Parson's Farewell

Submitted by Andrew Swaine on Fri, 2017-09-08, 09:11
Historical sources
Set formation
Part 1
A1 (4) Lead your partner in to meet the other couple with a double (2)
4 slips left (2)
A2 (4) Fall back a double (2)
4 slips right (2)
B1 (8) Men leap (1)
Women leap (1)
All leap four times (2)
Two hand turn your contrary (4)
B2 (8) Women leap (1)
Men leap (1)
All leap four times (2)
Two hand turn your contrary (4)
Part 2
A1 (4) Lead your partner in to meet the other couple with a double (2)
Lead your contrary away from your partner with a double (2)
A2 (4) Lead your contrary back to meet your partner with a double (2)
Fall back a double with your partner (2)
B1 (8) Men shake right hands, then left as well (2)
[Dancing] Men pass with the left hands, right hand turn your contrary, pass left hands (giving hands if you wish), and right hand turn your partner back to place (6)
B2 (8) Women shake left hands, then right (2)
Women pass right hands, left hand turn your contrary, pass right hands, and left hand turn your partner back to place (6)
Part 3
A1 (4) Holding both hands with your partner, 4 slips to meet the other couple (2)
Holding both hands with your contrary, 4 slips away from your partner (2)
A2 (4) 4 slips back to meet your partner (2)
Holding both hands with your partner, 4 slips back to places (2)
B1 (8) [Dancing] Right hand turn your partner
Men pass left shoulders to start half a hey to the other side of the set
Right hand turn your partner into the opposite place (2)
B2 (8) Left hand turn your partner
Women pass right shoulders to start half a hey back to the starting of the set
Left hand turn your partner into place (2)

This dance has been the subject of much misinterpretation, especially by Cecil Sharp!

Decoding the Playford version is assisted by looking at the Sloane description.

The figure of the first part is where the trouble begins.  Playford says men rise.  Sharp interpreted this as standing with feet parallel and close together, they rise on the toes of both feet, and then lower the heels to the ground.  I've always felt that the music tells me to jump in the air at that point and indeed when I learnt this at the Round, that's exactly what we did.  It's also notable that if you're dancing on the balls of your feet then to rise any further is to leave the ground.  The Sloane manuscript, which Sharp didn't have access to, says men leap!  So that would appear to be confirmation that being bouncy here is justified.

Playford clearly says to turn your opposite after both sets of leaping.  Sloane says then Men fall in Turne about on onother, and then their owne Women; i.e. men turn each other and then their partner.  Sloane doesn’t describe the repeat with the women jumping but the other figures repeat with the women leading and in the context of a somewhat terse manuscript it’s not a great leap of faith to imaging that the reprise is simply assumed.

Peter Barnard has pointed out to me that this jumping pattern is eerily reminiscent of the Pease Bransle, described in Arbeau's Orchesography.  I have no idea if this is a complete coincidence or not.

The second figure is more difficult.  Playford states Men meet, crosse right hands, then left passe over. turne each others Wo. with your right hand, crosse to your place againe, and turne your owne.  Sloane describes the second figure as The Men goe in, take first the right hand, then the left, and both held turne about and turne their Owne.  This is a move reminiscent of Jamaica, where the right hand is taken on bar one, and the left hand taken as well on bar two, which fits perfectly to the music.  Playford describes a turn with your opposite and your partner whereas Sloane just describes one with your partner, but otherwise it’s pretty similar.

How do the men meet / go in?  Is it a separate move, or is it done as part of taking right and left hands?  I’ve tried it, and taking a double to meet before taking hands is quite unsatisfying, moves the hand taking away from the part of the music that best fits it, and leaves very little time for the remainder of the figure.  I toyed with setting during the taking of hands but that’s an unnecessary indulgence; it fits the music and the dance simply to finish the introduction close enough to take hands standing, much as occurs in Jamaica.

So after taking both hands, Sloane has a turn and then coming back to your partner; Playford has the men "passe over", i.e. pass to the other side, so these are different.  Note the inconsistent punctuation by modern standards (you can't really rely on the punctuation to tell you much) – I'm breaking it down into Men meet, crosse right hands, then left [/] passe over. turne each others Wo. with your right hand, [/] cross to your place again, and turne your owne.  So after taking hands, Playford has the men pass left shoulders, turn the other woman by the right, men pass (left shoulders) home and turn your own – this last turn I'd also do with the right hand for symmetry, and this seems to flow better than a two-hand turn, both because it avoids the need to do a wrong-way two-hand turn in the reprise for the women (which feels awkward to us, although there was precedent for this – see Feuillet), and also leaves the women with their left hand free for the start of the reprise coming up.

I find this figure works better if the women start moving early, just as they would for a hey for four, lining up w behind their partners as they're shaking hands in the middle.  The men can even start to "pass" during the handshake part if they want to get some extra time, and those who can't cover as much ground can omit the final partner turn without too much difficulty.

We then repeat the figure the other way around with the women giving left hand and then right to start (We. as much with the Co. hands). 

The third figure is described by Playford as: Turne your own with your right hands, men crosse, and go all the S. Hey to the Co. side and turne your owne..  Sloane says: The man turnes his Woman, about and walks the hay his Woman following him: to the other side:.

Sharp followed his usual rule for single heys starting in couple-facing-couple formation, and turned it into a circular hey.  This resulted in one of the most challenging sequences of moves in any reconstructed Playford dance, which requires a lot of ground to be covered – it has a fear-inducing reputation amongst dancers who know it, and while it's really satisfying once you get it, it really is too complex and require too much ground to be covered with reliance upon grippy shoes to be plausible.  The Playford and Sloane instructions together are in fact very clear on what's happening here: the couples do a right hand turn, and then the men pass (left shoulders) into a hey across the set to the other side of the set.  Contra dancers will recognise the (independently invented) allemande right into a hey for four as a common and satisfying move!  Conversely, the Sharp interpretation leaves you with your partner a quarter of the way around the set, not both on the other side.

Having got to the other side, Playford has you give a further right hand turn to your partner, while Slone omits that turn.  I enjoy doing that turn and if the figure is danced then there's plenty of time for it, but if the hey is "walked" (as Sloane seems to imply, after having condoned leaping earlier!) then there's less time and it can be omitted. As in the previous figure, if the turn is included, it’s not clear whether to use one or two hands here, but symmetry leads towards a single hand turn in the same direction as before the hey.

Put together, there's some nice symmetry in this dance, and it fits the brief hinted at by the title.  In the first figure there's a greeting; in the second the men and then the women do farewells, dancing the path of a hey one by one while their partners stay at home and dancing with their contraries; then in the third figure they stay with their partner and dance the full hey.

One final consideration is that it's not impossible that heys were danced with hands, and that in the third figure the final "turne your owne" is simply the final giving of a hand for effectively a quarter turn into place.  That would certainly make for far less ground to cover.  However, in the second figure, it doesn't work out in quite the same way, as the final turn is a three-quarter turn.  So I'm not convinced about that – it breaks the symmetry of the second and third figures, and if they can manage the timing of the second figure then they can manage the third figure too.