Annotation:Cushion Dance (1) (The)

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X:1 T:The Cushion Dance [1] M:6/8 L:1/8 R:Jig S:Gow - 3rd Repository (1806) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:A e3 f3 {ef}|edc B2A|~F>GA E2c|{c}d2c B2A| e3f3 {ef}|edc B2a|ecA F2E|~F3 A2:| |:e|(ac')e (ac')e|bd'e bd'e|ac'e ac'e|gbe gbe| ac'e ac'e|bd'e bc'd'|c'ba f2e|(f3 {ef} a2):||

CUSHION DANCE [1], THE. Scottish, Jig. A Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The cushion dance is a kissing game/dance. The dance was mentioned by a lawyer and antiquary named Selden (d. 1654) in his "Table Talk": "...the court of England is much altered. At a solemn dancing you had the grave measures, then the corantoes and galliards, and this kept up with ceremony, at length to the Trenchmore and the Cushion Dance then all the company dances, lord and groom, lady and kitchen maid, no distinction. So in our court in Queen Elizabeth's time gravity and state were kept up. In King James' time, things were pretty well, but in King Charles' time there has been nothing but the Cushion Dance, omnium gatherum, tolly polly, hoity come toity" (Robin Williamson). William Chappell (1859) describes the dance fully (a kind of kissing game), quoting from Playford's Dancing Master, and quotes references to it from Elizabethan times to a political parody of 1704 called "The Cushion Dance at Whitehall, by way of Masquerade. To the tune of 'Joan Sanderson.'"

The cushion dance was still well known in the mid 19th century, as attested in Craig Gibson's poem in the Cumberland dialect regarding the regionally influential Ben Wells, who was for fifty years the quick and lithe dancing master and fiddler to the country people of Cumberland[1]:

Ben Wells fiddle many a neet
Gev well oiled springs to t'heaviest heels,
For few cud whyet hod the'r feet
Whe Ben struck up his heartnin' reels.
Wid eldbow room and rezel't weel
Swigne! how he'd mak fwoke kev an' pracne;
An nowt cud match t'sly fiddle squeal
A tsignal'd kiss i't cushion dance.

Although the fashion what people danced had turned after old Ben's time:

Nèa mair at ball or oald-fwoke’s-neet
We’ll see his gud reet elbow jog;
An’ when they laid Ben oot o’ seet,
T’ oald cushion dance went oot o’ vogue.

Gibson recalled in 1869,

The last time I met him was about twenty years ago in the bar parlour of an inn in the Southern part of the Lake District, where the strains of the fiddle, produced at my request, caused such excitement that a general and very uproarious dance (of males only) set in, and was kept up with such energy that, the space being confined, the furniture was seriously damaged and Ben was at last ejected by the landlady, as the readiest--indeed, the only--method of putting a stop to the riot. He was light muscular and springy, and in earlier years wonderfully swift of foot, so much so that the late Dr. Johnson of Cockermouth told me that he once (at Scale Hill) saw him, without assistance, run down and capture a wild rabbit-- a proof of activity rarely paralleled. See the notes for "annotation:Babbity Bowster" and piper John Sutherland's "Harlequin in the Parlor."

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 417. Gow (Complete Repository, Part 3), 1806; p. 27.

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  1. See Alexander Craig Gibson, The Folk-Speech of Cumberland and some Districts Adjacent, London & Carlisle, 1869 [1]