Cowboy Dances

A collection of Traditional Western Square Dances By Lloyd Shaw

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30
COWBOY DANCES
number of couples may participate in the Running Set, Mr. Sharp, it should be pointed out, also says that it is usually danced as a square with four couples.
He concluded, after a careful study from internal evi­dence of the Running Set, that it is the earliest known form of English Country Dance, earlier than any dance described in Playford's famous English Dancing Master (1650), the earliest known book on English dancing. The complete ab­sence of courtesy movements is one bit of evidence for this conclusion. There is no French bowing or saluting before the dance begins. In Playford's dances the court influence is already felt and the courtesy movements have been introduced.
Mr. Sharp was, of course, delighted with his discovery of this earliest form of English dance. And not only does he feel its connection with the May-day Round, which was the source of all English country dances, and which was a "pagan quasi-religious ceremonial," but he definitely traces three of the figures which he found in the Kentucky Moun­tains back to their ancient pagan ceremonials; one he con­nects with well worship, one with druidic tree worship, and one is in the serpentine form of the Hey with its established religious or magical significance.
It is not surprising that this missing link of the English Country Dances should be found in our Appalachians. Ety­mologists have pointed out for some time that the phrases and words and pronunciations of these hill people are almost pure Elizabethan English. Isolated and changeless in their mountains, they have preserved the pure English of Shake­speare, which we in our modern development or degenera­tion laugh at as the talk of hillbillies. In the same way they have jealously preserved the ancient dance forms. Their ancestors in northern England and in the lowlands of Scot­land as stubbornly preserved the true dances of their people and would have nothing to do with the innovations which Playford describes as the dances of London. When these people moved to this country, they still held their ancient forms unchanged and crystallized, fossils, if you will, for all time.
And these Kentucky Dances are surely the chief forbears of the Western dance. The names of some of the dances are identical: Lady Round the Lady, Birdie in a Cage, Ladies in the Center, Figure Eight. Unlike the Quadrille, whose






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