In This Issue


In This Issue


In This Issue

About CD+S Online

As part of the CDSS Centennial, this peer-reviewed journal, which appeared in print from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, returned as CD+S Online in April 2016. In its rebooted form, CD+S Online is a publication that offers an opportunity for those who love and think seriously about our arts to present their research in an entertaining and scholarly way for readers around the world interested in traditional dance, music, and song rooted in England and North America. Articles in CD+S Online are longer and more detailed than those found in its sister publication, CDSS News, and represent an exploration of the past, a celebration of the present, speculations as to the future, and a means for future generations to mark the status and development of our shared art form at any given point in time. 

Call for Proposals

Proposals for articles are accepted at any time. Send your proposal (350-word; i.e., one page) to journal@cdss.org. (Please read the Submissions and Style guidelines before submitting a proposal.)

Allison Thompson
General Editor, CD+S Online

CD+S Online Review Board

  • Allison Thompson, General Editor
  • Jenny Beer, Ph.D.
  • Jeremy Carter-Gordon
  • Graham Christian, Ph.D.
  • Stephen Corrsin, Ph.D.
  • Robert Dalsemer
  • Susan De Guardiola
  • Tim Eriksen, Ph.D.
  • Colin Hume
  • Robert Isaacs
  • Jesse Karlsberg, Ph.D.
  • David Millstone
  • Suzanne Mrozak
  • Richard Powers
  • John Ramsay
  • Jocelyn Reynolds
  • John Roberts
  • Gary Roodman, Ph.D.
  • Derek Schofield
  • Christopher Smith, Ph.D.
  • Stephanie Smith, Ph.D.
  • Daniel Walkowitz, Ph.D.
  • Alan Winston

Latest Issue

  • CD+S Online Volume 3 coverCD+S Volume 3, April 2022

    With the 2022 issue of Country Dance + Song Online, we are excited to present three articles on very different topics, two of them by contributors new to the journal. We will time-travel to three centuries of Anglo-American dance—all different, but all evolutionarily connected.


    • “The Grand March” by Alan Duffy
    • “Couple Dances, Douglas Kennedy’s English Folk Dance Society, and The British Old Time Dance Revival” by Dr. Chloe Middleton-Metcalfe
    • “A Traditional Square Dance in Upstate South Carolina, 2007-2011” by Bob Dalsemer

    Download PDF View as a Flipbook

Past Issues

Latest Issue

Past Issues

Looking for older issues?

Find them in our Online Library:

All material in the CDSS News is copyrighted by CDSS, the individual author or the original publication and may not be reproduced—other than for personal use—without permission. Views expressed represent those of the authors and not necessarily of CDSS.

Jump to: DatabasesBooksMagazinesDances and Other Resources


  • A treasure chest filled with gold Dancing Across the Pond

    Dancing Across the Pond by Robert M. Keller, Margaret Keller Dimock and Anne Keller Geraci: 362 Original Country Dance Figures, 191 with Music, ms or Printed

  • A treasure chest filled with gold Peter Rogers Country Dance Index
  • The Barnes Book of English Country Dance Tunes Volume Three Database Barnes Three Dance Database

    Barnes Three Dance Database: A database of the tunes and associated dances in Volume Three of the Barnes Book of English Country Dance Tunes, with links to dance instruction and further information about many of the dances.

  • A treasure chest filled with gold The Performing Arts in Colonial American Newspapers, 1690-1783

    The Colonial Music Institute (compiled by Mary Jane Corry, Kate Van Winkle Keller, and Robert M. Keller): The Performing Arts in Colonial American Newspapers, 1690-1783 — This publication fills a major gap in access to eighteenth-century American sources for research in the performing arts and related humanities fields. It includes all references to music, poetry (lyrics), dance, and theater found by our readers in American newspapers, from the earliest extant copy (1690) through the end of the Revolutionary War (1783).

  • A treasure chest filled with gold Early American Secular Music and Its 
European Sources, 1589–1839

    The Colonial Music Institute (compiled by Robert M. Keller, Raoul F. Camus, Kate Van Winkle Keller, and Susan Cifaldi): Early American Secular Music and Its 
European Sources, 1589–1839: An Index — This is a series of indexes derived from a data base of musical information compiled from primary sources covering the 250 years of the initial exploration and settlement of the United States. It consists of over 75,000 entries that are sorted by text (titles, first lines, recitatives, chorus and burden), by music incipits (represented in scale degrees, stressed notes and interval sequences), with additional indexes of names and theater works.

  • A treasure chest filled with gold Dance Figures Index: American Country Dances, 1710-1830

    The Colonial Music Institute (compiled by Robert Keller): Dance Figures Index: American Country Dances, 1710-1830 — A guide to the basic figures in all American printed and manuscript longways country dances in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century sources. It is drawn from a computer database of information which was gathered from 82 sources, 53 printed and 29 in manuscript.

  • A treasure chest filled with gold Early American Songsters, 1734-1820

    The Colonial Music Institute (compiled by Robert Keller): Early American Songsters, 1734-1820: An Index —An index of all of the known songsters currently available. The index draws heavily from Irving Lowens’ Bibliography of Songster Printed in America Before 1821 (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1976), for titles and other bibliographical information. Lowens defines a songster “as a collection of three or more secular poems intended to be sung.” Most of the songsters do not include music, although many contain references to the names of tunes to which the song could be sung. This publication comprises those songs published through 1800.

  • A treasure chest filled with gold Dance Figures Index: English Country Dances, 1650-1833

    The Colonial Music Institute (compiled by Robert Keller): Dance Figures Index: English Country Dances, 1650-1833 — A guide to the basic figures in major English printed longways country dances in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century sources. This database only includes sources for dances with instruction for country dances, or dances that could be identified as such. It does not include other dance forms, such as Cotillions or Allemand or similar dances.

  • Cover of The English Dancing Master The Dancing Master, 1651-1728: An Illustrated Compendium

    Robert M. Keller: The Dancing Master, 1651-1728: An Illustrated Compendium (online database)—The Compendium is a searchable database of all known country dances published in the various editions of The Dancing Master, published by John Playford, Henry Playford and John Young, from 1651-1728 in London, with facsimiles of each “unique” dance with its music. This reference work is published by CDSS with the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the New Hampshire Library for Traditional Dance and Music at the University of New Hampshire.


  • A blur of contra dancers, with band in the background Mary Dart: Contra Dance Choreography

    Mary Dart: Contra Dance Choreography: A Reflection of Social Change—Originally published by Garland Publishing, Inc., New York & London, 1995. Mary Dart’s classic study explores “the way the choreography of the contra dance, a folk dance tradition brought to us from the British Isles, has been changing, particularly over the last twenty years.” The book, based on interviews with callers, dance composers and musicians, looks at new dances, how they are composed, and what aesthetic and cultural principles underlie the choreographic choices made. 

  • Map of West Virginia Robert G. Dalsemer: West Virginia Square Dances

    Robert G. Dalsemer: West Virginia Square Dances—Originally published by Country Dance and Song Society, 1982. Dalsemer describes dance figures as done in five rural West Virginia communities in the mid- to late-1970s and reports on their regular dance events, including programming, type of audience, price and method of admission, and the traditions of figure calling and musical performance. The history of each dance event is discussed, as is their on-going process of evolution. With appendices: a list of tunes commonly played for square dances; transcriptions of calls; and tunes for caller Worley Gardner’s singing and semi-singing calls.

