John Playford published a new book called
The English Dancing Master
in London in 1651. This volume contained the figures and the tunes for
105 English country dances, the first printing of these group social dances
that were to dominate Western ballrooms for the next 150 years. The book
appeared at a time of great upheaval in England. Civil disorder and natural
disasters forced city residents to seek refuge on remote country estates;
expanding trade and emigrations to distant lands carried Englishmen far
from their homeland. Both phenomena affected the social life of the upper
classes for whom these dances were a satisfying vehicle for leisure time
Playford’s slim volume sold quickly and he issued a second edition with nine additional dances the next year. Two editions of a third appeared in 1657 and 1665. He dropped the term “English” in the second edition and thereafter the books were simply called The Dancing Master. The books evidently filled a real need in Englishmen's lives and copies were very likely carried or shipped to country homes and colonial outposts as soon as they appeared in Playford’s shop.
The series eventually grew to eighteen editions of the first volume (1651–1728), four of a second (1710–1728), and two of a third (1719?–1726?) and long out-lived its originator. The three volumes eventually encompassed 1,053 unique dances and their music. Many were copied from one edition to the next so that the entire contents, with duplicates, amounts to 6,217 dances, including 186 tunes without dances and 3 songs (Dunmore Kate, Mr. Lane's Magot, and The Quakers Dance).
For this publication every dance was reduced to a code enabling comparison with similar dances. The unique or “Ur” dances were identified and collected into a database where each dance’s printing history and other information is summarized and a facsimile of the dance and its music is included. The Index presents every item by title with links to the Ur Dance Index. The Title/Link takes the reader to a bibliography of the sources. Searches can be made on all text entries as well as on the dance coding to find instances of specific dance figures in juxtaposition with others.
I am grateful to the English Folk Dance and Song Society, the University of Glasgow, the British Library, the Library of Congress, the University of New Hampshire and the Country Dance and Song Society for permission to include images from editions of The Dancing Master in their collections. I am also particularly grateful to the University of New Hampshire and William Ross, Head, Milne Special Collections and Archives, for hosting this database on the University's servers for Internet access.
Robert M. Keller
Copyright © 2000 Country Dance and Song Society, Inc.