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Lamplighter's Hornpipe

This is a great dance that seems to fall into the category of "lesser-known chestnuts". I don't know why because it's a lot of fun. Its biggest change was from the original triple minor (every third couple active) to the modern duple minor versions (every other couple active)..

On This Page

Lamplighter's Hornpipe went through quite a few changes over the past several decades, and some of those changes are also interesting because they are reflective of changes that happened in many other dances as well. Here's what's on this page.

  • The Evolution of Lamplighter's Hornpipe. An overview of how the dance evolved, and the sources used in this section.
  • Lamplighter’s Hornpipe: A Comparison of the Triple and Duple Minor Versions. Two transcriptions of the dance: an early version as a triple-minor dance and a duple-minor version as it is often danced today.
  • A Comparison of Figures & Timing. A comparison of figures and timing in the two transcriptions, and discussion of these changes.
  • The Intermediate Stages of Development. A detailed look at some of the intermediate forms of the dance.
  • Changing Dance Figures: Visual Representation & Interpretation. This page starts with a visual representation of changes in the dance, and then tries to relate them to general ways in which dances evolve and how those changes affected the nature of the dance.
Lamplighter's Hornpipe

The Evolution of Lamplighter's Hornpipe

Lamplighter’s Hornpipe is one of the classic chestnut contras, but probably one of the lesser known of that group of dances. It doesn’t show up in the index to Ralph Page’s Northern Junket under either of its common names (see below), but he does present it in his An Elegant Collection of Contras and Squares (1984). There he comments that it’s probably from the 1840s. He says there that they used to call it Road to Californy although they would still use the tune Lamplighter’s Hornpipe. I have heard of it being danced to the tune Road to California and have danced it with that used as a change tune.

As far as I know there have been two major alterations to the dance. Originally the dance was a triple minor (every third couple active. Like most triple minor dances the active couple dances with both the #2 and the #3 couple. At some point it was changed to a duple minor (every other couple active). Ralph Page discusses it as one that can be danced both ways, and in fact I remember in my early days of dancing the caller would sometimes start it as a triple minor dance. Then when the dancers seemed to know what they were doing the caller would then announce that it would be every other couple active (generally prompting the dancers when to start dancing as actives for a few times through the dance). As we’ll see, that can have a major effect on the feel of the dance. Now, instead of dancing with the second and third couple, the active dances with the usual inactive below, and with the next inactive below. That has caused confusion for more than one dancer!

Later on the figures were compressed enough to fit in an additional balance and a swing as part of the dance. David Smukler and David Millstone in Cracking Chestnuts (2008) guess that this happened in the 1950s or 1960s. As we'll see later on there were actually a series of additional changes that occurred over time.

The Transcriptions. In the next section I compare the classic triple minor version of the dance with the version that I call which is a fairly standard modern version of the dance with one exception noted with the transcription.

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Sources of information

Lamplighter's Hornpipe as a Triple Minor Dance

There are three sources for Lamplighter’s as a triple minor dance:

Prof. L. H. Emwell, Prompter’s Pocket Instruction Book. White-Smith Publishing Company (New York, Boston), 1892.

Ralph Page, An Elegant Collection of Contras and Squares. Lloyd Shaw Foundation, Inc. (Denver), 1984.

Fred Breunig, Lesser Known Chestnuts. Workshop presented at the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, Durham, NH, Jan. 18, 2004.

I only present one transcription as a triple minor because all three sources present the dance with the same figures and the same timing of figures with one minor exception as noted.

Lamplighter's Hornpipe as a Duple Minor Dance

This is the version of the dance that I call. It is a fairly standard duple minor version of the dance with one exception, described below.

Triple vs. Duple Versions

Lamplighter’s Hornpipe: A Comparison of the Triple and Duple Minor Versions

Below I compare the classic triple minor version of the dance with the modern duple minor version of the dance. I use the version that I call which is a fairly standard modern version of the dance with one exception noted with the transcription.

Each transcription shows the figures of the dance with phrasing as beats; divide by two for measures. They are written out more as instructions than as calls; figures are listed where they are actually danced. I’ve also included some supplementary description. This can help anyone trying to call the dance to avoid some of the potential problems with teaching the dance. Also, in places the additional information helps illustrate differences between the two versions. In the following section I show a comparison of the figures and timing for the triple and duple minor versions.