  • A stack of books Ted Sannella: Annotated Discography and Bibliography from Swing the Next

    Ted Sannella: Annotated Discography and Bibliography from Ted Sannella’s Swing the Next — The annotations and introduction for the Discography and Bibliography in Swing the Next (CDSS, 1996) are included here in their entirety. Swing the Next is a collection of 80 American square, contra, triplet and circle dances, the majority of them written by Ted Sannella, a master of the art of calling American traditional dances.

  • Roy Dommett playing the accordion Roy Dommett’s Morris Notes

    Roy Dommett’s Morris Notes Online Edition — the foundational resource, long out of print, available online.

  • Kentucky Mountain Square Dancing cover Patrick Napier: Kentucky Mountain Square Dancing
  • GEMS: The Best of the Country Dance and Song Society's Diamond Anniversary Music, Dance and Song Contest GEMS: The Best of CDSS’s Diamond Anniversary Music, Dance and Song Contest


Dances and Other Resources

  • CDSS News Magazine

    The CDSS News is a twice-yearly magazine featuring articles, letters, and art about dance and song.

  • CD+S Online Volume 3 cover CD+S Online

    CD+S Online is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal published every couple of years and features more in-depth articles than the News.

  • Cover of Playford's The Dancing Master Online Library

    The CDSS Online Library contains free digital copies of previously out-of-print dance books and databases, including Roy Dommett’s Morris Notes, Ken Sheffield’s “From Two Barns” collection, and various indexes from the Colonial Music Institute.

  • Dimond Library reading room at the University of New Hampshire Archive & Collections

    The CDSS Archive & Collections are housed in the Milne Special Collections & Archives at the University of New Hampshire. The CDSS Library is a collection of nearly 3,000 books, 400 periodicals, pamphlets and sheet music, and close to 2000 recordings. The CDSS Archives is a collection of manuscripts, personal papers, microfiche recordings, and archival materials from CDSS history.

  • Map and graphs from community surveys Community Studies

    CDSS Community Studies are recent surveys conducted by us, including CDSS Affiliate Surveys from 2019-2021, the 2018 US Organizer Survey, and the 2017 Canadian Organizer Survey.

  • Elementary school kids holding hands in a dance Lesson Plans

    The CDSS Educators Task Group presents Lesson Plans to introduce students to a variety of topics in traditional music and dance.

Younger dancers with arms around each other2023 Generational Transition Survey

In 2023, we conducted a survey of people aged 18-44 in folk communities in order to better understand why this demographic is underrepresented in CDSS membership and learn more about how to support them in the future.

This knowledge will serve as one of a number of inputs for us to consider in providing resources and programs that address the needs of this age demographic, and it will help us support individuals and communities trying to engage younger participants and leaders.

Annual Affiliate Surveys

2021 Affiliate Survey Report

In 2021, we conducted our third annual Affiliate survey. This year, we also asked about how groups have been doing through the pandemic, what kind of data they collect from their attendees, any cultural equity work they’ve taken on, and more. 63% of Affiliates responded—the most since the survey began in 2019.

Click here to read the full 2021 report.

2020 Affiliate Survey Report

In 2020, we conducted another Affiliate survey to learn even more about the work that Affiliates are doing and how we can best support them. We were thrilled that 62% of Affiliates responded – an incredible response rate! We learned much and have been using the survey findings to direct our decisions and actions.

Click here to read the full 2020 report.

2019 Affiliate Survey Report

In 2019, CDSS conducted its first survey of Affiliates in over a decade. Our goal was to develop a strong base knowledge of our Affiliate community so that we could better support our network of organizations throughout North America and beyond.

In particular, we wanted to learn:

  • More about our Affiliates and the work they are doing.
  • What Affiliates like about the services we provide and how we can improve.
  • What value Affiliates see in traditional participatory arts and what advocacy work can be done to support our shared traditions.

Click here to read the full 2019 report.

Organizer Surveys

2018 Canadian Organizer Survey

To serve our mission of encouraging thriving local communities throughout the continent of North America, CDSS undertook a study to learn how to best support local traditional music, dance, and song organizers in Canada. The study focused on local organizers, as they are essential to fostering the communities of dance, music, and song traditions that we collectively value.

Whether it be Newfoundland traditional song, Métis step dance, or northern fiddle traditions – every folk tradition is culturally significant. They reflect the shared values and heritage and help to define a sense of identity and belonging. Shared among all of these traditions is the impact they have on individuals, the wider community, and society. Often, there is commonality between organizers of different traditions. For instance, organizers of a Cape Breton traditional square dance, contra dance in British Columbia, or a veillée de danse Québécoise often do similar work, share similar challenges, and could benefit from similar supports. Thus, by sharing across traditions, we create more vibrant and resilient communities for all. CDSS hopes that this study is not only helpful for our work and for local organizers but that it is also useful to other umbrella arts organizations. We plan to take action on common interests that have arisen through the study and we will look at ways to address particular interests where we can, often in partnership with others.

The report has two sections. The first ten pages contains the main report while the following 40 pages present the findings of each survey question for those who want to delve deeper into the findings. The report describes who is organizing what throughout Canada. It also goes into depth regarding the strengths and successes of various groups, the challenges that organizers face, and the supports organizers currently need. One particular survey question (question 34 in the appendices) is particularly inspiring as it highlights organizers’ impressions of how TDMS positively impacts individuals, communities, and the wider society.

Click here for the full survey report in English

Cliquez ici pour le rapport d’enquête complet en français

2018 US Organizer Survey

Following closely upon the release of the Canadian study, we conducted a follow-up survey of organizers in the US. The primary purpose of the second survey was to learn about the current challenges and needs of local organizers who are CDSS members (group affiliate or individual/family). A subset of the Canadian survey questions was used for the US survey to determine whether the Canadian findings resonated with US organizers, and where there might variation.

While there were a few differences, the similarities were dramatic. For instance, as with the Canadian organizers, US organizers are currently most concerned with issues around attendance.

Both studies included questions about the types of supports organizers would find most helpful. We are now taking action on a number of these findings in order to strengthen our support of local organizers as we believe local organizers are truly essential to fostering the communities of dance, music, and song traditions that we collectively value.

Click here for the full survey report

Also, check out this article in the Fall 2019 CDSS News.

by Mark Matthews

Mark Matthews writes and calls for dances in western Montana. This paper was gleaned from his book Cakewalking out of Slavery: A Study of Racism through Music and Dance, 1619-1910). It is part of the four-volume series called “Swinging through American History.” Other volumes include: Square Your Sets: The Birth of American Social Dance, (1651-1935); Promenading toward Democracy: The Great Square Dance Revival, (1935-2010); and Jitterbugging across the Colorline: Desegregating the Dance Floor, (1910-1980). For more information about these books, contact Mark.

