American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 3
October, 2005

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 AMN Article  

Some Hitherto Lost Pages of Duns Tew
from the Journal of Cecil Sharp

Cecil Sharp, recently re-discovered by Tony Forster


Introduction, being the first part. 

The first week of August 1986 being inclement, I was forced to seek shelter in the pleasant coastal town of Sidmouth and to abandon, temporarily, my exploration of the by-ways of Devon.

During my enforced sojourn, I had the great good fortune to meet a team of dancers from the North Oxfordshire village of Duns Tew whose traditional dances had hitherto been unknown to me. They too were enjoying their annual break from labour by the coast, but could not refrain from dancing. The Squire, or leader of the team, a Mr. Timothy Radford, was taking practices when I met them in the club room of the Balfour Arms, a hostelry in North Sidmouth; the room was more normally used as the meeting place of the Royal Andedeluviun Order of the Buffaloes Lodge No. 6349, Ye Goodwin Lodge. (The matter of the connection between the R.A.O.B. and the Morris has occurred before: I believe the Abingdon dancers had such a link. Perhaps another researcher would like to examine this further?)

The dancers numbered about 20-25; I was astonished to discover that the dances of the village were traditionally performed by men and women dancing in the same set. It is clear that this discovery must cause a re-evaluation of comments I have made in earlier publications: as I have now discovered a traditional Oxfordshire dance side in which both men and women perform, I must retract my previous statements that the Morris is a man's dance. I hope that those who follow me in their preservation of the Morris will note this important new discovery.

The dancers were kind enough to show me five of their dances, plus a jig and a processional; they assured me that they would remember others later. They danced to the melodeon of their musician, a Mr. Alan Whear. 

The Duns Tew Tradition.

COSTUME - The Duns Tew dancers wore white shirts and ordinary white trousers, danced bare-headed, and wore a three inch red sash from the right shoulder to the left hip. Bell pads were worn on the legs - these seemed to me to be of a very motley design.

Their handkerchiefs, of full (17 inch) size, were carried with the two diagonal corners knotted together, and slung across the middle finger.


THE DANCES so far remembered, number five: all are handkerchief dances; in addition, a processional and jig were noted.

STYLE - active and vigorous. Most movements involved a 'surge' on the first step of the movement, and a turn on the second; it is necessary to move briskly to achieve this. The music must not be too fast, or the finer points will be lost.

The tradition is invariably danced with a right foot lead, and dancers always pass right shoulders and turn right when a choice presents itself.

The set must not become small or constricted: space in the dance is an important identifying feature of the tradition. As one of the dancers kindly explained, "We have to keep space in the set, because there is space between 'Duns' and 'Tew'."

THE STEPS comprise 4 step, 2 step, side step, plain capers, double capers and upright capers.
The 'double step' (d.s.) is danced with emphasis on the first beat. Arm movements are as follows: starting from about shoulder level (one older dancer told me that in the early days of the tradition, the handkerchiefs went back over the shoulder at the end of each step, ready for the next; this feature had completely disappeared when I saw the team dance), the hand travel down on the first beat of the bar, remaining the width of the body apart, and at the end of their descent, there is a small outward flick, away from the centre of the body, involving primarily the wrist. Arms remain bent as they travel down, elbows moving backwards, and do not straighten until the end of the movement. The hands then travel up for the next step. The emphasis is very much on the downward movement of the hands, as the body surges forward.

The 'back step' (b.s.) is a single-step danced backwards, but with a loose leg swing - a roll in the step. The swinging leg moves forward and out in a small circle from the knee, to land behind the other foot. Arms in this movement are held in a high balance position, with elbows bent at right angles: the upper-arm is at 45 degrees to the body, the hands at shoulder level and in a straight line with the shoulders.

The 'side-step' (s.s.) is a closed side-step, performed facing forward, with no twist in the body. The arm movement is notable: the leading arm (i.e. right arm if the right foot is being used) is raised with the upper arm out from the body, at an angle of about 30 degrees above the horizontal, elbow bent so that the hand is on the shoulder. On the first beat of the side step, the arm is straightened, so that the handkerchief flies out, in a brisk, punching movement. The free arm and hand are held loosely down the side of the body.