Lamplighter’s Hornpipe as a Triple Minor Dance

Couples 1, 4, 7 are active

Proper dance, do not cross over

A1

Active couple cross over, ladies in the lead, end facing out between the 2nd & 3rd couples

4

Balance in long lines (or lines of 3) at the sides

4

Turn the right hand person by the right hand, once around, make lines again, actives facing out

8

A2

Balance in lines again, twice

8

Turn the left hand person by the left hand about ¾ around, end in the center facing down

8

B1

Actives down the center, two by two. Turn as a couple, come back, cast off

16

B2

Top two couples right and left four

16



Lamplighter’s Hornpipe as a Duple Minor Dance

Couples 1, 3, 5, 7 are active

Proper dance, do not cross over

A1

Active couple cross over, ladies in the lead, end facing out below the inactives they're dancing with

4

Balance in long lines at the sides, actives facing out

4

Turn the right hand person by the right hand once around, make lines again, actives facing out

4

Balance in lines again, actives face out

4

A2

Turn the left hand person by the left hand about ¾ around. Keep holding on and actives take hands in the center to make diagonal lines of four

4

Diagonal lines balance

4

And the actives swing

8

B1

Actives down the center, two by two. Turn as a couple, come back, cast off with the original inactive couple

16

B2

Top two couples right and left four

16


Comparison

A Comparison of Figures & Timing

The last table compares the figures in the the triple and duple versions of the dance, and looks at how they differ in terms of the time allotted to each figure. This is followed by discussion of these comparisons.


Comparison of Figures & Timing

Timing is given in beats; to convert to measures divide by two.

Dance Figures

Triple

Duple

Actives cross below one couple

4

4

Balance long lines, actives face out

4

4

Turn the right hand person by the right hand round

8

4

Balance in lines again, actives face out

8

4

Turn the left hand person by the left hand round

8

4

Diagonal lines balance

4

And the actives swing

8

Actives down the center, two by two. Turn as a couple, come back, cast off

16

16

Right and left four

16

16


Interpretation & Commentary

The dance was originally a triple minor (every three couples active), and in fact you dance with both of the inactive couples each time through the dance. The modern dance is a duple minor (every other couple active), so the actives dance with the other couple in their group of four and with the next inactive below. This gives the dance a very different feel, and can make the dance confusing to people who haven't done it before.

The triple version starts with the actives in each group of six crossing, lady in the lead, to go below, ending up facing out between the second and third couple. The next figures are done with the two inactives of the opposite sex in your group of six. The duple minor dance feels quite different here even thought the actual figures are nearly the same. The cross below is to where the next active couple started the dance. The next figures are done with the inactive from your original group of four and the next inactive below.

After the first balance the modern version shortens the next three figures. The turn by the right is cut from a leisurely 8 beats to a rather brisk 4 beats. The original double balance is cut to a single balance. The turn by the left is shortened just as the turn by the right.

In the balances there's an option to balance forward and back or to balance side to side. Ralph Page favored balancing forward and back, as do David Smukler and David Millstone in Cracking Chestnuts. I learned the dance with a side-to-side balance, starting by balancing toward the person you were going to do the turn with. The triple minor version likely started with the balance at the sides in lines of three. These days both the triple and duple versions are done with balances in long lines at the sides.

At this point the duple version has shortened the dance by 12 beats; but the music has remained the same. The most striking difference between the two versions is the addition of two figures in the second A part. Instead of going down the center, first the actives balance and a swing with their partners. Usually after turning by the left they go to their partners for the balance and swing. At some point (I suspect at the Ralph Page Weekend with Fred Breunig calling but I don't remember for sure) I danced the dance with the actives holding on to the inactives and taking hands with their partners to balance four in line diagonally. That was such a nice modification that I decided to keep it, and have called the dance that way ever since.

In the second half of the dance the figures are unchanged and their timing is unchanged. But the change from triple to duple has important effects. In the triple version the actives go down the center, turn as a couple, come back to the #2 and #3 couples with whom they've been dancing. and cast off with couple #2. In the duple minor dance they do the same thing, but they have to pass the first couple they've been dancing with and go all the way back to their original inactive couple. Generally in a duple minor dance you only dance with one other couple at a time, so it's tempting to cast off with the wrong couple. As a caller I often teach that you have to come back further than you expect all the way to your original inactive couple.

And finally in the triple version couples one and two dance the rights and lefts, and couple three is inactive. In the duple version the actives dance the rights and lefts with the inactive couple, so everyone is dancing.

Intermediate Versions

The Intermediate Stages of Development

So far we've looked at an early (possibly original) version of the dance and compared it with the dance as done today. As Fred Breunig pointed out in his workshop at the Ralph Page Weekend, there were a few intermediate stages. Here I'd like to present a fuller description of the development of the dance.

Please note: I am presenting the development of the dance through the use of a table. There have been quite a few changes in how the dance was danced over the years, so the table is fairly substantial. It's much easier to make sense out of all this on a larger screen: preferably a computer or a tablet. If you are trying to read it on a phone, I'd suggest putting it in landscape orientation.

