The Helter-Skelter

(CW827)  (28 OCT '08)

5-Couple Longways.   Ten Rounds.
Change-partner (top man progressing to the bottom in Rounds 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, bottom lady progressing to the top in Rounds 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10).


The top two ladies pull-by right-hands along (2), then top four pull-by left-hands across (2) and keep these hands joined for…During A:1-8, the lower three couples circle right (8) and left (8).


Top four set right and left (away and towards) (4).


Top four turn single right (4) into…


Left-hand star halfway (4).
Leading man is now in second man's place.


The leading man (going first) and third man change places by doing a half Figure-of-eight across between the opposite two ladies (2L and 3L) who move forward outside them and fall back between them (8).
Leading man is now in third man's place.
During B:1-8, top couple does a LH turn (8) and a RH turn (8), while bottom couple does a RH turn (8) and a LH turn (8).


Leading man (going second) and fourth man change places by doing a half Figure-of-eight across, the fourth man going first so that the leading man can use bars 4 and 5 to put in a clockwise loop between the two half Figures-of-eight. The opposite two ladies (3L and 4L) move forward outside the men and fall back between them (8).
Leading man is now in fourth man's place.


The leading man and fifth man change places as follows: leading man and bottom two ladies single-file clockwise, he finishing in bottom man's place as the ladies return to original places, while the fifth man does a wide cast up into fourth man's place (8).
Leading man is now in fifth man's place.
During C:1-8, the upper three couples do a full Grimstock Hey, new twos (2L and 3M) moving down the outside to start (16).


Same bottom four face neighbours for four quick changes of a circular-hey, right, left, right, left, leading man then taking right hands with same neighbour ready to "trigger" the next Round (during which the bottom lady will progress to the top as he did to the bottom) (8).

Music: another dance inspired by the fiddle-playing of Rodney Miller. "Money Musk" (10 times 24 bars) as played on the CD described below.

How this dance was written

(Don't worry; I won't be doing this for many of the dances on this site!)

      It usually begins with a tune. This time it was on the excellent 2001 Great Meadow Music double CD, "New England Chestnuts" by Rodney Miller, Randy Miller et al (GMM2005). On the first disc the last track is "Money Musk", 24 bars in 3 eight-bar phrases (A, B, C), played ten times through. Too many repetitions for our British taste in longways-for-as-many-as-will, so why not have a five-couple longways set with only half a couple making their major progression in each Round? Let everyone be proper for now, and have the top man moving to the bottom in Round 1, the bottom lady moving to the top in Round 2, then repeat all that four more times to original places. This alternate-gender, alternate-direction progression would give a continuous and symmetrically-pleasing change of partners.

      So in each Round we need a four-place progression (for the leading dancer) in three equal-length phrases of music. For symmetry's sake (again) let's move them one place in the A phrase, two in the B, and one in the C. We'll begin by choreographing the central B phrase since the rest of the dance should fit around this, flowing into and out of it smoothly. The musical structure of these middle eight bars suggests the desirability of two identical eight-step movements, so why not use one for each one-place progression? How, then, can the leading man (now in second place after his progression in phrase A, remember,) change places with the third man, yet both leave their current partners' positions unaltered? My answer would be: men half Figure-of-eight across, with the "meanwhile" option of the opposite two ladies moving forward outside the men then falling back between them. That seems O.K. but the leading man, as he completes that move will be moving up the men's side of the set into third place, making it potentially very awkward for him to immediately move down and across, which is what another half figure-of-eight, this time with the fourth man, would require. Unless, that is, the leading man were to go first in the first half Figure-of-eight and second in the second and use the time (and steps) saved between them to make a well-rounded intermediary feature of looping out and around to his right, thus joining them together. His double progression in the B phrase might then become an aesthetically-pleasing and continuous clockwise helical movement (of varying radius) down the set into fourth place.

      We now need to send the leading man smoothly into the ensuing C phrase and his change-of-places with the fifth man. A third half Figure-of-eight across would be a cop-out, particularly as a different line of melody is involved. So let's think. If the leading man completes his helical descent with a turn in to his right then he is travelling clockwise as he becomes part of the bottom four. What if he "invites" the bottom two ladies to single-file clockwise with him, they returning to their places, he finishing one place short in bottom man's place, while the bottom man does a wide cast up into fourth place? This would extend the leading man's helix right down to the bottom whilst still yielding a different duple minor-set movement to reflect the change of music.