For both black and white Americans, the dance known as the cakewalk—which reached a zenith in popularity from the 1870s to the turn-of-the-century—served as a cultural bridge from plantation/frontier society to the modern industrial age. It was the first African-American dance to achieve national exposure and to saturate white culture both onstage and in the parlor. The dance marked the commencement of the transformation of slave art into modern black American culture. It also paved the way for the acceptance of African-American dance and music in the United States—as well as around the world. The cakewalk was the first step, so to speak, that ultimately led to African traditions dominating American pop culture—which in turn helped to racially integrate this country.

By the 1890s, the manner in which people lived in both Europe and North America was radically changing and so was popular culture. “A society which was more and more ceasing to be society in the old sense could not be fed on stale, warmed-over delicacies from the princely kitchen,” observed Curt Sachs in 1937. Whites on the two continents were switching from merely admiring black dance, Sachs said, to adopting “with disquieting rapidity” (as he put it) a succession of slave dances. [Sachs, Curt. World History of the Dance. New York: W.W. Norton (1937), 444-5.]

The origins of the cakewalk are lost in history, but two apocryphal theories surfaced at the turn of the nineteenth century—with both focusing upon the matrimonial sacrament. One report theorized that the cakewalk started with the French blacks of Louisiana around 1700. Apparently, male slaves in New Orleans at that time entered a cakewalk to claim a mate. “In effect the cake walk was not different from the old Scotch marriage watch which required only public acknowledgment from the contracting parties,” reported a newspaper. The dance itself allegedly resembled several old French country dances. [The Washington Post, “Cake-Walk Strikes London, The.” 4 Apr. 1898: 6.]

Also in 1898, a black entertainer in New York City claimed to have heard a tale from an ex-slave that placed the origin of the cakewalk in early colonial Virginia, where a wealthy planter allegedly ordered a competition between two male house slaves who were wooing the same female slave. “Accordingly [the master] gave all hands a holiday, invited his friends as spectators, and prepared for a grand walking match for the hand of the dusky bride. In order to heighten the rivalry he ordered the cook to prepare a monster cake, which should be carried off as a trophy and foundation for the bridal feast of the successful competitor.” [The Washington Post, “Chat About Stage Folk.” 6 Feb 1898: 22.]

Around 1915, Ethel Urlin proposed this intriguing theory: “negroes borrowed the idea of it from the War Dances of the Seminoles, an almost extinct Indian tribe. The negroes were present as spectators at these dances, which consisted of wild and hilarious jumping and gyrating, alternating with slow processions in which the dancers walked solemnly in couples. The idea grew, and the style in walking came to be practiced among the negroes as an art.” However, Urlin offered no sources to support her theory. [Urlin, Ethel L. Dancing, Ancient and Modern. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent (circa 1915). Web. Open Library. Internet Archive. 29 May 2014: 13.]

With no substantiation, the above three theories cannot be taken too seriously. More modern historians believed that the slaves borrowed the structure of the cakewalk from the grand march—or promenade—with which white couples kicked off a ball by entering the hall in file with pomp and circumstance. In turn, the grand march likely evolved from the procession of the twelfth century, during which couples, or trios, walked in formation through a town or village to the accompaniment of strolling musicians. When royalty took part in a procession, Rules of Precedency evolved that determined the order in which the couples would line up—with the king and queen at the head, of course. By the mid-1800s, the elite class in the United States typically opened their balls with a grand march.

The idea of presenting a cake or other edible prize for a dancing or athletic match also had precedence. Aubanus, a writer of the sixteenth century, noted that “at the Easter season there were foot-courses in the meadows in which the victors carried off each a cake. . . .” A Puritan writer of the same era warned: “All games where there is any hazard of loss are strictly forbidden; not so much as a game of stool-ball for a tansy [herbal plant].” And in 1657, a poet alluded to cake, sugar, wine and a tansy as prizes for winning a round at “stool-ball.” [“Our One Hundred Questions.” Lippincott’s (Jan 1889): 137.] Moreover, as Jamison pointed out, winners of dance contests during the late seventeenth century in County Westmeath, Ireland, often won “cake and apples” for their efforts. [Jamison, Phil. Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance. Urbana, Ill.: U. Illinois P. (2015):123.]

During their version of this pageantry, slaves assumed the classic European dance carriage by keeping their torsos erect, lifting their feet from the ground (not shuffling) and moving vertically. However, of even more significance, they added an African flair by injecting a swing into their movements. Dressed in secondhand finery they performed a high-kicking, prancing and strutting walk-around to a musical accompaniment that gained more swing in rhythm as the decades passed.

During slavery times, to prepare for a walk at a Southern plantation blacks first cleared and swept the lawn in the center of their cabins or some other open area, and then marked out a circular track. Oftentimes, in the center of the loop a cake stood on a stand which might be “profusely decorated with greens and festoons of colored tissue-paper.” A white observer described one trophy cake as resembling “a cart-wheel in its dimensions.” The walkers often drew lots for partners. The judges could include either the plantation owner and his guests, or distinguished individuals from the slave community. A variety of instruments—depending on the availability of local musicians—provided the music. Often, the slaves’ own voices accompanied the musicians. Once the walk commenced, the participants pranced around the track until the judges “were weary” and signaled for a halt. The umpires then presented the cake to the winners, “who were then publicly acknowledged, by reason of their superior grace and taste, to have won or taken the cake.” [“Our One Hundred Questions.” Lippincott’s (Jan 1889).]

In some regions slaves participated in a cakewalk that followed a straight line marked by chalk. This likely occurred in confined indoor spaces. “There was no prancing, just a straight walk on a path made by turns and so forth, along which the dancers made their way with a pail of water on their heads. The couple that was the most erect and spilled the least or no water at all was the winner,” according to Lynn Fauley Emery. Slaves referred to this type of performance as the “chalk line walk.” [“Our One Hundred Questions.” Lippincott’s (Jan 1889): 92.]

Slaves in early cakewalks occasionally caricatured idiosyncrasies of movement and behavior of certain whites who they may have known. One former slave explained: “Us slaves watched white folks’ parties where the guests danced a minuet and then paraded in a grand march . . . Then we’d do it, too, but we used to mock ’em, every step. Sometimes the white folks noticed it, but they seemed to like it. I guess they thought we couldn’t dance any better.” [Stearns, Marshall and Jean. Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance. New York: Da Capo (1994): 22.] Consequently, slaves used the performance as a means to vent frustrations resulting from physical and psychological suppression—as well as to simply have fun. Whereas whites stereotyped blacks with the Jim Crow dance, blacks turned the tables when they mocked their white oppressors during the cakewalk.

Servants who worked in intimate contact with whites in the “big house” and who developed more refined manners themselves, likely introduced the cakewalk to the field hands. Consequently, participants in the dance avoided hip gyrations, torso twistings, slouched carriages, jig steps, and the general “wildness” of a typical slave dance. Years after the Civil War, a cakewalker explained: “Fancy steps don’t go with us. We have to walk straight, and the most dignified of the steps are the ones that catches the cake. They judges us by the collar and the pants and the most gracefulness in keeping time to the music.” [The Washington Post, “Here and There.” 2 Mar 1896: 3.]

