Newcastle (Playford)

Submitted by Andrew Swaine on Sun, 2017-09-10, 23:36
Historical sources
Set formation
Part 1
A1 (8) Taking hands in a ring, all go in a double and back (4)
Set to your partner (2)
Face the next person around the ring (your “right hand lady” / “left hand man” in square dance terminology) and set to them (without moving towards them) (2)
A2 (8) All go in a double and back again (4)
Set facing to your opposite (2)
Set to your corner (2)
B1 (8) Arm right your partner, finishing with the men standing left shoulders to the middle
Women dance around them
B2 (8) Arm right your partner halfway, finishing with the women standing left shoulders to the middle
Men dance around them
As the men come back to starting place, women come out from the middle back to where they started
Part 2
A1 (8) Side right your partner (4)
Change places right shoulder with your partner (suggest a double to meet and a double to fall away again into the other place, then turn around to face the next person) (4)
A2 (8) Side left with the next person around the set (4)
Change places left shoulder with this person and move onto the next (4)
B1 (8) New side couples lead in a double (2)
Sides turn around and lead back a double, forming an arch while the heads separate and cast around the set (2)
Heads meet their opposite (original partner) and lead them through the arch (2)
Heads fall back to place (2)
B2 (8) Repeat, the heads leading in to begin
Part 3
A1 (8) Arm right your current partner (4)
Change places right shoulder and move onto the next (4)
A2 (8) Arm left with the next person around the set (4)
Change places left shoulder with this person and move onto your original partner (4)
B1 (8) Sides hold hands with their partner and corner: lines of 4 straighten and fall back a double (2)
Turn single (2)
Change places with the person in front of you into a new square set (note this is improper) (4)
B2 (8) Heads hold hands with their partner and corner: lines of 4 straighten and fall back a double (2)
Turn single (2)
Change places with the person in front of you into original places next to your partner (4)

Plenty about this dance has already been written:

I'm sure I remember seeing another paper on it a couple of years back.  It's a classic and one people find interesting.  I'm primarily building on what others have already written on the subject.  They've all got good points.

This dance is also described in the Stephens manuscript, upon which Geoff Mendham and Tom Cook wrote.  As is often the case when dances appear in multiple sources, there are details which are different.  They're clearly the same underlying dance concept, but that doesn't mean that we should expect them to be describing an identical dance – we're well used to different sources giving different versions of dances.

Starting at the beginning, Playford describes Meet all, back againe, set to your owne, and to the next  ·  That againe  : .  The dance is a round, the figures we're about to do are dancing with each of the other people of the opposite sex in turn, so when it says "and the next", surely it means the next person around the circle?  Sharp interprets "the next" as your corner but that doesn't really follow to me.  This was originally I thought my main contribution but looking at Dafydd's version, he's made the same realisation.

Stephens on the other hand describes something different: circle left halfway, set and turn single, circle right back home, and set and turn single.

Next Playford says:

Armes all with your owne by the right, men all fall with your left hands into the middle, We. go round them to your places  ·  Armes againe with your owne, and We. left hands in, men goe about them towards the left to your places  : .

Compare this with Stephens:

every man take his mate by the right hand & turne her, & put in his right hand into the midst of the ring & soe all fowre men ioyning hands a cross goe halfe round that way as their faces are turned, & the woemen’s faces being contrary to the mens goe round single at the same time also till each woaman meets his man, the woemen all standing on the right side of their men ; then each man take his woeman by the left hand, & turne her & all the woemen put in their right hands into the midst of the ring & so they fowre goe round with their hands a cross whilst the fowre men goe round single on the outside of them till each man meets with his mate in the same place where he was at first.

It's been well argued that Sharp's use of a left arm turn in the second half of this is unjustified (due to flow, that the women put their left hands in, and that the men go about them to the left), although Stephens seems to describe exactly that!

Mike Barraclough has argued that going all the way around the set is too far to travel if there's a star in the middle and that it should be halfway, and indeed the Stephens manuscript does corroborate that.  However, Playford's instructions don't actually describe a star in the middle, they state that the men "fall" with their "left hands into the middle".  If they meant for the men to just stand with their left shoulders into the middle, this is the way it would have been described – Playford descriptions just don't use terms such as "shoulders" or "left hand side".  Conversely, if a left hand star was meant, then "take left hands across" is almost certainly what would have been said – I've not seen any other descriptions where "fall with their left hands" is used to mean a left hand star (or equivalently with the right).  Also this concept turns up in the Fine Companion, in the same edition – only one other dance I admit but we've not got many dances in this formation (8 in first edition, if you consider squares and rounds for eight people the same). 

Also, Playford describes arms for the turns, and Stephens describes hands – maybe the former has tighter timing than the latter?

