The Abingdon dances and tunes are passed on in the traditional way by teaching them in person at practices, and not from any written record. This means that they are constantly evolving, so they are not expected to be exactly as done many years ago, though the style and the spirit are hopefully the same as they ever were. New dances are created from time to time for special occasions.
The dances done by the current team are:
- Constant Billy
- Jockey to the Fair
- Maid of the Mill
- Princess Royal
- Sally Luker
- Shepherds Hey (jig)
- The Broom Dance (jig)
- The Curly Headed Ploughboy
- The Duke of Marlborough
- The Girl I Left Behind Me
- The Nutting Girl
- The Squire’s Dance
- Gentleman Jack
- Buttercup Joe
- Queen Mary’s Favour
- How d’you do Sir
- Diamond Jubilee
The first twelve dances in this list are in alphabetical order, with no reference to which of them are maybe older than others.
The last five are newer dances that have been created in honour of special occasions.
- Gentleman Jack was created in the 1970s in honour of of Jack Hyde, bagman from 1949 to 1971, and a dancer since 1939. The tune is a version of ‘Lord of the Dance’.
- Buttercup Joe was created in 1981, but was not introduced as a dance until 2000 as our ‘Millenium Dance’. It is a celebration of Johnny Grimsdale, a dancer since 1935 and hornbearer up to his death in 1979. Johnny used to sing ‘Buttercup Joe’ and the tune for this dance is from that song.
- Queen Mary’s Favour was created in 2006 to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the granting of Abingdon’s Town Charter (by Queen Mary). It was first danced in public at the Bun Throwing to celebrate this anniversary. The tune is a version of ‘Country Gardens’.
- How d’you do Sir was created in 2006 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Leslie Argyle who danced with Abingdon from 1951. It was also danced at Les’s funeral in 2014. There is a press record of a dance with this name being danced in 1910 at the Fitzharris Revels in Abingdon, though that is more likely to have been the Headington dance. We just thought it was about time Abingdon had its own dance of the same name. The tune used is very similar to the Headington tune.
- Diamond Jubilee was created to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and was danced at the Bun Throwing that honoured this event. The tune is Old Tom of Oxford.
Video credit: Abingdon Blog
Some notes on the older dances and tunes:
- Jockey to the Fair is also sometimes called ‘With Jockey to the Fair’ or ‘Jockies’. The step in this dance is different to that in all other Abingdon dances.
- Maid of the Mill is traditionally danced round the new Mayor of Ock Street after the election. It is also very often danced around a ‘maid’.
- Princess Royal has also been called ‘Princes Royal’, and some will tell you it still should be. The present team normally start a show with this dance.
- Shepherd’s Hey is a ‘solo jig’ but is nearly always danced by two or more dancers.
- The Broom Dance is at present danced to the tune of the Grand Old Duke of York, though we believe it may have been done to other tunes in the past. There is a photo from 1937 of what was probably this dance being done over the Mayor’s sword, and being called at that time ‘The Squire’s Dance’.
- The Duke of Marlborough dance is sometimes called ‘Stamp and Clap’ because that’s what happens in the chorus. The tune has sometimes been called ‘the Marmalade Polka’.
- The Girl I Left Behind Me is danced to the marching tune of the old Berkshire Militia. In Abingdon, this tune is never called ‘Brighton Camp’.
- The Nutting Girl is used by the present team as the final dance-off in a show.
- The Squire’s Dance is traditionally done for the new Mayor of Ock Street straight after the election. The Mayor, carrying the sword and cup, walks through the set during this dance, as does the Fool with his bladder. The old name for this dance was apparently ‘Greensleeves’ though the tune collected as such from the 1930s team certainly was not the old tune of that name but the one still used today for this dance.
The Abingdon dances published by Mary Neal in 1910 (Sally Luker, Princes Royal, A-Nutting we will Go) and by Cecil Sharp in 1922 (Princess Royal) are quite different to the present dances with the same names.