The 'plain caper' (P.C.) is as in other traditions (e.g. Adderbury) with the arms executing low circles at the side of the body.

The 'double caper' (D.C.) is similar to the Bucknell step of this name: R,R, with the free leg kicking back and forth from the knee. The hands are held in the same high balance position used for the back-step.

The 'upright caper (U.C.) is as follows: a step walking forward (right lead, of course) with no hop, a step on the other foot: the hands the while are moving in small circles at waist level by the side of the body. A third step leads into the jump: high, with legs together, to land feet together. Hands in this movement go up together and trace a wide show: up to the high point above the head, over and down to arms-wide, horizontal position: the arms must be kept straight during this movement.

THE FIGURES witnessed were foot up (FU), face-to-face (FtF), front-to-back (FtB), back-to-front (BtF), rounds (Rds) and Hey (used only in the chorus-whole hey as a figure is unknown in this tradition) (HH).

Once to yourself (OY) is a feet together jump (f.t.j.), hands raised high and together above the head. Dancers face up.

Foot Up (FU) is two d.s., three b.s. and f.t.j. repeated the second half in the same direction. Dancers continue to face up until the end of the figure.

Face-to-Face (FtF) follows the same sequence of steps as FU. One the first d.s.s, there is a surge forward passing fright shoulders; on the second, a right turn so partners face, keeping a fair space between them. They back out to place on three b.s. and f.t.j. The second half is a repetition, again passing and turning right.

Front-to-Back (FtB) is started by 1 & 2 facing down, all others facing across. Using the same stepping sequence as in FU, they head down the set, passing right shoulders with Nos. 3 & 4, moving round behind them, continuing to face down, and returning with their left shoulder closest to the other dancer. This is repeated with Nos. 3 & 4 joining them, dancing round Nos. 5 & 6; 1 & 2 follow exactly the same track as the first time. Nos. 5 & 6 stand and face across. 

Back-to-Front (BtF) is the same movement as FtB, but this time initiated by Nos. 5 & 6; 3 & 4 join on the 2nd half; 1 & 2 stand and face across. 

Rounds Dancers turn the easy way in and dance round clock-wise two places in the set, using the FU stepping sequence. On the second d.s., they turn right, and back into place. This is repeated in the second half, dancers turning right again. 

Hey 1 & 2 face down, 3,4,5,& 6 face up. 1 & 2 dance straight down the set (a stepping sequence as FU - surge on 1st step), 5 & 6 dance up. 1 & 5, 2 & 6 pass right shoulders, turn right to face on the second d.s., and back into place. This is repeated in the 2nd half. 3 & 4 head outside the set, up first time, down second, at an angle of about 30 degrees to the track of the others. One d.s.s takes them level with the starting position of 1 & 2; they then turn out on the second d.s., surge in towards the centre of the set, facing in, to form a circle with the other dancers, and back out to place.

The Dances Themselves.

1. THE SWAN (Tune: Lumps of Plum Pudding )
Sequence: OY, FU, DF, FtF, DF, FtB, DF, BtF, DF, Rds., DF.
DF: All dancers face across, and dance four s.s. (right first) on the spot: do not travel far; followed by H.H. Repeat. Finish on b.s., turning on the third, and f.t.j. 

2. OLD GORDON (Tune: Old Woman Tossed Up)
Sequence: As ' The Swan'
DF: All dancers face across, and dance to partner's place across the set with 4 s.s. Dancers turn right to face in on the fourthe s.s. JJ is on the wrong side of the set. Dancers return to place on the second half. 

3. SEASIDE SHUFFLE (Tune: Constant Billy) (Corner Dance)
This dance is believed to commemorate a visit made by the team to the coast in 1832.
Sequence: OY, FU, Df (i), Ftf, DF (ii), FtB, DF (iii), BtF, DF (iv), Rds.

DF(i): 1 & 6 face and do 4 s.s. (r. first) approaching one another slightly. They pass right shoulders on 1 d.s., turn (r) to face on 2nd d.s., back in to place. 2 & 5 come in on f.t.j. and repeat sequence; 3 & 4 come in on f.t.j. and repeat, but do not approach on s.s.

DF (ii): 1 & 6 repeat s.s. sequence as above, followed by 4 P.C., passing right shoulders and turning to face on fourth, b.s. and f.t.j. to place. Others repeat as in DF (i).