I think there are two different variants being described here:

  • In Playford, the men stand in the middle while the women dance all the way around the outside.
  • In Stephens, the men star in the middle and everyone goes around just halfway.

Exactly how this is executed in Stephens seems most weird, and indeed if you insist on interpreting it literally then you end up with something that's not a defensible stable point of dance evolution – it's got awkwardness for the sake of it.  The Mendham/Cook solution (having started the dance improper, partners take inside hands, wheel around halfway with the men going forwards, cast away from your partner into man's right hand star in the middle while women go round the outside anticlockwise) is an admirable piece of choreography but for me too convoluted for the description (yes, Faine I Would starts improper, but it also starts with a lead away from the centre of the set rather than starting facing in, so in a sense even that starts proper).  If you assume that the men's star is actually meant to be a left hand star then you end up with something very workable: Partners turn right hands (not arms, using more time), men left hand star while women go round the outside clockwise to finish next to your partner, in good time to finish your stepping with the set square.  Then partners turn left hands, women right hand star while men go round anticlockwise and finish back where you started.

Each of these works well in its own right and is well optimised for the different amounts of time available.  I'd suggest you choose one rather than trying to come up with the "one true Newcastle", which probably never existed anyway.

Then we get to the siding.  Into line right shoulders, change places right shoulders, into line left shoulders with the next (that's how introductions work), change places left shoulders with them.  The question is how to make "change places" take sufficiently long.  Mike Barraclough goes for a Hole in the Wall solution, which he (rather unflatteringly) describes as "paunch to paunch".  Colin doesn't buy this.

Firstly, it is normal for "change places" to take 4 bars (2 doubles) – see this discussion.

Secondly, in other dances, a change places normally finishes with you in each others' places, facing back at each other.  If you're going to keep moving in the direction of travel then the move is normally described "cross over" instead.

Thirdly, it's possible that people tended to dance just one set at at time, with more space available than we have these days – (John) Playford's audience weren't dancing in crowded dance halls.

So, I think it's clear we need to take two doubles to change places. Unfortunately, if you keep going forwards, you end up with three doubles in the same direction covering very little distance: One to meet, one to pass, and another to start siding with the next person.  Spreading out more and dancing vertically more with more bouncy doubles might be sufficient to make this work.  I generally find however that dancers get confused by this and find it unsatisfying.  The Hole in the Wall technique (I'd really rather not call it "paunch to paunch") where you back away from your partner is a good solution to that, and there's some excuse in the form of a desire to finish facing back at each other (second point above), but the main justification is pragmatism of wanting to make it work for the dancers.  If it can be shown to work well without that then great.  Either way, I'd recommend ensuring that you spend two doubles dancing with the person you're changing places with, even if it's just continuing to look over your shoulder at them, so as to avoid starting the siding early.

Regarding the second figure proper, I think Sharp got it pretty much right and I've long agreed with Colin on the timing.  Mike is uneasy about arches due to clothing but again there are plenty of 1st edition Playford dances with quite explicit arches in so this isn't out of character.  The Stephens manuscript seems to describe most of the second figure of If All the World Were Paper, which is related – (current) heads lead in, lead out through the nearest side couple and cast back home.  This does give you a lot of time, and indeed If All the World Were Paper finishes with a two-hand turn to use up the music, but it's only twice as much music for all of that as to change places with your partner going round a ring, so if you can make the change places work you can definitely make this work: one double in, one double out through the side couple, then two doubles back home.

Arming is similar to siding, but note the Stephens description: Every man turne hands with his woaman, then change places with her, then turne hands with the next woaman, & change places with her all at the same time.  No mention of arms at all!  I assume he simply means to replace the arm turns with hand turns, which would work.

The final figure, and the infamous "lines", has been dealt with admirably by Colin and I don't have much to add, other than to point out that this is another example of a 4-bar change places!  

Stephens seems to describe the same figure, albeit without the turn singles: two men & two woamen hold hands & stand apart from the other fowre a cross the roome then meete all fowre & change places to the contrary side, then fall fowre hand in hand to one end & fowre to the other end of the roome & soe meete, & change places, this brings every man to his owne place as they were at first.  What do we do with the extra 2 bars?  It says to meet and change places, but in Playford at least that's standard language for just the 4-bar change places!  On the other hand, it wouldn't be unreasonable to say "meete" to indicate meet and fall back, given that that's a common thing to do.  It could be just four bars for the heads to move out to the side lines but that's deeply unsatisfying so I'm going to go for the option that feels best to dance: lines forwards (straightening as they do) and fall back.

Full instructions for the Stephens interpretation.

Finally, given the amount that's been written on this, I'm really looking forward to the next person who points out something I've missed too.  It would be pure hubris to expect that I've written the last word on the subject!