scottish america (origins of "Country" dancing)

RSCDSSD

Message 5170 · 16 Oct 1996 20:31:36 · Fixed-width font · Whole thread

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In a message dated 96-10-16 04:56:43 EDT, Joe Shelby writes:

<< > the idea that "country" in
> ECD/SCD refered to "folk" has pretty much been shot to hell. Many seem to
> be of the opinion that "country" became associated as a misnomer, perhaps
> from the Italian 'contra' or French 'contre', both meaning "line". >>

I'm not sure where, and by whom the, idea that "country" originally mean
"folk" dancing has been "shot to hell". Though massive changes have taken
place over the past 300+ years, there is strong evidence that, as Anselm
points out, country dances were first danced in society as an alternative to
the more stately court dances. Flett remarks (in the Journal of Scottish
Studies, Vol 11, pt 1, 1967 "The Scottish Country Dance: Its Origins and
Development, Part 1") that "the term "Country Dance" in England seems first
to have been applied to the ordinary social dances - the folk dances - of the
village people of the countryside. These folk dances were introduced into
English society during the reign of Elizabeth". Similar references can be
found in Cecil Sharp's "The Country Dance Book - Part 1" pp 11-13.

Cecil Sharp bemoans the "devolution" of country dances as they became
gentrified and under the influence of dancing masters, but that is the dance
form that became hugely popular in the 18th century and formed the basis for
the English and Scottish forms of country dance still popular today. But
their origins are still in the village green, not the ballroom.

As to the origin of country/contra, Flett, Sharp, Foss, and Thurston all
point out that the French took the word from the English, not the other way
around. The "country" in country dancing does refer to the countryside, not
a mistaken adaptation of the French word contra (for opposite, or line). A
footnote on page 10 of Hugh Foss' "Evolution in Scottish Country Dancing"
gives a good description of the introduction of the word "contredanse" into
the French language. As the French are noted for the close study of the
development and introduction of words into their language, it is compelling
to note that the first instance of the word "contredanse" in the Dictionnaire
de l'Academie postdates the 1706 publication of Feuillet's "Recuil de
Contredanse". This book was the first collection of Country Dances (mostly
taken from Playford) published in France and Feuillet says "Les Anglois en
sont les premiers inventeurs". Country dances in France at that time were
called "contredanse, les danse Anglaise". The word appears for the first
time in the Dictionnaire de l'Academie in 1718. By that time the expression
"country dance" had been in use in England for well over 100 years to
describe the same type of dancing.

Marjorie McLaughlin
RSCDS XX@xxx.xxx

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