"Change places"

One of the most common terms encountered in the Dancing Master is "change places".  Pretty unambiguous.  Two people, change places.  How hard can that be?

Note that "change places" is different from "cross over".  In later country dancing manuals, including later editions of the Dancing Master, "cross over" ends up implying a cast; that's not a general rule in these early editions, but a "cross over" generally means you're going to finish somewhere other than where your partner started; "change places" almost invariably means to finish where the other person was, facing the direction they were facing.


Firstly, how much time do we have?  It depends.  Generally 2 or 4 bars.  To modern dancers used to constant horizontal velocity, 2 bars is what they're expecting, but 4 bars often feels like far too much time.  However, there in first edition alone I've so far spotted the following that have 4 bars to "change places" in them:

  • The Night Peece
  • The Beggar Boy
  • Bobbing Joe
  • The Old Mole
  • The Saraband
  • Lady Spellor
  • Adson's Saraband
  • Cast a Bell
  • Once I Loved a Maiden Faire
  • The Bath
  • The London Gentlewoman
  • Saint Martins
  • Newcastle
  • The Country Coll
  • The Fryer and the Nun
  • Pauls Wharfe
  • Lady Lay Near Me
  • Step Stately (although it's not how people tend to dance it today)
  • Graies Inn Maske
  • The Slip

Plus the Gun and Petticoat Wag could if the men and women turn simultaneously instead of sequentially, but I'll assume they're sequential. Excluding these, there are 20 dances there.  There are a great deal more turns that take two bars, and several dances have both, but nonetheless it seems that both a "fast" and "slow" change places is common.  So we need to come up with a solution.

These early Playford dances were, danced primarily in doubles.  So a slow change places will take two doubles, a fast change places will take one double.


Potential solutions for the slow change places, in increasing order of inventiveness:

  • Two doubles straight across, turning around at the end.
  • One double to meet, one to pass through and turn around.
  • One double to change places, facing, and one to back away (Hole in the Wall style).
  • One double to change places with half a two-hand turn, and one to back away.
  • Two double's worth of music to change places with a two-hand turn once and a half.

Let's look at the language used in Playford for 4-bar change places.  Mostly it's just "change places", but there are some exceptions:

  • Bobbing Joe, first figure: The first two men snap their fingers and change places.
  • Once I Loved a Maiden Faire, first figure: The first man change with the 2. Wo. he into her place and she into his.
  • Once I Loved a Maiden Faire, second figure: Then meet and goe through between each other, the uppermost man about his Wo. and the 2. man between the first Wo. and his owne, and turn your faces each to your owne being in the Co. places.  This is a pretty explicit description of changing places right shoulder!
  • Some dances say to meet and change places: The Beggar Boy, The Old Mole, The Bath, Saint Martins, The Country Coll.
  • The Spaniard: Take hands and goe round once and a half, change places.
  • The London Gentlewoman Turne your own wo change places.
  • Pauls Wharfe: Take both hands and change places.

When there are 2 bars available, the following dances say to change with both hands: Petticoat Wag (Take both hands, change places), The Health (Change places with your owne by both hands), and Faine I Would (Change places by both hands).

Finally the Irish Lady says Change places by the right hands – and this is actually (I think) a 3/4 turn into a line of four.  That one's hard enough to interpret as it is so I'll consider it an outlier.

The Sloane, Lovelace, Lansdowne and Stephens (Nonesuch only as that's all I've got) manuscripts, whenever they say "change places", don't use any qualifying language.  However, the Stephens description of Nonesuch, for the arming introduction, states: Every man turne hands with his woaman, then change places with her, then turne hands with the next woman, & change places with her all at the same time.  Here turne hands is used instead of arming, with 4 bars for the turning, then 4 bars for the change places.

What about Feuillet?  It's a bit late really for our period, but has concordances with some early dances, so worth a brief look at its formulae for changing places:

  • La Bonne Amitié, La Bergére, Les Manches Vertes, Excuses My: Half a two hand turn coming towards each other and fall back into each other’s places.
  • Le Pistolet, Les Manches Vertes, La Buffecotte, Jeanne qui Saute, La Coquette, La Gasconne, L’Epiphanie, La Fanatique, La Chasse: Turn once and a half.
  • Les Galeries d’Amour, La Fanatique, La Nouvelle Figure: Pass with claps.
  • Podain: Half a two hand turn
  • Le Menuet de la Reine (Minuet): Change places coming toward each other without hands and fall back (a.k.a. “Hole in the Wall crossing”!)
  • La Fanatique: Also Hole in the Wall crossing, but not a Minuet.
  • Le Menuet du Chevalier (Minuet): 1st corners cross, 2nd corners cross (2 bars for each so there’s not time for much else).
  • La Matelotte: Half turn then cast.
  • L’Epiphanie: Straight change places in 4 bars.
  • La Chaîne: Straight change places in 4 bars.

The only ones which are a straight change places in 4 bars are L'Epiphanie and La Chaîne.  L'Epiphanie was written by Mr. Voisin at Versailles, so that's not too helpful, but La Chaîne has a concordance with the London Gentlewoman, our only 1st edition concordance.  And it doesn't have the bit I quoted above about turning your partner to change places.  There are also some 4th edition concordances however:

  • La Bonne Amitié: Jamaica: This is quite explicitly a half two-hand turn after having taken right and then left hands.
  • La Bergére: Northern Nancy: The dances are related but the bit with the half turn and fall back in La Bergére sadly doesn't exist in Northern Nancy.
  • La Buffecote: Buff coat: The Playford equivalent of the two-hand turn once and a half is described "turn your Wo. round".
  • La Nouvelle Figure: The New Vagary: Clapping, not really relevant to our investigation.

If we extend a little further, Le Pistolet, which has a two hand turn once and a half, is equivalently described in Smith's Rant by Playford as turn your wo. once and a half.

So what Feuillet isn't doing is providing justification for replacing a 4-bar change places with a two hand turn once and a half. 


To recap:

  • It's quite normal to take 4 bars to change places, although more commonly it's 2.
  • There are various formulas described, both explicitly with hands, and without (Playford Once I Loved a Maiden Faire, Feuillet La Chaîne, plus several described as meet and change places).  There's also finger clicking in Bobbing Joe!
  • Turning once and a half to change places is probably a different thing.

The most common formula where any style is given appears to be meet and change places.  Taking one double to come together and one to go apart again seems to work well.  There's not a lot of justification for a hole in the wall style change in this period other than an argument of natural evolution – if you've got one double to meet and one to separate again, wouldn't you want to face each other as you do it?

After all of this I'm not sure we've learned a huge amount!

My recommendation:

  • If you have a 4-bar change places, you need to be dancing doubles in order to use the time up.
  • Use one double to come together and one to separate.
  • How precisely you choose to position your bodies during that move is up to you, but it's nice to at least feel you're dancing with the other person for both of the doubles!