What is the trace in the Gresley dances?

Introduction

There are a number of questions that need to be answered before we can be sure we have a reasonable interpretation for the Gresley dances. One of these questions involves the “trace”. Mainly, what is it and what is a “double trace”?

The Oxford English Dictionary has three definitions which may help us here. These definitions are:

Another definition refers to horses gear “straps by which a vehicle is drawn”

Where is the word “trace” used?

In many of the dances the start is described as either a “trace” or “double trace”. Exceptions are “Libens disines” and “Aras” which start “After the end of the trace”, "Hawthorne" which does not mention a trace anywhere, and "Rawty" which starts with "a dubull" which may mean a double trace.

Two dances also use trace in the middle of the dance. These are: Damysyn where it is also used in the second sentence and Petygay which is almost all traces.

Which dances have descriptions for their trace

In the first group of dances in the manuscript, three specify the start and end of the trace in the description. These are Esperans, Egle and Prenes on gre. Mowbray might also describe the trace as it starts “with trace” without “After the trace” straight after it.

Roye has part of its double trace decribed a doble trace with 3 bak in the end.... As does Oringe, a double trace (and lok at the end bak and al togeder do obbey)...

The descriptions of the dances in the second group are not split into sections like those in the first group. This makes it difficult to be sure when a section of the dance starts and ends. Working with the music for Temperans and Northumberland it seems apparent that they have their traces separated from the rest. In both cases there is a break in the step description after the trace. Based on this break it is also possible that Hawthorne and Damesyn have traces described.

None of the dances with a full description indicate that their trace is a "double trace".

Trace and double trace

Except for Prenes on gre, all the dances with traces repeat the dance pattern 3 or 6 times. This may indicate that a double trace has twice as many repeats as the trace.

However, there are three dances which have music but no description for their traces. These are “Prenes on gard”, “Eglamore” and “Talbott”. All three of these have a “double trace” but their music only has 3 repeats.

Therefore, the phrase “double trace” may not indicate a set number of repeats of the music. It may still indicate a number of repeats of the dance pattern. For example if one repeat music for Mowbray fit two repeats of the pattern.

It is possible that it refers to the steps, eg doubles instead of singles; or it may be an indication of speed, ie a double trace is twice as fast as a trace.

Shape of the trace

Six of the eight dances are for 3 people and all six have a forward and back movement. Four of the six also involve changing places. Hawthorne, a dance for 2 people, also has this forward and back movement.

Could this forward and back movement be an English element? This element can also be seen in the measures of the "Inns of Court" from the latter half of the 1500's and the Country Dances of Playford from 1651.

The eighth dance, Prenes on gre, is also for 2 people. It breaks all these rules. The music is repeated three times but the pattern only occurs once, and the movement may be forward and back but looks more like the movement is all forward.

Conclusions

It is possible that trace refers to what you are doing as you do the steps not the steps themselves. It may not even refer to the floor pattern.

A double trace may refer to the steps, eg doubles instead of singles; or speed, ie a double trace is twice as fast as a trace. It is also possible that it refers to the number of times a pattern is repeated.

The dances which have steps described for the trace mainly involve forward and back movements. All involve singles, tretts and retretts. There are no doubles.

About half the traces described involve changing places.


Dances in the first group Dances in the second group
Egle Hawthorne
Esperans Damesyn
Mowbrary Temperans
Prenes on gre Northumberland

Extracts of the dance descriptions

Following are extracts the dance decriptions. Only the part of the dance describing the trace are shown and interpretated.

Egle for 3 [Dance step description No. 4, no music]

"All togedir trett and retrett. Then 3 singlis forth. [p. 57] Then the medill torne into first manys place before hym; the first in to medils manys place, while the last brawlyth.
3 Then tret and retrett and 3 forth.
Then the first brawll as he standeth whill the second and the thred change places both on the right shulder. This dance 3 tymes and the every man shal be in his awne place.
After the end of the trace ..."

Part 1:

All forward and back a trett, all forward 3 singles,

First (A) and second (B) turn to change places while third (C) branle.
Part 2:

All forward and back a trett, all forward 3 singles,

second (A) and third (C) turn to change places while first (B) branle.
Repeat all this twice more to get back to place. This would give 6 repeats of the pattern each repeat with 8 bars of music

Esperans for 3 [Dance step description No. 4, music No. 8]

"Al the 6 singlis with a trett. Then the fyrst man goo compass till he come behind, whil themedyll retrett thre, and the last 3 singlis, and the medil 3 singlis, leving the last on the left hand, and the last 3 retretts. Thus the medill endeth before the last in the meddist and the ferst behynd. Thus daunce 3 tymes, calling every man as he standeth.
After the end of the trace, ..."