      At this stage, with only four bars left in which to (hopefully) provide an enjoyable route-for-all into the next Round, we'd better go back to our, as yet, completely-empty A phrase. Musically, this is in four four-step segments. Serendipity now comes up with the notion that perhaps the leading man, having completed "his" Round, could somehow "trigger" the next Round for the bottom lady!

      The only clue we have to choreographing the first eight bars of the Round is the need to have the leading man, at the end of this A phrase, moving down the men's side to join the third man in the first half Figure-of-eight across. Time for a bit of trial and error. Could our leading man be coming out of a left-hand star in the top four at this point? Or even half a left-hand star, to leave more time for other A-phrase movemnts? Working backwards from this (second man's) place would put him in first lady's place, and he could get there by some version of a square-hey-for-four, perhaps. And, if the top two ladies started this hey one change before the men, the half-star might get these ladies home whilst putting the men into each other's places. Use this extra change at the start of the A phrase and we have the top lady helping to "trigger" the top man's Round. Sounds like that serendipitous idea we had earlier: the top man moves to the bottom, "triggers" the bottom lady into moving to the top, where she "triggers" the current top man, and so on counterclockwise around the set.

      Back to the A phrase, then. The top lady changes, right hands, with the second lady and both face across for a left-hand change with the opposite man, two steps per change. In two bars we've got these four to where we need them for the desired (but final) half left-hand star, and we've still got four bars left to fill up in the middle of this phrase. Time to fall back on that old faithful: set and turn single? Those two changes of the hey are quick, not enough time to face across for the set, so let's keep those left hands joined to set side-on before turning single right and into the half left-hand star that will throw the leading man into his first half Figure-of-eight across.

      Things are looking promising. It only remains to fill in the gap between the first four bars of phrase C and the start of the next Round. We have four bars left and this Round's progression is already complete. Remember, we need the new bottom man, by changing right-hands with the man above him (mirroring what the top lady did with the lady below her at the start of the Round) to "trigger" the bottom lady's progression. And in only two steps. So, to avoid a standing-start from say a back-to-back with neighbours (which would, admittedly, use up the available music) why not get these dancers moving by making that quick Round-igniting change a continuation of something fast, like a complete circular-hey-for-four in bars 5 to 8? This hey would need to begin with neighbours facing (which flows easily from the previous movements), so that the bottom two men could meet here again, both with the momentum to flow into that quick "trigger" change.

      You've probably noticed that we have the lower three couples standing idle for the entire A phrase and the upper three couples similarly afflicted in the C phrase. Many choreographers would leave them to this dreadful fate, thereby simplifying the dance, but with a driving tune like this I like to keep as many dancers as possible dancing. For the A phrase a circle-for-six to the left then right is a possibility, though this would leave the threes "wanting" to pass left shoulders to start the B phrase. But they need to pass right shoulders if the man is to flow diagonally up into the first half Figure-of-eight and his partner to move across below ("outside") him. So let's make the circle go right then left.

      The realization now hits us that these three lower couples, in the A phrase of every Round except the first, were the unoccupied upper three couples in the immediately-preceding C phrase of the previous Round. Why is this? Simply because for each Round the top of the set moves to the other end. What we need then is another eight-bar, non-progressive, movement for the same three couples, like the circles-for-six, otherwise we might have to ditch those and have a rethink. But, let's not panic yet. Intuition (or thousands of mistakes) tells me that a Grimstock Hey will do nicely, since it has the same circular floor-shape and allows all six dancers (assuming they are in anticipatory mode!) to flow readily into the circle-right which starts the next Round for them.

      The dance will stand as it is, but we could go even further towards my no-idling ideal by giving the end couples, inactive throughout the B phrase, something to fill those eight bars of music. Don't ask me why, but single-hand turns come to mind: for the top couple, left-hand (out of the half left-hand star at the end of the A phrase), then right; and for the bottom couple, right-hand then left (bottom man casting out of this into the next place to start his C-phrase movements).

      Finally, what about a title? "The Helter-Skelter" seems apt, suggesting as it does the twelve-bar helical descent of the leading man in the odd-numbered Rounds. The ladies, needless to add, defy gravity as they ascend the afore-mentioned fairground attraction in the even-numbered Rounds.

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