Fancy steps may have been frowned upon, but individuals often developed their own “little tricks of grace.” For the women these might include subtle movements such as “turning [the] toes a trifle out and then giving them a sudden turn in”; or, lifting one foot, “like a young pullet about to steal upon a forbidden flower-bed where the seed has been newly sown,” and then following it cautiously with the other. Sometimes a female dancer “minced, like an old maid that is afraid of not being graceful” only to switch into a “long, swinging step that was the perfection of grace itself.” [Dromgoole, Will Allen. “Sweet ’Lasses.” Arena 17 1 (Dec. 1896-Jun. 1897: 151.] Another writer noted the fine points to be considered were “the bearing of the men, the precision with which they turned the corners, the grace of the women, and the ease with which they swung around the pivots.” [Johnson, James Weldon. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. (1912). Electronic text—no page numbers. Project Gutenberg. Web. 1 Apr 2015.]

Leaders at the Cakewalk

Over time different cakewalk styles developed that would lead to various categories of walkers, including “straight,” “fancy,” “burlesque,” and “rag-time.” One writer also described cakewalkers who had “a jumping step in time to the music,” but did not identify their specific category. However, by the turn of the nineteenth century, the style had apparently changed drastically. Eventually, “fancy and original movements” most influenced the judges when picking the winners. [New York Times, “Harvard Can Play Football.” 8 May 1895: 6.] “Legs were kicked higher, steps became faster and more intricate and spectacular leaps and turns were introduced,” reported Todd Arthur in Dance magazine.

Black minstrel shows first spread the cakewalk culture about the country when they performed a “walk around” in front of audiences composed of whites and black freedmen. [Sherlock, Charles Reginald. “From Breakdown to Rag-time.” Cosmopolitan 31 6 (Oct. 1901): 631.] After the Civil War, the cakewalk took on a life of its own. The term itself eventually attained a generic quality, such as “hoedown,” and many people referred to a cakewalk as a gathering for a black frolic. In 1894 a reporter for the Louisville Commercial described a black dance party that featured an evening of quadrilles. At dawn the caller announced “the company assembled will walk for the cake and the two most graceful pedestrians will be awarded the pastry.” [The Washington Post, “Was a Swell Affair.” 5 Feb 1894: 7.]

Louisville claimed to be the birthing grounds of the commercial, or professional, cakewalk. One writer, when referring to the events, described the city as a place where enterprising theatrical managers catered “to the city’s appetite for the novel” (Peterson). References to the cakewalk as a commercial venture and public performance first appeared in the northern press in the early 1870s when the New York Times reprinted an article from the Pottsville Miner’s Journal in Pennsylvania that described a cakewalk that raised money for the local African Methodist Episcopal Church. The headline in the Times read: A Mystery Explained—with the “mystery” being the cakewalk itself. [New York Times, “Mystery Explained, A.” 13 Dec. 1874: 4.]

Over the years, the prize cake became a symbolic award as sponsors offered a variety of awards such as gold-headed canes, silver watches, silver cups, jewelry, and cash. An Atlantic City tavern came up with one of the more unique prizes: “First prize, one case of beer; second prize, one dozen beer; third prize, six bottles of beer; consolation prize, half-dozen of beer.” The winners were required to dispose of their winnings “before leaving the hall.” [New York Times, “Beer Prizes at a Cakewalk.” 12 Nov. 1897: 2.]

Short video of a cakewalk from 1903, from the Library of Congress.

By the late 1870s, Billy and Cordelia McClain, two black entertainers who had migrated north, introduced the cakewalk to Gotham City. “Mr. McClain and I led one on the stage in the South,” said Cordelia McClain. “Well, we were considered a very graceful couple, and were asked to give the walk in the North. We did, and thus started the regular cakewalk.” [New York Times, “Fun for the Darkies.” 2 Jun. 1895: 16.] At the beginning of the craze during the late 1870s, promoters in New York City sponsored extravagant affairs during the Christmas holiday season, at first affixing the cakewalk onto other established forms of entertainment—such as the Great London Circus that appeared at New York’s Hippodrome on December 23, 1877. That evening, the master-of-ceremonies announced that the judges would look for “the greatest elasticity of limb, combined with the greatest ease of motion” from the ten couples. [New York Times, “Walking for the Cake.” 23 Dec. 1877: 2.]

Unlike their coverage of white cultural events, reporters at cakewalks often described in detail many of the personal physical attributes of the participants—especially the shade of their skin color. The journalist at the Hippodrome that evening reported the couples as “all rather brown as to complexion.” In later articles, other writers would provide even more nuanced descriptions, such as “light colored,” “very black,” “four shades lighter,” “yellow,” “peachblow,” “saffron hued,” “kinky headed,” “wooly head,” “brunnettish, but not decided enough for a type,” “a light mulatto couple with scarcely more than a healthily sunburned complexion,” “as black as the silk in which she was clad, both partners matching well in complexion,” and “a charcoal Chesterfield”—the last likely being a reference to Lord Chesterfield who, in the eighteenth century, wrote letters to his son propounding the manners and styles of proper society. No whites were allowed to compete in the competitions.

All reporters, just as they did when covering elegant white social events, also described in detail the style of clothing worn by the “fashion plates on parade.” At the event at the Hippodrome, a reporter described the dress of Miss Gray as: “white satin, with flowers festooned around the skirt. The trail was anywhere from a yard and a half to . . . two yards and a half long, and a large bouquet of white roses ornamented the space between the shoulders, on the front of the dress. Spotless white kids concealed the fairy fingers, and in the left hand was another large bouquet.” [New York Times, “Walking for the Cake.” 23 Dec. 1877: 2.] The men, many of whom worked as waiters, also dressed formally. Their attire frequently consisted of “swallow tail, white necktie, and snowy shirt front.” [New York Times, “Miscellaneous City News.” 30 Dec. 1877: 7.]

In 1878, the walks occurred more frequently at more venues. With the intensifying competition the walkers started to improvise in order to distinguish themselves. One couple “made an innovation by uncoupling their arms, and walking separately,” a Times reporter said. “By this means the grace and freedom of their carriage were much increased.” [New York Times, “Miscellaneous City News.” 30 Dec. 1877: 7.] Another couple “brought down the house by their backward walking . . . .” [New York Times, “Walking for the Cake.” 23 Dec. 1877: 2.] Sixteen years later, so many cakewalks had been reported in newspapers and magazines that one commentator suggested that they had “been described so often that a description of this one would not be of especial interest.” [The Washington Post, “Was a Swell Affair.” 5 Feb 1894: 7.]

A fair number of blacks apparently became professional cakewalkers. In 1886, Moses Green and Miss Heron were declared “the champion cakewalkers of New-Jersey.” By February that year, Miss Martha Garrison of New York had already won three cakes. New York writers dubbed Ben Butler “one of the most redoubtable cakewalkers in the city.” [New York Times, “Intruding at a Cakewalk.” 26 Feb. 1886: 2.] Dandy Jim was “the champion of Boston and Baltimore,” [New York Times, “Theatrical Gossip.” 26 Apr. 1892: 8.] while Luke Blackburn earned the title of “the present world’s champion.” [New York Times, “‘Polo Jim’s’ Cakewalk.” 15 Oct. 1893: 16.] However, he had some competition from Professor Snow, who was known as “the champion cakewalker of every continent.” [New York Times, “City and Suburban News.” 15 Mar. 1891: 3.] In 1896, promoters staged a cakewalk at the Odd Fellows’ Hall in Washington D.C. in order to determine once and for all “who is the best colored cake-walker.” The nominees included Charley Hodge, Howard Skelton, and Tommie Hawkins. [New York Times, “Raided a Camp of Hobos.” 5 Dec. 1896: 8.] Producers, who charged patrons at least twenty cents at the door, soon began paying couples “two dollars a night” or more to participate. [New York Times, “Miscellaneous City News.” 30 Dec. 1877: 7.]

