Petronella ~ Contra Variants

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

Petronella ~ Contra Variants is an American Country Dance. It was devised by Nathaniel Gow in 1820. It was interpreted by David Smukler in 2005. Found in Cracking Chestnuts. It is a proper Duple Minor dance. It is a multipart dance. The minor set lasts 32 bars.

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.

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)

The first version I've found in the US appears 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.

The addition of two claps at the end of the petronella figure arose in the 1970s (according to Cracking Chestnuts).

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

As this dance is rather boring for the 2s a number of variations have arisen, and I include 3 here. The first time through the set everyone does what the book says. In the second the petronella is modified so that the 2s are involved, and in the third the petronella is modified in a different way to include the 2s — several of these variations have been repeated in the American Contra dance of the same name.

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.

The dance contains the following figures: hand turn (allemande), cast, lead, petronella (and probably others).

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 © 2005 by David Smukler. 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 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.