About the Table. Here are a few things that will make the meaning of the table more clear.

  • The column on the left describes where we are in the tune, and thus the dance. There are two parts to the tune (A & B), each of which is repeated. Each part has eight measures, or 16 beats; dancers generally take one step per beat.
  • The second column gives the figures for the original triple minor dance (every third couple active).
  • The following columns give the figures for the duple minor dance (every other couple active). As far as I know the dance has changed four times, so there are four columns for the duple minor versions.
  • As long as a figure remained unchanged, its row continues across. If it changes, there is a vertical divider in the row.
  • Aspects of the dance that changed are italicized and in a red-brown color to make it clear what changed with each version.


Part

Beats

Triple

Duple

A1

1-4

Active couple cross over, end improper, between couples 2 & 3 of their group of 6, facing out

Active couple cross over, end improper, below the inactive couple they're dancing with, facing out

5-8

Balance in Lines of 3 at the sides, actives facing out

Modern triple minor: balance in long lines

Balance in long lines, actives facing out

9-12

Allemande right once around with the person on the right, form the same lines of 3 [8 beats]

Allemande right once around with the person on the right, form the same long lines [8 beats]

Allemande right once around with the person on the right, form the same long lines [4 beats]

13-16

Balance in long lines [4 beats]

A2

1-4

Balance Twice [8 beats]

Balance twice [8]

Balance once [4]

Allemande left the person on the left about 3/4x [4]

5-8

Allemande left the person on the left about 3/4x [4]

Actives meet in the center and balance [4]

Actives keep holding on, take hands with partners in the center. Make diagonal lines and balance [4]

9-16

Allemande left the person on the left about 3/4x [8 beats]

Allemande left the person on the left about 3/4x [8 beats]

Actives meet in the center and swing [8 beats]

Actives Swing [8]

Actives Swing [8]

B1

Actives down the center, turn as a couple, come back, cast off with couple #2

Actives down the center, turn as a couple, come back all the way to the original inactive couple, cast off with that couple

B2

Top 2 couples right and left four over and back

Actives right and left proper with the inactive couple who is now above.


A Look at the Changes in the Dance

In the previous section I compared the older (possibly original) triple minor version of the dance with the dance as it’s currently danced. Here we’ll look at the sequence of intermediate changes that brought the dance to how it’s danced currently. I suspect the transition may not have been quite so orderly, as some regional differences likely occurred, and some callers have their own versions of dances, but this is the sequence of changes that Fred Breunig presented to the Ralph Page Weekend in 2004.

Triple to duple. The dance started out as a triple minor dance with every third couple active. The first, and biggest, change in the dance was when it started being danced as a duple minor dance with every other couple active. As I mentioned in the previous section, in Cracking Chestnuts David Smukler and David Millstone guessed that to have happened in the 1950s or 1960s.

In some ways it was nearly the same as before: the figures didn’t really change and the timing of the figures didn’t change. But there were some major changes that resulted from dancing it as a duple minor dance. Instead of crossing over within their group of six, actives crossed over ending up between the inactive in their group of four and the next inactive. Instead of balancing in lines of three couples, the balance was done in long lines. And the first allemande has the actives dancing with the inactive from another group of four.

After that most things remained largely unchanged until it came time to go down the center. Normally one comes back to the familiar inactive for a cast off. But the first familiar inactive is the wrong one. You have to go all the way back, past that one to the very original inactive for the cast off. Needless to say, people who aren’t all that familiar with the dance often make mistakes there unless the caller emphasizes the need to come back further than you’d expect.

In the rights and lefts, whereas previously the number three couple didn’t dance, now everyone is dancing.

Adding in a swing. After that the dance underwent changes involving speeding up figures and adding in new ones, as is so often the case. The next change was to change the double balance to a single balance, which I believe happened in most other dances that included double balances. At the same time the allemande left was speeded up from 8 beats to 4 beats. All this left time for the actives to swing before going down the center.

Balance and swing. The next change was the allemande right was cut back from 8 to 4 beats too. The balance was then moved up to the end of A1, having started taking up half of A2. The allemande left was moved up to the beginning of A2, and that left time for a balance before the swing.

Diagonal balance and swing. This is a relatively recent innovation. When finishing the allemande left, instead of just doing a balance and swing with their partners, the actives hold on to the inactives and balance in a diagonal line of four before swinging. This hasn’t caught on all that widely yet but Fred Breunig includes it in his description of the evolution of the dance, and I call it that way.

There’s one more way I want to visualize the changes in the dance before coming to some conclusions about the nature and effects of all these changes and to some extent at the effects of changes in dances more generally. For that, go to the next tabbed section.

