Historical sources

This is a beautiful and somewhat complex dance from 1st edition Playford.

The starting formation is two lines of three with a man in the middle and two women either side, one line facing down and the other up.

If calling it I'd normally describe it in terms of middles and ends unless there is a 2:1 gender ratio and all the middles really are men!

Part 1
A1, A2 (8) Lines of three meet a double and back twice.
B1 (8) Men go forward and left to go between their left hand partner and the right hand partner of the other man, taking hands in a line of three: lead out a double, turn around and change hands and lead back. (4)
Turn the person in front of you: men turn each other three-quarters to stand between their own women, while the women turn once and finish at the end of the original lines of three, all facing away from the other line. (4)
B2 (8) Lines lead away from each other a double, up and down, turn round and come back a double. (4)
Turn the person in front of you once. (4)
Part 2
A1, A2 (8) Lines face to their respective left and, single file, go forward two doubles, turn around, and lead back two doubles.
Alternatively, if the room is not sufficiently large, go one double to the left and back twice.
B1 (8) The top man go forwards a double towards the other line, who are holding hands, then give his hands to the women one at a time (right hand to the woman on his right on beat 5, left hand to the woman on his left on beat 7). (4)
Circle left once, finishing back home. (4)
B2 (8) Bottom man repeat with the top line.
Part 3
A1, A2 (8) Lines go single file two doubles to the right and back, as in part 3.
B1 (8) Women lead with their opposite to the nearest side wall a double while the men go a double away from each other, then all turn around and return, the women meeting in the circle of four and the men stopping short of the circle, facing in. (4)
Women circle left, the men turning to face away from the circle at the end of the phrase. (4)
B2 (8) Lead away and back as before, returning to the original formation this time with the men in the middle. (4)
The men two-hand turn once, at the end of the phrase the women turning single toward each other to cast onto the ends of original lines of three. (4)
Part 4
A1, A2 (8) Lines of three meet a double and back twice.
B1 (8) The top man leads their left hand partner to the left while the bottom man leads their right hand partner to the right, into a line facing the same wall, men between the women (but men not joining hands), raising joined hands to form an arch, then fall back in that line, letting the other woman from the same threesome under the arch.
Meanwhile, the remaining women dance round the outside of the set and come back through the arch made by the other two in their threesome. (4)
Everyone two-hand turn back to place: the women who have just gone through the arches turn each other, while the others turn the person they are with three quarters, the men starting the turn going forward, meaning that for the top man and his left-hand partner the turn is reversed from the normal direction. (4)
B2 (8) Repeat to the other wall with the women swapping roles. This time the bottom man and his left-hand partner are the ones doing a reverse turn.

Facsimiles from 4th edition:

This is a dance for two threesomes facing. First edition and fourth at least show a longways set for three couples, but there’s an erratum at the beginning of fourth edition showing the correct formation.

Given that longways sets are shown in the set diagram with the top at the left of the page, you might assume that the two lines are facing across, but they’re not: in part 3, The two We. at each end leade to each wall, while one man goe up and the other downe, which implies that one line is facing down and the other up. This is important to the second and third introductions, where crosse the room is then consistent with simply facing left and going forwards (rather than all facing the same wall as in e.g. Lady Spellor).

The first figure is pretty clear.

The second figure seems clear to me but Sharp had four people circling around an arch made by a man and one of his corners!

In the third figure, the instructions could potentially be for the women to go round in a circle or two hand turn their opposite in pairs; the circle feels more natural to me, and is the usual meaning of “hands and go round”. I've interpreted the turn single for the men as simply meaning that the men turn round again at the end of the phrase to lead out, although it could equally well be interpreted as a turn single once and a half. For the women's turn single, it's nice to cast onto the end of the line of three.

The fourth figure is the troublesome one. Both men lead to the same wall with the women on that side while the other women “goe up on the outside” – consistency with Goddesses would imply that the women go down, one following the other, around the bottom of the set, and stop when they’re behind an arch made by the couple from the other line. They can then lead through that arch and turn once and a half to place. This is a bit tight timing-wise though, and less satisfactory than simply going around the other two in the line, which is how I've described it.

Sharp’s solution to the fourth figure has the women simply going through an arch made by the other two, who come towards them rather than go away from them to begin. The instructions are quite clear about the other two leading away and back to begin, and this way around works well provided that that the women going round the outside dance rather than walk, to enable them to cover the ground needed, and if the others are considerate in their movement by not going out too far. In practice, because the man starts his lead forward in the middle of his line, the double to go forward is really just to form the line of four, rather than to go any further outside of the set. Once the other women has gone under the arch, it flows particularly well if the men go forward to start their turns, with them coming through the middle of their line to pick up their other partner and go out the other side for the second half of the figure.

Before we finish, Cecil Sharp writes the following in his notes:

Mr. Wood of Brandoley told me that a dance similar to Playford’s Confess with the same formation used to be done in Northumberland at Bell’s house. The following were the movements.

  • Files meet, retire

  • Hey on each side

  • Each man takes woman on this right and passes round the woman opposite and returns to place

  • Same again, each man taking woman on his left.

  • These movements were repeated as often as the dancers pleased.

N.B. Mr. Bell above mentioned lives or used to live at Harlow Hill 10 miles from Newcastle.

That's quite considerably simpler than the dance in Playford!