This figure is repeated 3 times and consists of 6 singles and a trett (3 passi and a close). If you agree with the idea that a left always follows a right then a left occurs, then the second repeat will be on the right foot and second will "leave" last by the right.

In the first six singles;
The person in first place casts out to fourth place,
While second and third change places in an anti-clockwise circle,
second place does 3 singles backward to third place and then 3 singles
forward to place,
Then third place does 3 singles forward to second place and then 3 singles
backwards to place.
Then all do a trett forwards.

In the second repeat every one starts on the right,
First casts to the right
and the other two circle clockwise.

A full interpretation of this dance is available.


Mowbrary for 3 [Dance step description No. 3, no music]

"Every man tret and retrett; then the first and last turn outward; the medyll furth 3 singles.
2 Then [p.56] all trett and retrett with a half turne fface to face; then mett together, then medill enter with half a turne."

I am assuming this is the trace because it does not begin with "After the trace".

The pattern:

Repeat 1:
All forward and back a trett with first and last ending facing outwards,
all go 3 singles forward. First and last will move away from middle.
Repeat 2:
All forward and back a trett ending by turning to face
all go 3 singles forward (back to place) all turn to back.

The question is what do you do the third time. You cannot repeat the second part as indicated because you have come together rather than starting apart.

All forward and back a trett with first and last ending facing outwards

All go 3 singles forward.

All forward and back a trett ending by turning to face.

All go 3 singles forward (back to place) all turn to back


Prenes on gre for 3 [Dance step description No. 7, music No. 5]

"Trace forthright 6 singlis; ather torne other aboute, and forthright 6 singles agen. "

The first bit of music has 4 bars repeated 3 times. There is no indication that the pattern is repeated.

The steps as written would require 6 bars of music for the "forthright singles" and 2 or 4 bars for the turn depending on if the turn is 180 or 360 degrees. This would need 14 or 16 bars of music.

A possibility is that the first and last four singles are forward while the middle four are used to turn each other about.

Approach with 4 singles.

Use 4 singles to turn each other.

Continue forward with 4 singles.

A discussion on interpreting this dance and a full interpretation of this dance is available.


Petygay for 3 [Dance step description No. 11, no music]

The whole dance is

"doble trace
After the end of the trace, every man 3 singlis after oder.
Then the doble trace agayn. Then torne all at onys."
;


Hawthorne for 2 [Dance step description No. 21, no music]

The trace here is possibly "Thre synglis and thre rakkys and a stop and torne. Then the first 3 synglis and thre retrettes; the 2de the same tyme. The 2de thre singlis and thre retrettes; thr first eqt the same tym."

Since we do not have the music for this dance it is not possible to interpret it, because " thre retretts" may be three singles, three backward tretts or three tretts going the other way.

At a guess I would say this trace is:-

Music repeat 1
3 singles forward, 3 singles sidways and a turn single
Music repeat 2
As for the first time but only person 1 & 2 do it
Music repeat 3
AS for the first time but only person 2 & 3 do it.

Damesyn for 3 [Dance step description No. 23, no music]

The trace is possibly: "All togedder thre singlis with a stoppe, 3 retrettes and thre forth; and so 2 tymes."

All forward a trett, 3 singles(?) backwards and a 3 singles forward. Repeat twice(?) more.


Temperans for 3 [Dance step description No. 25, music No. 10]

"All trett and retrett thre singlis with a stop. Then first and the medyll togedder retrett while the last goth forth and cum togedder agayn in the same forme saving in the end wher the laste departytt the second shall the thred the first shall."

Part 1. The Trace


First and second man zigzag (back with retrett then forward with trett) one place to the left while third man zigzags (forward with trett and back with retrett) to first man's place. L, R.

Repeat until everyone is back in place.

Note that here it is the music that tells us that the trace is repeated 3 times not the dance description.

A full interpretation of this dance is available.


Northumberland for 3 [Dance step description No. 26, music No. 6]

"Togedder three singlis with a stop; trett and retrett. Then the first man torne in his own place while the last torn the meddyll abowytt.
Togedder agayn with three singlis with a stop; trett and retrett. Then half a torn and tron agayn and togedder.
Then agayn with three singlis with a stop; trett and retrett. Then the first torn the meddyll abowt whilt the last man torn in his own place. "

Trace Start side by side.
Trett and retrett.
First turn single while second and third turn each other with a double.
Trett and retrett.
All turn single.
Trett and retrett.
Third turn single while first and second turn each other with a double.

A full interpretation of this dance is available.


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