Visualiing & Adding Context

Changing Dance Figures: Visual Representation & Interpretation

We’ll start with a visual representation of the changes in the dance, and then try to classify them, and finally to put them in context. Look at the illustration below. I start on the left with the figures of the triple minor dance. Then I have a visual representation of the triple minor and four duple minor stages of the evolution of the dance over time. Each figure has its own color. The numbers in the colored section represent changes to the dance; these are described below.

If a figure changed little or not at all it’s represented by a bar that goes across the different versions of the dance. If a figure changes duration it gets shorter vertically. If a figure occurs earlier in the dance it moves up. New figures are represented by new colors.

graphic view of dance

About the Numbers

Here’s a description of what the different numbers tell us about each figure.


  1. End between the #2 & #3 couples of their group of 6
  2. End below the inactives of their group of 4
  3. Lines of 3
  4. Long lines
  5. Reduced from 8 to 4 beats
    1. Same figure but speeded up
    2. Single instead of double balance
  6. Balance in long lines at the sides
  7. Actives swing in the center [New figure]
  8. Actives balance in the center [New figure]
  9. Actives keep holding inactives, take hands with partner, balance in diagonal lines of 4
  10. Come back past first familiar inactives to original inactive couple, cast off.
  11. Actives right & left with inactives; now all couples dance rights and lefts each time.

Some Ways in Which Dances Evolve Over Time

This view of the dance makes it easy to see some of the ways in which this dance, and most likely other dances, evolved over time. Many of these changes seem to be consistent with some general trends in New England dance over the years.

It looks to me like there are at least four categories of modifications to the dance illustrated here. The first two involve a figure being caused to take up less time during the dance.

  • Dance figure is speeded up. One of the common occurrences in dance evolution is speeding up of figures. The figure isn’t changed; it’s just done in less time. If you look at the comparison of the 32-bar and 24-bar versions of Money Musk, four out of six figures in the dance were speeded up. Of those, two remained unchanged; they were must danced faster: (1) once and a half around and go below one, and (2) the second turn three quarters with partner.
    • In Lamplighter’s Hornpipe there are two such instances. In the first part of the dance the actives balance with the person on the right and allemande right once around. Then they balance with the person on the left and allemande left three quarters. Both allemandes originally took 8 beats; both were shortened to 4 beats.
  • Dance figure is altered to take less time. This is a very common change. This occurs twice with Money Musk: both instances of forward six and back are now done as balances and take half as long.
    • In Lamplighter’s Hornpipe the balance twice of the triple minor dance later got converted to a single balance. When I first started dancing in the late 1970s there were a number of dances in which the double balance occurred. These days it’s fairly unusual, either because it’s been changed or because the dances containing double balances are rarely danced.
  • New figures added to the dance. Altogether the speeded up figures took 12 beats less time. They were replaced by two new figures: first the swing, and then a balance before the swing to put the classic balance and swing figure in a dance that had no swing at all previously.
  • Stylistic changes. Finally there have been stylistic changes to the dance. The most recent change involved the actives continuing to hold on to the inactives while taking hands with their partners for a balance in a diagonal line of four. This adds the connectedness that is part of modern contradancing, and is a fun stylistic variation.

Dancing Lamplighter’s Hornpipe as a triple minor dance. The dance still gets danced as a triple minor dance now and then. Sometimes an attempt is made to dance it more like it would have been danced in its early days. But I think just as likely the danced is danced more like it’s currently danced as a duple minor dance, but with every third couple active. So there’s been a parallel evolution of the triple minor version as well.

Conclusions

There are other less obvious stylistic changes. Whereas the allemandes were once much more leisurely (maybe even stately), cutting back on the duration turns them into much higher energy figures. The original dance had three 8-beat figures in the first half of the dance. Now there’s only one left: the swing. The first 24 beats of the dance are all 4-beat figures. So it’s overall a much faster moving dance. In fact, of all the chestnuts, it’s probably the one that would seem the most familiar in style to a modern contradancer who dances someplace where chestnuts aren’t danced.

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Edited & Published by Peter Yarensky. I am a dancer, caller and dance musician from the Seacoast region of New Hampshire. I play fiddle, piano and hammered dulcimer. I call contras and squares with the Lamprey River Band and am available to call with others. I particularly enjoy calling for beginners due to the wonderful enthusiasm they exhibit. Contact. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or if you find any errors, typos, omissions, or about music and/or dance in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire. Email: peter dot yarensky at unh dot edu or peterynh at icloud dot com (usual substitutions apply).

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Sources

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  • Photos taken by Patrick Stevens. These are now part of the Patrick Stevens Collection, 1992-2018, MC 331.
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