DF (iii): 1 & 6 repeat s.s. sequence as above, followed by 4 D.C., passing right shoulders and turning on 4th to face; b.s. and f.t.j. to place. Others repeat as DF (i). (NB: music must by augmented to fit.)

DF (iv): 1 & 6 repeat s.s. sequence as above, followed by 2 U.C., passing right shoulders on first and turning to face on f.t.j. of 2nd; b.s. and f.t.j. to place. Others repeat as DF (i). (NB: augmented music)

The dance finishes on rounds, with a jump into the centre of the set on f.t.j. NB. Due to the set's inversion at this point in the dance, the BtF figure appears to be identical with FtB. It is, however, being initiated by numbers 5 & 6.

4. MRS. CASEY (Tune: Mrs. Casey)
Sequence: OY, FU, Df(i), Ftf, DF(ii), FtB, DF(iii), BtF, DF(iv), Rds.

DF(i): All face up. 1 & 2 only, s.s.r. and s.s.l. on the spot, 3 &4 s.s.r. and s.s.l. 5 & 6 s.s.r. and s.s.l.
All. s.s.r. and s.s.l., followed by HH.  2nd Half. - all face down and repeat the sequence as in 1st Half.

DF(ii): All face up. 1 & 2 only dance, 4 P.C. Others, repeat as in DF(i) and HH. They repeat, facing down.

DF(iii): All face up. 1 & 2 only dance, 4 D.C. (augmented music). Others repeat as in DF (i) and HH.
Dancers repeat facing down.

DF(iv): All face up. 1 & 2 only 2 UC; others repeat as in DF(i) and HH. This is repeated facing down (Augmented music). The dance finishes on Rds., f.t.j., all in. 

5. OLD NUMBER FIVE (Tune: Rose Tree) (Hand Clap Dance)
Sequence: OY, FU, DF(i), FtF, DF (ii), FtB, DF(iii), BtF, DF(iv), Rds.

DF(i) face across. All dance s.s.r. and s.s.l. (on spot). Clap own hands in front twice; clap right hand to partner's right hand. Clap in front twice; own left to partner's left. Dance s.s.r. and s.s.l. Clap in front, under right leg (kicked up), in front, under left leg (kicked up), in front, behind, in front, and a two-handed clap to your partner.

No handkerchiefs are used in this dance.

DF(ii) Same movements as in DF(i), but 1 & 2 face down and execute the movement with 3 & 4; 5 & 6 perform the sequence across, as in DF(i). 

DF(iii) As in DF(i), but 5 & 6 face up and execute the movement with 3 & 4; 1 & 2 perform the sequence across as in DF(i).

DF(iv) As DF(i).

Finish on rounds; jump in, all f.t.j.

6. LADIES PLEASURE [solo jig]: (Tune: Ladies Pleasure)
Sequence: OY, FU(i), DF(i), FU(ii), DF(ii), FY(iii), DF(iii)

FU(i) is done facing up; FU(ii) at right angles (the jig was witnessed twice; on the first occasion FU(ii) was danced by turning 90 degrees left of FU(i); on the second, 90 degrees right. L suggest 90 degrees right is more in accordance with the right shoulder rule.) FU(iii) is done at other right angle.

DF(i): 4 s.s., starting right, and 4 P.C., and 3 b.s., f.t.j.

DF(ii): 4 s.s., 4 D.C., 3 b.s., f.t.j.

DF(iii): 4 s.s., 2 U.C., 3 b.s., f.t.j.

Music Sequence: "A, B, A, B+, A, B+. (B+ is augmented B: bars 5 & 6 are slowed)"

7. PROCESSIONAL: (Tune: La Morrisque, Playford)

The form in which this was witnessed is believed to be a degenerate form. The processional witnessed consisted simply of walking in two columns, in time to the music, right foot lead. On the A music, hands executed the hand movements of 4 s.s.; on the B music, hands were held in the 'high balance' position used in b.s. and DC.

It is clear this was originally danced, using 4 s.s. on the A music, and 4 DC on the B music. On long processions, dancing and walking could alternate, with hands moving as above throughout.

 AMN, Vol. 25, No. 3, October 2005  ISSN: 1074-2689