Sprightly Steps Presented by Adam Boyce

Sprightly Steps
Presented by Adam Boyce
May 13, 2010
Martin Memorial Hall
Hosted by the Weathersfield Proctor Library

Adam Boyce, a fiddler and Eastern Square Dance Caller, journeyed to Ascutney VT Thursday evening May 13 to talk to the town folk about the history of country style dance. Boyce explained to the crowd that dancing was brought to America by the Pilgrims (who were not the same as Puritans, hence the dancing).

As more immigrants crossed the sea, various styles of “peasant” dance were incorporated into the styles of New England dancing. The Irish brought the jig. “Not many people know how to dance the jig but many fiddlers know how to play a jig”, said Boyce. Most dancing back in the 17th and early 18th centuries was performed by the peasants; dancing was an easy affordable form of entertainment for folks with little or no money.

Soon Dance Masters started to “teach” dancing and many dance schools open across the United States. A Dance master would arrive in town, instruct for a week at a local hotel or meeting hall and finish the week off with a “ball” to show off what the students had learned.

Boyce took the attendees through the evolution of the early New England dancing, covering the origins of the Irish “Jig’ as mentioned above, the Scottish “Reel”, the “Horn Pipe” which was made popular by the sailors who blew on a cow horn and tapped a little bell attached to the horn and the “Quadrill”, a French country dance that evolved into the square dance, almost like a “drill-type” of dancing. After each explanation, Boyce would demonstrate the music type on his fiddle.

Dancing spread as the people moved out of New England; ladies had their dance cards to be filled with the dances performed that evening and with the names of their partners. Promoters would call the changes, to keep the dance moving; the floor managers oversaw the dancers, ballroom etiquette was very strict at the time. Distance from your partner was enforced by the floor manager.

Dances would begin in the early evening and go until midnight when the crowd would break for supper, usually a lavish spread of food, then continue on until folks needed to get to their daily chores. Dances could last 16 hours or more!

Boyce explained the two types of Square Dancing-Western and Eastern. “Western Square” dancing is of a standard form, you can dance it any where in the world as the calls are the same, the class levels are the same and they are all called in English” said Boyce. “Eastern Square” Dance on the other hand is regional and can vary from town to town.

While “Country” dancing continued in the rural areas of the US, the cities began to see an emergence of the Big Band and Jazz sound and soon to follow Rock and Roll took hold. Country style dance began to die out as did the Friday night dance hall.

There are still a few places that host the Friday night dance parties in places like West Newbury VT and Wentworth NH but they are becoming scarce as the musicians and callers are getting older.

Boyce is a Vermont Humanities speaker and welcomes questions about Fiddling and Square Dancing; he can be reach at adamboyce@juno.com.

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