposite side and set.

They advance to the centre and set.

They advance and set in places, having thus, with their successive movements described the figure of a diamond.

Then down the centre, back, and pousette.

There is a tune "Petronella" for this dance. "Meg Merrilees" suits it admirably.

While in the book Prompting: How To Do It by John M. Schell, published Boston, 1890.

First couple balance to side (4); balance to center (4); balance to side (4); balance to center (4); first couple down centre and back, cast off (8); right and left (8).

Note that in 1831 the 1s simply chassé into position with no turn, but by 1868 they are turning into the middle, then in 1924 the (R)SCDS describes the figure:

1st woman moves from A to B with two pas de basque, leading off with the right foot and making a three-quarter turn by the right, in the middle of which she has her back to her partner.
1st man moves similarly from C to D.

The modern contra figure seems similar to that described by Wilcock in 1868.

As this dance is rather boring for the 2s a number of variations have arisen.

The tune was published by Nathaniel Gow in about 1820. The music was synthesized by Colin Hume's software

The animation plays at 116 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 (no music plays during this slow set). 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.

An online description of the dance may be found here.

1-161s dance full petronella ending where they started
17-241s lead down the middle and back
25-321s+2s poussette

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 out of copyright in the US, but I'm not sure of other jurisdictions. My visualization of this dance is copyright © 2020 by George W. Williams V and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website is copyright © 2021,2022,2023,2024 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.