The Carnival of Venice ~ Old Style Progression

The Carnival of Venice ~ 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 a Three Face Three dance. The minor set lasts 32 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).

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.

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?

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"

The first evidence I have found for the modern way of starting is 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.

Finally we come 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 writes:

Advance and retire in two lines — set and pass under the arm — hands three your own lines — back again — hey your own sides The two lines lead round and exchange places (four parts or thirty-two bars) this figure can be dance by an equal number of ladies and gentlemen or a majority of either.

N.B. This (—) denotes four bars, and this ( ) eight bars.

Chivers uses terms I am unfamiliar with, he says he explains them in another publication, but unfortunately I do not have a copy of it. So here are my guesses...

I am not entirely sure what Chivers means by set and pass under the arm. I assume it is something like "right hand high, left hand low" where a line of three abreast changes direction and the end people change sides. The way I learned to do it leaves everyone facing the wrong way but that rotation isn't necessary.

Nor am I sure what he means by The two lines lead round and exchange places. My best guess is that the two lines take hands on the side (but not across) and the leftmost dancer, leading the others, circle halfway round the set. They are facing the wrong way, so I expect exchange places means something like "wheel around" to face the next trio.

I call this type of dance "three face three" or "trios", Chivers calls it a "Swedish Dance".

He points out that a duple minor dance demands an equal number of ladies and gentlemen but this style of dance may be used when one sex is in the majority - the sex in the majority taking the two outside positions while the one in the minority takes the center. In the case of equal numbers then the lines should alternate: so a line with a woman in the center will be followed by a line with a man in the center.

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.

A11-4Lines of three forward and back
5-6Set to opposite
7-8Middle dancer raises right hand high, left hand low, left hand dancer ducks under as the two ends swap places
A21-4Circle three left...
5-8...and back to the right
B11-8Middle dancer faces left to start a right shoulder hey for three
B21-6Lines of three circle half clockwise around the set
7-8Lines of three wheel around to face the next trio

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.

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.