The larger events often drew thousands of avid fans. The crowds not only included white laborers, office workers and merchants—but also members of the rich sporting crowd. Hecklers often insulted and jeered the performers. At one performance at the Hippodrome, after the stage manager had invited one couple back for an encore, “some laughter was mingled with the cheers, a few evil-minded persons believed the couple were called back to be laughed at.” [New York Times, “Miscellaneous City News.” 30 Dec. 1877: 7.] The volume of verbal abuse seemingly increased along with the popularity of the cakewalk—especially when the events moved into more intimate venues and attracted legions of white “butchers, bakers and produce men.” [New York Times, “Intruding at a Cakewalk.” 26 Feb. 1886: 2.] The aggressive harassment prompted a Times writer to berate the “proud Caucasian” who would “sneer at the institution of the cakewalk.” The writer compared the cakewalker not to an artist, but to “a work of art,” and felt dismayed that members of “a superior race” did not “cheer him on in this effort.” [New York Times, “The Cakewalk.” 18 Feb. 1892: 4.]

The commercialization of the cakewalk didn’t keep ordinary black citizens from participating in the jollity at their own gatherings. In 1896, The Washington Post noted that “every other week cakewalks are held in a hall on Sixth Street northwest, and many of the walkers can give the Primrose & West [Minstrel Show] people all the trumps and then beat them out.” [The Washington Post, “Here and There.” 2 Mar 1896: 3.] Blacks living in Culpeper, Virginia, often assembled to cakewalk at a resort called Cedar Hill Park just outside city limits. [The Washington Post, “Four Shot at Cakewalk.” 6 Sep. 1899: 4.] The cakewalk also joined fairs, festivals and “pound parties” as one of the main fund raisers for black churches. [New York Times, “Discord at a Cakewalk.” 18 Apr. 1896: 3.] One such event at Harlem’s Mount Horeb African Methodist Episcopal Church drew “as many white persons as colored ones,” including New York Governor Samuel H. Crook. [New York Times, “Walking for a Cake.” 23 Jul. 1886: 2.]

Private individuals also organized neighborhood cakewalks. At Fishkill Landing, a village on the Hudson River, local resident George Washington sponsored a cakewalk in honor of his good fortune when his wife gave birth to triplets. [New York Times, “George Washington’s Children.” 2 Jan. 1882: 2.] On April 16, 1898, Washington D.C.’s “colored 400” gathered at Columbia Riding Academy for their annual cakewalk. “Not a lady but was arrayed in an abundance of jewelry, and not a ‘gent’ but wore a sparkler in his immaculate shirt bosom,” said a newspaper report. [The Washington Post, “High Stepping for $25 Cake.” 16 Apr. 1898: 9.]

By the mid-1880s the term cakewalk had become part of American-English vernacular. Newspaper and magazine writers routinely utilized the expression “take the cake” to mean winning a prize; or for being the most outrageous or disappointing. Reporters of horse races by the end of the 1880s regularly used the term as a connotation for an easy victory, while boxing reporters picked up the term to describe a fight without much action. Not long after, political pundits started using “cakewalk” to express an easy victory by a politician or to denote a general election that included a number of candidates.

Some whites, especially university men and their female companions, applied burnt cork to their faces before attending local community cakewalks. Whites apparently enjoyed assuming a black persona in this way. In 1895, members of the Monte Relief Society presented a cakewalk and at Terrace Garden in New York where friends of the society “had hands and faces blackened, and were dressed in gorgeous raiment, befitting the characters that they assumed.” [New York Times, “Grand Cakewalk for Charity.” 29 Mar 1895: 3] In Washington D.C., where the Terpsichorean Club presented their annual masquerade ball in 1899, a group of “gaily attired negro imitators” participated in the “prize cakewalk.” [The Washington Post, “Danced for a Prize.” 17 Dec. 1899: 15.] Black face also penetrated the state of Maine, where the Cony High Minstrel Club of Augusta performed a cakewalk in 1899. [“County News.” Maine Farmer 68 7 (Dec. 1899): 4.]

When rich white families abandoned the cities for summer resort towns, many blacks followed in their wake to serve as waiters, porters and dishwashers. Frequently, the blacks staged cakewalks to entertain the white tourists. At Saratoga, New York, for instance, the waiters at the States Hotel presented their cakewalk at the town hall. The New York Times reported that “several parties of fashionables have been made up to look in upon it.” [New York Times, “Society at Saratoga.” 29 Aug. 1889: 4.] The same events also frequently occurred at the Hotel Shrewsbury at Seabright, New Jersey. [New York Times, “Doings at Seabright.” 25 Aug. 1889: 13.] By the end of the century, professional black minstrels also took their traveling shows directly to resorts such as Newport, R.I., where they presented the cakewalk as the pinnacle of an evening’s entertainment. [New York Times, “What is Doing in Society.” 17 Aug. 1899: 7.]

View a “Comedy” Cakewalk filmed in 1903, from the Library of Congress.

Over time, though, many resorts bypassed their African-American employees to invite their white guests to participate directly in the cakewalks. At Daggers’ Sulphur Springs outside Washington D.C., six white couples competed for the “large and tempting cake.” [The Washington Post, “Society Cakewalk at Daggers’ Springs.” 28 Aug. 1892: 13.] Meanwhile, at Bar Harbor, Maine, the Rockefeller crowd put on a “Deisarie” [sic: term unknown] cakewalk during which participants walked down a track as long as a football field and back. [New York Times, “Society at Bar Harbor.” 4 Sep. 1892: 4.] Not to be outdone, the Tatassit C.C. First Annual Regatta at Lake Quinsigamond in western Massachusetts held a cakewalk in 1892 during a clam bake. [“Tatassit C. C., First Annual Regatta.” Forest and Stream 39 13 (Sep. 29, 1892): 277.]

Cakewalks also routinely cropped up during the winter social season at private residences and public parties. At Kenwood, New York, Erastus Corning and his wife served oysters before a cakewalk at their home, for which they hired a black man as judge. [New York Times, “Gayety at the State Capital.” 10 Feb. 1895: 9.] In Baltimore, Mrs. John Moncure Robinson invited a “party of fashionables” to the Globe Brewery in a remote section of the city for some “bohemian” entertainment, which included a cakewalk. [New York Times, “Cakewalk for Baltimore Society, A.” 26 Nov. 1898: 2.] About four hundred guests attended a cakewalk presented by the Sherwoods of Glenbourne, Virginia, in honor of their son’s birthday. [The Washington Post, “Cakewalk at Glenbourne.” 31 Jul. 1899: 10.] Cakewalks became so common in high society that one Philadelphian pundit quipped that “New York’s Four Hundred have taken up the cakewalk as a refined and delightful social amusement, and the colored brother smiles with unalloyed gratification.” [The Washington Post, “Four Hundred in the Cakewalk, The.” 17 Jan. 1898: 6.]

