Steps Back

For what it’s worth, here’s a dance from the 1780s:

  1. Glissade round (first part of tune).
  2. Double shuffle down, do.
  3. Heel and toe back, finish with back shuffle.
  4. Cut the buckle down, finish the shuffle.
  5. Side shuffle right and left, finishing with beats.
  6. Pigeon wing going round.
  7. Heel and toe haul in back.
  8. Steady toes down.
  9. Changes back, finish with back shuffle and beats.
  10. Wave step down.
  11. Heel and toe shuffle obliquely back.
  12. Whirligig, with beats down.
  13. Sissone and entrechats back.
  14. Running forward on the heels.
  15. Double Scotch step, with a heel Brand in Plase. [sic]
  16. Single Scotch step back.
  17. Parried toes round, or feet in and out.
  18. The Cooper shuffle right and left back.
  19. Grasshopper step down.
  20. Terre-a-terre [sic] or beating on toes back.
  21. Jockey crotch down.
  22. Traverse round, with hornpipe glissade.

It’s “A Sailor Hornpipe — Old Style,” by John Durang, George Washington’s favorite dancer. Durang taught it to his son Charles, who reproduced it in a study of theatrical dancing published in 1855, which is how it comes down to us.

The terminology is influenced by French ballet, but already it incorporates innovations such as “shuffles”; in time the hornpipe would evolve into modern tap dancing. In Tap Roots, Mark Knowles writes, “It is believed that the ‘whirligig, with beats down’ is similar to a renvers√© turn such as the kind later done by the tap dancing film star Eleanor Powell.”

(From Julian Mates, The American Musical Stage Before 1800, 1962.)