Babbity Bowster

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X:1 T:Babbity Bowster M:6/8 L:1/8 K:G c3B3|A2F D3|G2A B3|G2A B3|c3 B3|A2F D3| ddB c2A|G3 G3|c3B3|A2F D3|G2A B3|G2A B3| c3B3|A2F D3|d2B cBA|G3 G2G|c3B3|A2F D3| d2B cBA|G3 G2G|c2c B2B|A2F D2D|G2A B2B| G2A B2B|c2c B2B|A2F D2D|d2B cBA|G3 G3||

BABBITY BOWSTER/BOLSTER. AKA – "Bee-Ba-Babbity." AKA and see "Country Bumpkin," "Old Country Bumpkin (The)," "Wha Learned Yow to Dance and Toddle?," "Wooden Shoe Dance (2)." Scottish, English; Jig (6/8 time). England, Northumberland. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. This common Scottish melody (which Emmerson {1972} states is "yet on the lips of every Lowland child") first appears in the Skene Manuscript (1620) under the title "Who learned you to dance and a towdle," and later was printed by Stewart in his Reels (c. 1768) as "Country Bumpkin" and by Aird in Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs (1782) as "Bab at the Bowster." A tune by this title shows up as a fugue theme in Barsanti's overture in G, op. IV no. 9, c. 1750. Flett & Flett (1964) explain that "Babbity Bowster" is the name of a kissing dance once widely performed as the last dance at country dances in Scotland, though the name changed from region to region. "Babbity" means "bob" and "bowster" is the wheelshaft in a watermill. In the Borders and Aberdeenshire it was known as "Babbity Bowster," a corruption of "Bob at the Bolster," in Fife and Lanarkshire as "Bee Bo Bobbity," in the Highlands and the Isles under the Gaelic titles "Ruidhleadh nam Pog" (The Kissing Reel), "Dannsadh nam Pog" (The Kissing Dance), and also by the English names "Blue Bonnets," "The Bonnet Dance," "The Bonny Lad," "Pease Strae" and "The White Cockade." In Orkney (where it was danced as late as 1925) it was called the "Lang Reel," "The Swine's Reel", "The Reel of Barm" or as "Babbity Bowster." The dance began with a man displaying a twisted handkerchief who then selected a woman, spread the handkerchief on the floor and both knelt and kissed. Then it was her turn to join the dance and to select another from the audience to kiss and join the dance. There were many variations of steps and endings, and in some regions it was customary for the man to escort the woman home whom he had chosen during the dance. The rhyme accompanying the tune begins:

Babbity Bowster
Wha learned you to dance,
Babbity Bowster, Babbity Bowster?
Wha learned you to dance,
Babbity Bowster, brawly?

A poetic description is given in Alexander Fordyce's piece A Country Wedding (1818):

...but custom is pressing
That Bob at'e Bowster be danced ere you go
We must close in the door, tho' constraint be distressing,
Bestman, let us see where the napkin you'll throw:
That's plenty o' capers, come, kiss and be done, Sir,
Another, another, and round, round you go
The circle increases; that squeak in the tune, Sir,
Is meant, by the fiddler, more kissing to show.

Flett & Flett make the connection of this dance with an earlier and very similar dance called "The Cushion Dance" or "Joan Sanderson," which was danced at court at the time of the Restoration. The 'bolster' of the Scottish title was in fact the 'cushion' referred to in the English name, and refers to the small pillow that was used at one time before the handkerchief was substituted.

According to A.W. Johnston (Old-Lore Miscellany of Orkney, Shetland, Caithness & Sutherland, vol. III, 1910, pp. 195–196) in parts of Orkney "Reel of Barm" was played as the last tune of the evening, while "The last dance at a country wedding in Orphir was called "Babbity Bowster," when everyone was on the floor. See also Northumbrian musician Robert Bewick's similar "Wooden Shoe Dance (2)." See also "Hobb's Wedding," another kissing dance.

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 1), 1782; No. 119, p. 42. J. Kenyon Lees (Balmoral Reel Book), Glasgow, 1910; p. 28 ("Bab at the Bowster").

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