It’s Fun to Hunt: The Enchanted Wood

Ralph Page kept a regular column in his Northern Junket magazine in which he shared tidbits that he unearthed in his research into newspapers in the 1800s. I share his fascination with the roots of our contemporary dances, so have borrowed his “It’s Fun To Hunt” title to describe a few of my own forays into the past.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, caller Tony Parkes did a lot of audio recording at dances. Many of his recordings were recently digitized by Jon Thunberg, a volunteer working with the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Dance and Music, part of Special Collections at the UNH library in Durham. Wearing my multiple hats as dance historian and coordinator of the Square Dance History Project (SDHP), I received from Jon a DVD data disk with 1.8 GB of mp3 audio files and a spreadsheet listing available information about each tape.

Tony and I have talked for years about his writing an article on “Great Callers” that we would use as the foundation for an exhibit in the SDHP. I created a grid listing the callers we’d include, and checked off appropriate columns when we acquired video, audio, or photographs of each person. Several callers had no audio checked off, but Tony was certain that he had live recordings for them.

Sure enough. The file labeled TP-07 is a dance with Boston caller Louise Winston, recorded in 1970. It’s 75 minutes in length, and I sat down with it the other day to prepare a detailed log of the contents. (I’ve found that having such logs available greatly enhances the usability of a file, allowing one to determine quickly if there’s information of interest. Creating such a listing is one small way of assisting the library that has been of such use in my own work.)

Most of the dances I was able to identify quickly, either because Winston introduces them by name or because they had patterns that were familiar. Her program was mostly square dances, with a few contras and couple dances in the mix. In her remarks before one contra, she says it’s a dance from a manuscript in Maine in the early 1800s. That grabbed my attention. I listened to the instructions, went to my notes from Cracking Chestnuts, and quickly determined that it wasn’t one I knew.

Unknown contra, triple minor
A1 Actives cast down one place, circle 4 hands round with the 3s
A2 Actives face down, but cast up, and circle 4 hands round with the 2s
B1 Actives down center, turn alone, come back, cast off with 2s
B2 Six hands circle left all the way around

Winston remarks that the final instructions include the phrase “quite round,” similar to what one might find in an English country dance of that period and confirming that the dance comes from an era when ECD and contras were closely related.I wrote my fellow chestnuts enthusiast David Smukler and asked if he knew it. Within an hour, I had his reply:

Just for fun, I coded this sequence using the dance figure codes from Keller’s Dance Figure Index.[DHM note: Robert Keller’s databases, now available online at Country Dance and Song Society’s website, are detailed references guides to early American and English country dances.]

C = cast
O = circle
L = lead down center & back

A1 would be CO
A2 would be CO again
B1 would be LC
and B2 would be O

This yields COCOLCO. Then, I went to the figures index where all the dances are classified by these codes. This particular sequence only matched one title: The Enchanted Wood (quite a lovely title, that…). The source, according to the chart is “Merrill” which is short for the following:

1795 Merrill, Joseph (1774-1798). “New Country Dances. The property of Joseph Hinkley.” [Commonplace book containing a manuscript copy of the dance figures in Twenty four Country Dances for the Year 1793 (London, Saml., Ann & Peter Thompson, 1793) and six additional dances. Maine? ca. 179-]
     EAMES D112
     Pejepscot Historical Society, Brunswick, Maine.
My thanks to Robb Spivey and George Fogg for help with details about this manuscript. A copy of Twenty four Country Dances . . . 1793 with music and figures is located in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and is indexed in NTI/EAMES E76.

I couldn’t help but notice the Maine connection. Maybe you could track down Merrill and see if this is actually the dance Louise was calling? If the Pejepscot Historical Society is still extant, maybe they can help? If Winston was right about it being “one generation from England” maybe it really is related to Trip to Kilburn (1728). A degenerate American version.

The four other examples of The Enchanted Wood in the database have a different sequence: SXSXLR, which might be reconstituted as something like:

A1 Set twice; RH star
A2 Set twice: LH star
B1 Actives down center, return and cast off
B2 R&L 4 (4 changes)

Further digging showed that Ralph Page had taught the dance in at the international folk dance camp in Stockton, CA, in 1960, but the online syllabus from that year had a garbled page, the very one I needed! Several e-mails later with dancers involved in that venerable summer program brought a clean scan of the page. Sure enough, Page’s directions matched Winston’s dance, no surprise since I knew that she was a frequent participant at Ralph Page’s Boston dances and regular camps.

I sent a thank-you note to Robert and Kate Van Winkle Keller, describing how the puzzle was solved. Kitty Keller wrote back a short note, “A perfect use of all the work Bob put into the indexing project. BTW, George [Fogg] and I reconstructed the Merrill book, New Country Dances from Maine—it’s available from the Colonial Music Institute.”

David and I continued discussing the dance. He wrote:

This strikes me as a nice, easy first triple minor dance to include in an ECD program for relative beginners. You know, there are two charming jigs (in A) called “The Enchanted Wood.” See:

And they seem to be from about the right place and time. Both are from the same English collection, published in 1788. See: and

Flushed with the pleasure of a successful hunt, I wrote Tony Parkes to tell him of our find. I was more than a little taken aback when he replied that he remembered that Louise Winston had included The Enchanted Wood on her program, this from 45 years earlier! He also supplied the identification (The Roberts, a couple dance) for one of the remaining mysteries, a tune being played at the very start of the program, with no calling. The log for that tape is now finished and will be added to the records at UNH. And yes, I’ve added the instructions and tunes to my repertoire. Time for the next project!