By the 1890s, up to four thousand spectators routinely crowded into New York’s Madison Square Garden to watch “championship” cakewalks. The playbills for the evening’s entertainment also often featured opera singing, buck dancing, jig dancing, and skirt dancing. Chorales of jubilee singers, numbering one hundred voices by 1895, began the proceedings by delivering an hour of “plantation songs.” Smaller singing groups such as the Alabama Quartet, Morning Star (a double quartet), and Little Pickanniny Quartet also performed. Exotic acts included such performers as Mocking Bird Rube, the “Whistling Coon” and ten banjo players. These acts warmed up the crowd for the grand cakewalk which typically began at eleven o’clock sharp. [New York Times, “Missed a Man and Hit a Boy.” 17 Apr. 1892: 9.] [New York Times, “Wheelmen.” 2 Feb. 1895: 6.] Organizers promoted the first extravagant cakewalks held at the Garden as the The Grand Negro Jubilee. [New York Times, “Theatrical Gossip.” 26 Apr. 1892: 8.]

With its competitive nature, cheering crowds, referees, judges and athletic strutters, the cakewalk had always resembled a sports event. By the mid-1890s, the Ethiopian Amusement Company, which had ties to professional sports teams, promoted many cakewalk spectacles at Madison Square Garden. Pat Powers, who headed the enterprise, also presided over the Eastern Baseball League. Powers soon hired well-known boxing referees and baseball managers to “undertake the arduous and ungrateful task of picking a winning couple out of fifty at the big cakewalk in Madison Square,” the New York Times reported. [New York Times, “Cobwebs Beaten by Newburg Shooters.” 22 Feb. 1895: 6.] In addition, that newspaper began listing cakewalk competitions in its Calendar of Sports. Just like baseball teams, the New York cakewalkers traveled to competitions in many cities and states. [New York Times, “Challenge to a Cakewalk.” 13 Jan. 1898: 1.]

The cakewalk also infiltrated so many operettas and plays that Joseph Grant Ewing, in a satirical article for Puck, proposed to write a “unique” play for the stage in which “there will be no . . . cake-walks . . . ” [Ewing, Joseph Grant. “Modern Fairy Tales.” Puck 45 1149 (15 Mar. 1899): 11.]

The cakewalk stimulated so much curiosity among whites about black culture in general that they thronged to productions of black “spectacles.” In 1894, a full cast of “Ethiopian” entertainers appeared for the first time in a theater on Broadway when the Bijou Theatre staged The South before the War. The scenes were set on a cotton plantation, reported one critic, “and there is no drama to speak of, but, for people who like genuine darkey songs and dances and part singing, the performance will doubtless have some attractiveness.” The evening’s entertainment concluded with a prize cakewalk. [New York Times, “Colored Folks at the Bijou.” 20 Nov. 1894: 5.] The seeds for black theater during the Harlem Renaissance that would flourish from 1918 to the mid-1930s had been planted. The following year, black entertainers set up a living history spectacle called Black America at Ambrose Park in South Brooklyn that depicted life on a Southern plantation. The cast included five hundred people who lived in cabins on the premises. A cakewalk occurred every evening. [New York Times, “Fun for the Darkies.” 2 Jun. 1895: 16.]

The cakewalk also influenced European culture, both as stage entertainment and as a participatory dance. In January of 1898, the Pall Mall Gazette reported that “the interest excited by the novelty of the thing is giving place to an enthusiastic appreciation of the grace and charm of the performance.” [The Washington Post, “Cake-Walk Strikes London, The.” 4 Apr. 1898: 6.] In 1899, the Washington Post confirmed reports that the cakewalk was “tickling London mightily in farces, extravagances, and vaudeville.” [The Washington Post, “Theatrical Notes.” 8 Jan. 1899: 24.] And, in 1912, some Parisian critics referred to the dance as the “acme of poetic motion.” [Johnson, James Weldon. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. (1912). Electronic text—no page numbers. Project Gutenberg. Web. 1 Apr 2015.]

Black invention was also heavily influencing popular musical tastes during the later part of the nineteenth century, when genres such as classic blues, jazz, boogie-woogie and urban blues first took root. However, two other musical genres fully blossomed at the turn of the century. The first, the “coon song,” was short-lived, but the other, ragtime, remained a musical force into the next century. By 1900, rag-time “professors” often warmed up the crowds at cakewalks by participating in piano contests. [New York Times, “Grand Central Palace Cakewalk.” 25 Jan. 1900: 10.] Individual singers also crooned ragtime at the competitive cakewalks, quartets harmonized it, and one hundred member-strong jubilee chorales shouted it. At Washington’s Convention Hall in 1900, six hundred spectators watched eighteen couples vie for the cake as the United States Marine Band struck up a rag-time selection. [The Washington Post, “Convention Hall Cakewalk.” 20 Feb. 1903: 8.]

However, by that time, the popular reign of the cakewalk was about to end. Only three years later, another cakewalk at Convention Hall drew only “a small crowd” that made the hall look “deserted.” [The Washington Post, “Convention Hall Cakewalk.” 20 Feb. 1903: 8.] However, by then blacks had moved on to a different form of dancing that was even more grounded in their own heritage—the one-steps, or zoo and barnyard dances, that included the grizzly bear, bunny hop, turkey trot and Texas tommy. And, there was much, much more to come.

The tide had turned. Whites were dancing like blacks. In time, they would share the dance floor with blacks. And finally, members of the two races would even dance together. Racial integration in America began to seem feasible.

The Cakewalk (with sound) from the late 1930s.

by Douglas Allchin

Douglas Allchin has been a morris dancer since 1984. He has danced with 9 different teams, and adapted and written many morris dances. He was a founding member of the longsword team Guyz with Tiez in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2008.

Traditional longsword dances from northern England might easily be susceptible to the unflattering (but not uncommon) stereotype of being overly tedious and stale. Six dancers, linked in a ring holding stylized “swords,” tread ceremoniously, while lowering or raising particular swords, stepping over or passing under them, repeating each move six times (once for each dancer’s sword), maintaining an unrelenting steady pace to a rhythmic but sometimes repetitive tune. However, a few longsword teams have ventured into creative approaches [Barrand, Anthony. 2006. Dancing with swords in the DVRA, Part 1: Longsword. American Morris Newsletter, 26(2).] . Here, in the spirit of further reinvigorating the tradition, I report on another new longsword dance, consisting mostly of original figures and including a series of new locks: those self-supporting arrangements of interwoven swords presented aloft to the audience.

The dance is called “Lock and Dam.” The title refers to an engineering feature of the Mississippi River. Several dams punctuate the river channel, and boats navigate the change in levels through a series of locks. Lock and Dam #1 is situated in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the dance originated. The imagery of the dance evokes the river, with various spinning gestures and undulating waves reminiscent of the twirling turbulence and flow of the river’s water. The second reference is more familiar to sword dancers, and refers to the use of seven different sword locks displayed in the course of the dance.

