Excuse Me (1719)

Original Publication:

  • William Woolball's Notebook, 1719, UK (original now in Harvard University Department of Music)
  • Excuses My in Livre De Contredance, Andre Lorin, c1685, Paris (in Biblioteque Nationale)
  • Excuses My in Receuil de Contredances, Feuillet, 1706, Paris
  • Excuse Me in The Dancing Master 7th edn, Published by H. Playford, 1686, London (and included in all subsequent editions)
  • Excuse Me in A New Academy of Compliments 4th edn; OR, The Lovers Secretary, printed for C. Bates and A.Bettesworth, 1715, London
  • Original notation for Excuse Me

Modern Interpretations:

  • "Excuse Me," or An Old Country Trip, Michael Barraclough, in Folk Music Journal, published by the English Folk Dance & Song Society, London 1978
  • Belgian Boutades, a second collection of English Country Dances, Phillipe Callens, published by the Anglo-American Dance Ship, Lovendegem, Belgium, 2002


  • Was Excuse Me one of the most popular country dances of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries?  The evidence available suggests that it was.  Of the 100 plus dances which I have discovered in more than one contemporary source, Excuse Me is the one that occurs most often with six mentions in five of the eight sources researched so far.  This multiplicity of sources is probably a much better guide to popularity than longevity of appearance in any one source.  Inertia on the part of the publisher, or continuing payment by the Dancing Master who supplied the dance may well have resulted in publication continuing after performance had ceased and indeed, publication is no proof of performance.
  • Further evidence of the dance's popularity or at least its notoriety is the following exchange in Act 2, Scene 1 of the 1657 play The Walks of Islington and Hogsdon:
    Riv. Come Gentlemen shall we try our footing, here am I.
    Fly. And here am I.
    Wild. And if this Gentleman please, here I'le be.
    Sir Rev. Vould all mine heart Monsieur.
    Bella. I cannot dance believe me Sir.
    Fly. Nor I, we'l onely practise.
    Mrs.Light.     Excuse me Sir, indeed I cannot dance.
    Wild. Excuse me Sir, indeed I cannot dance?  You shall not dance excuse me then, that Country trip is old, we'l have some novelty.
  • Confirmation that this is not an unreasonable construction to put on the exchange of words comes from a passage in the Dancing School by Ned Ward (1700) which talks of "leading up Greensleeves and Pudding Pies like birds upon a Valentines Day." Both these dances rate five mentions in the different sources and it seems to be more of a coincidence that the dances which make the most appearances are also those to which literary reference is made.
  • What of the dance itself?  For once which was apparently so popular it contains little of obvious appeal.  The dance is largely symmetrical, a hallmark of dances of this period, but it is unusual in that the second couple plays an equal part with that of the first.  Quite possibly it is the tune which provided the popularity.  In its form of an eight bar A music, a four bar B music and an eight bar C music it is reminiscent of earlier dances and has also appealed to all the musicians to whom I have shown it.
  • From the researcher's point of view, there are several lessons to be learnt.  First and foremost, comparisons of dances which appear in more than one source, of which Excuse Me is a prime example, demonstrate that there is no "correct" way to do the dance in terms of the track which the dancers are to follow.  From this it follows that those seeking authenticity in performance of country dances of this period need to be far more concerned with the "correctness" of the music, costume, technique and social setting, than with the actual interpretation of the dance instruction.  Secondly, there is clear illustration of the danger involved in drawing conclusions about the equivalence of terminology used in different sources where only two versions are being compared.  A good example of this error is in merely using the comparison between Smith's Rant in the Dancing Master and Le Pistolet in Feuillet's Recueil de Contredances to assert that the term "siding" means a straight, forward and back type of movement without quoting anything else in support.


  • Longways for as many as will (duple minor proper)



A1 1-4 First couple cross over and cast down into second couples place improper, they moving up
A1 5-8 First couple turn two handed, once and a half
A2 1-4 Second couple cross over and cast down into their original place improper, the first couple moving up
A2 5-8 Second couple turn two handed, once and a half
B1 1-4 First man and second woman set and turn single this should probably be the first man setting TO the second lady and then turning single.  The different version show this most.  Alternatively, this could be both people active but going forward and back a double.  The different instructions show just how fluid things could be.
B2 1-4 Second man and first woman set and turn single (see above)
C1 1-4 First couple cross over and cast down into second couples place improper, they moving up
C1 5-8 First couple figure in ie half figure of eight through the twos above to become proper
C2 1-8 Second couple whole figure of eight starting down through the ones above (also called the double figure in other sources)

[Bold text represents original instructions and light text represents interpretations by Michael Barraclough]

© Michael Barraclough, 21 April 2021

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