Lock and Dam dancers
Figure 1 Guyz with Tiez, 2013. The dance received its formal premiere February 17, 2013, at the Brooklyn Museum as part of the 28th Annual Half Moon New York Sword Ale. A video by Jeffrey Bary is available on e. Performing is Guyz with Tiez, founded in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul), Minnesota in 2008. Performers were (from left to right in the opening segment of the video): Douglas Allchin; Marc Scovill, Hassan Saffouri, Andy Kedl, Matt Tillotson, Derek Phillips, and musician Bob Walser.

The dance is unique in being based on a 12-count phrase, rather than an 8- or 16-count phrase. The appropriate music is a 3/2 hornpipe, such as “Three Rusty Swords,” “The Dusty Miller,” or “The Presbyterian” (sample one). To provide for a more dance-like quality, in contrast to mere walking, the 12th beat of the phrase features a modest back step, as a gentle form of kinetic punctuation.

The dance figures in detail are as follows. The opening begins with a simple unlinked ring, with swords resting on the shoulder. At the end of the phrase, the dancers swirl tightly out to the right, and on the 12th beat, step back into two facing lines. The lines cross through, passing right shoulders and clashing swords, then circle clockwise. At the end of the next phrase, the tight twirl out goes to the left and the Cross-and-Clash is repeated, passing left shoulders and turning into a counterclockwise circle. All dancers then make another tight twirl to the right and lower swords to form the sword ring. The first Chorus follows.

The Chorus is a simple ring movement with a flourish of the swords that reverses the direction of the dancers. Swords are generally held with the tip in the center of the circle, forming spokes of a wheel rather than a peripheral ring. The tips are then raised, and in a circular motion, lowered again, followed by the raising of the hilts, which then fold into the center of the set (as the tips move out) and the dancers all pivot (on the 12th-beat back step) and continue stepping briskly in the opposite direction. The gesture is essentially repeated again to resume the original direction. This figure was named Flexagon (referring to the similar folding action of a paper polygon puzzle made popular by Martin Gardner).

The dancers use the 12th-beat back step to reverse direction. Another modified Flexagon is performed. In one fluid motion the hilts (now on the inside) are lifted into a central column, then lowered, slid out, raised, guided in and down (one large circle with the right arm). Meanwhile, the tips (in the left hand) are slid to the center, then swept out, up, in, down, and out again. In all, the arms have made two grand opposing circles. Grips are now overhand. At the beginning of the next phrase, all dancers, still circling clockwise, raise swords, pivot clockwise (turning over right shoulder) and face in. This allows them to form a standard (6-pointed) lock.

The lock is displayed as the dancers open into two facing lines on the 12th-beat back step (as in the Opening). The lines cross, passing right shoulders, then turn right and circle. On the next back step, the lines reform, and cross passing left shoulders. The lock is lowered, swords are drawn through and grabbed by the left hands. The Flexagon Chorus follows.

The first figure is a variant of double-under. The variation is to continue the figure, revolving several times, allowing the revolving horizontal swords to take opposing poles: Paddlewheel.

On a subsequent pass, dancers #3-#6 consolidate in a square. #1 and #2 (holding #1’s sword), rather than leading through the bridge under #4’s sword, pass under all 4 dancers as they jump: a figure called Four-Up. Just for dramatic effect, #1 and #2 carry the sword over the dancers’ heads again and swoop down to pass under the four jumping dancers a second time.

As #1 and #2 return the sword over the other dancers’ heads again, they bring the swords on the inside of the set, collapsing the six swords into three anti-parallel pairs. With modest passing of hilts and tips, the dancers are now divided into three pairs. The dancers separate and begin an Over-Under Hey.

After 2 full passes, the pairs switch, using the 12th-beat back step as a lead-in, into a Horizontal Hey. The 12-beat music allows all six dancers to align on the back step, a small visual punctuation.

The Delta Lock
Figure 2 The Delta Lock. At the end of 2 full heys, the dancers walk forward into a lock, one based on the notation of the Kirkby Malzeard team for their double triangle lock.

  [Allsop, Ivor & Barrand, Anthony (Eds.). 1996. Longsword Dances from Traditional and Manuscript Sources. Brattleboro, VT: Northern Harmony.] . Odds are now on the left of each pair. All raise their right hand (hilt). As the set collapses, Odds will meet a new Even on their left. Odd right hand goes over Even right hand, Odd left hand over Even left hand. The lock virtually forms itself as the swords move in, with a final weaving of the tips on the outside corners by the left hands. On this particular occasion, the dance uses a slight variant of the Kirkby Lock. #1 passes the #1 hilt over the #2 sword to the left hand, while the #2 tip is transferred to the right. The paired (anti-parallel) swords enter the lock as an “X”. The hilts of those 2 swords are now slid further into the lock: the Star Trek Delta Lock (Figure 2). This lock variant was first conceptualized by Andy Kedl, of Guyz with Tiez.

The lock is displayed as the dancers form the two lines which pass through and circle twice. Flexagon Chorus.

The next figure is a variant of the traditional single guard. #1 raises swords and turns back and circles the set: the familiar single guard. Then #1 turns again followed by #6, who raises the trailing sword: “double guard.” On the third phrase, #1 is followed by #6 and also #5: “triple guard”. On the fourth phrase, all the dancers follow, inverting the set: a figure collectively known as Progressive Guard.

The next lock is an adaptation of one that we trace to Rick Mohr. While walking clockwise (inverted), Odds progress one position (past Evens). All turn over their left shoulder to face in. Odds form an interior triangle with their 3 swords. The remaining 3 swords are woven in, forming an exterior triangle rotated 60 degrees to the interior one: the Rick-Mohr Lock. (Forming the lock from an inverted set was my own innovation.)

The lock is shown. Dancers do their standard pass through and rounds, but on this occasion undoing the lock requires a special sequence. Dancers pass through only once, passing left shoulders and then circle counterclockwise. #1 lowers the lock upside-down (accommodating the earlier set inversion). Dancers re-grab and as the phrase ends, Odds step in and allow the Evens to pass outside them, returning to their original position as the lock opens. Flexagon chorus.

The next figure starts as the Odds bring their hilts high and fold their swords inward, stepping in to the center. There are now 3 spokes of paired swords. The wheel rotates, Evens on the outside. On the next phrase, the spokes are inverted: namely, the Odd hilts and Even tips arch up and outward, as the Odds step out. The Evens step in, sweeping under with their own hilts and Odd tips, raising them in the center before settling them again at waist level. This alternation repeats several times: a figure called Odds and Evens.

On the third cycle (say), the Odds pass their tips back and accept the new tips. The set is now separated again into three pairs of anti-parallel swords. As the new phrase begins, each spoke-pair spins as a pair to the outside (clockwise). They spin 360 degrees and reform the spoked wheel. The wheel rotates again. On the new phrase, each pair spins again, but a forceful 540 degrees, reforming the spoked wheel that now rotates in the reverse (clockwise) direction: the figure called Propellor (yet another visual allusion to the turbulent water theme)

The Bill Morelock
Figure 3 The Bill Morelock

As the music begins a new phrase, the pairs spin again to the outside (this time, counterclockwise), spinning 270 degrees to face into the set. Odds cross hilts over to their left hand, tips under to the right hand. The lock is formed using the standard Kirkby Malzeard method (described above): the Bill Morelock (named after a local classical radio personality).

A pass-through, circle and Flexagon Chorus leads to the next figure. #1 begins the basic movements of a single guard (turning out over the right shoulder). However, the other dancers now remain still. At the same time, #4 begins a “reverse” single guard, turning out over the left shoulder rather than the right. #1 and #4 soon meet, #1 passes on the outside, swords high. On the opposite side of the set, #4 passes on the outside. The other dancers adjust their hand heights to accommodate the sword movements. #1 and #4 return to place. The figure is repeated with #2 and #5, and then with #3 and #6: the figure called Helicopter.

The Argyle Lock
Figure 4 The Argyle Lock

As a lead-in to the next lock, Helicopter is performed once again (#4 lead, #1 anti-pole). As they return to position, the set opens, #1 and #4 pass through the set, passing left shoulders and gypsying 180 degrees. All now face in, circling counterclockwise. #1 and #4 form a central diamond with their swords. Without any release, the remaining two swords are woven along the side. Step back and show: the Argyle Lock (Figure 4). I envisioned this new lock myself, and then worked out the mechanism for forming it without breaking the ring.

Again, two pass-throughs, with circling. The lock is undone by reversing the motions, #1 and #4 crossing through, passing right shoulders. Flexagon Chorus.

The next figure draws on familiar elements in a special combination. The sequence is prepped by doing Single Under with #5 starting under #6’s sword, then #6 under #1’s sword. #1 follows the sequence, passing under #2’s sword, turning left. But on this third occasion, each dancer turns to an alternate side (Evens to the right, Odds to the left), lifting their sword and adding it to the raised ensemble. Each set of 3 dancers rotates, and the assemblage of six swords rolls above: Bridge (also called Meat Grinder by others).

The key variation is on exiting the figure. #1 crosses the gap and begins circling on the other side. Other Odds follow, lowering their swords and taking their respective positions in the ring. The set is now inverted: prime position for a lock. However, during the transition, #1 has surreptitiously removed his sword from the ring, bringing the tip of #6’s sword to the left hand of #2.

The (Hennepin Avenue) Bridge Lock
Figure 5 The (Hennepin Avenue) Bridge Lock

The five remaining dancers form the standard 5-sword star lock. #4 shows the lock, #1 the sole stray sword: the 5 + 1 “Lock”. All dancers take note of the mistake: “Damn!” The lock is lowered, the point closest to #1 is opened, and the wayward sword woven in and the new lock shown again: the Bridge Lock (Figure 5). The new lock pattern and the mechanism for forming it were also worked out by me.

Pass-through sequence and Flexagon Chorus.

The final figure sequence again begins with a familiar figure. #6 and #1 pair behind #6’s sword for Double Under (under #3’s sword). The figure progresses by position, next under #1’s sword, then #2’s. Here, there is a reprise of Paddlewheel, with the #2 and #5 swords at opposite sides of the circular sweep.

The transition to the next figure is tricky, but the ultimate effect is quite dramatic: the swords switch from revolving cylindrically around a horizontal axis, to spinning on two vertical axes. After passing under the #5 sword, #4 crosses in front of #3, under #3’s sword (passing by the left shoulders) turns inwards, and brings the #3 sword down next to his own sword. #4-3 pass under the #2 and #5 swords, now joined together, and being rotating right with #5 as a threesome. Symmetrically, #1 passes under his own sword, turning right shoulder, brings it down next to the #6 sword. #1-2 go under #5-#2 swords, turn left with #6. Each line turns twice: the figure called Eggbeater.

The Portcullis Lock
Figure 6 The Portcullis Lock

The final lock flows naturally from this sequence. From Eggbeater, after passing around #5, #3 and 4 pass around each other (gypsy) an extra 360 degrees, while #1-2 pass around #6. All face in, now in a circle. Circling continues counterclockwise while the lock is formed. The swords align in a simple square checkerboard weave, the infamous Portcullis Lock, as shown Figure 6. Note that here, it is easier for #1 to weave his hilt under the tip of #3’s sword, re-grabbing to pull and extend it fully: a small “cheat” that converts an authentic-but-awkward position into a smooth and convenient move. We have not found documentation for making this well-known lock without breaking the ring, or through a mechanism that is as easy as we have discovered.Show the lock and complete the standard cross-through sequence. The elegant challenge of the Portcullis Lock is to also undo this lock smoothly. #1 undoes the final weave-under and re-grabs. Now all the swords slide outward. #1 and #2 gypsy around each other, while #3 and #4 do the same. The circle is restored.

In our closing, the “Cross-and-Clash” sequence of the opening is reprised. The circle breaks and #1 leads the unraveling line to face the audience.

These are the basic notes. As in any dance, dancers need to negotiate and accustom themselves to the nuances of motion and transition at each particular position. Practiced efficiency on the locks is essential if the pace of the dance is not to be compromised. Careful planning and adjustment can also align the end of figures and choruses with the end of long phrases of the music, convenient for changing tunes.

The complete sequence is summarized briefly below. Like the Mississippi River itself, whose eddying water movements provided inspiration, the dance is long—in the range of 10½ minutes. We often perform only one-half at a time, using the opening and closing sequence and three of the figure-lock combinations.

Lock and Dam Sequence of Figures

  • Cross & Clash (Processional)
  • Chorus

  • Hexaflexagon
  • Standard Lock / Chorus

  • Paddle-Wheel
  • 4-Up (Ankle-Biter)
  • Vertical and Horizontal Heys
  • Star Trek Delta Lock / Chorus

  • Progressive Guard
  • Rick Mohr-Lock / Chorus

  • Odds & Evens
  • Propellor
  • Bill MoreLock / Chorus

  • Helicopter
  • Argyle Lock / Chorus

  • Single-Under into Bridge
  • 5+1 Lock
  • Bridge Lock / Chorus

  • Double-Under into Paddle-Wheel
  • Eggbeater
  • Portcullis Lock / Chorus

  • Cross & Clash (Recessional)

A final note on the locks. The Standard Lock, Kirkby Malzeard Lock, and Portcullis Lock are all well known [Allsop, Ivor & Barrand, Anthony (Eds.). 1996. Longsword Dances from Traditional and Manuscript Sources. Brattleboro, VT: Northern Harmony.] . The Bill Morelock and Star Trek Delta Lock are adaptations of the Kirkby Lock, but we have not encountered other teams using or recording them, or forming them with such efficient mechanisms. We are indebted to Rick Mohr for his lock, which we note is a radially symmetrical lock that goes beyond those in Krause’s 1990 review [Krause, Rhett. 1990. Review of rapper and longsword locks. Country Dance and Song, 20: 34-39.] . The Argyle Lock and Bridge Lock are symmetrical also—although bilaterally along a mirror-image line, not radially around a central point. These last two locks have not yet been documented, so far as we know, and seem to open the way to developing other such unfamiliar locks. Presenting them all in this dance, along with the other new figures and adaptations, is an implicit invitation for others to innovate further in the longsword tradition.


All the figures and locks, as well as the sequence, are my own choreography except where noted. The dance was developed as a team effort with Guyz with Tiez, who helped sample, test, explore, tinker, and develop each move leading to its performance.