Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hole in the Wall

by David Wilkin

As noted before and elsewhere, I have spent some time teaching the dances that have been done in the Regency Era. I have spent the time doing this because I found tremendous enjoyment performing them as well as guiding others through them. The advent of devices like the iPod and now our iPhones have allowed me to store some of these tunes on the device and carry them with me, as well as listen to them when I wish even as I write my Regency Novels, such as my latest, Jane Austen and Ghosts.

Regency Dancing has been in vogue for many years now. We owe it’s acceptance in the United States to the attendees of Science Fiction conventions, specifically the wives of the authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

These ladies, bored by not having much to do, took their love of Georgette Heyer Regency Romances, and asked one fan who was known for his ethnic dancing, to choreograph dances that they had read about. These dances took off. Dancing spread to other venues, where attendees of Science Fiction conventions also were members of Reenactment groups. Specifically the Society for Creative Anachronism, which ends it study of previous times in 1600. Well before our period.

Those interpreters of history however, found a resource for dance from John Playford, and the English Dancing Master. Though published in 1651, it is thought that all the dances he recorded and printed were also done before. A later dance, Hole in the Wall, made it’s way into both realms, that of the SCA and that of those dancing in the Regency genre at Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions, and events solely concerned with the Regency.

Presented for you here, notes say this dance is from 1721. Dancing certainly gives one a Regency feel. The music is from Henry Purcell and published in 1695 as Air VIII Hornpipe. The music was part of the incidental music in the revival of the 1677 tragedy of Mrs. Aphra Behn's Abdelazer or the Moor's Revenge. As far as we can tell the name of the dance has little to do with the play. The orchestration of the music make this piece related to the music of the French Court of the late 17th century.

As mentioned, re-enactment societies have taken this dance to the Regency and to the Renaissance. Many of those who dance it from those eras take the time to embellish their movements with the caricatures found at those times. The dance however, remains the same and is pleasant in any era.

1) A couple honor each other, cast out and around B couple, meet below, pass through B couple to place
B couple honor each other, cast out and around A couple, meet above, pass through A couple to place
2) A man, B lady bow and cross by right shoulders, exchanging places. B man, A lady bow and cross by right shoulders, exchanging places
3) All 4 in set join hands, circle clockwise half way to place. A couple cast around B's, B's lead up.

Breaking this down for you.


Set-The set is the group of dancers. In Hole in the Wall, men line up facing their partners. The first couple at the top of the line are the A couple. The next couple are the B’s and these two couples are one set. The next couple, the third in the line, are A’s once more.

Honor-An honor would be for the man to give a short bow, and the lady a curtsy.

Cast-Casting out and around means that the A man turns over his left shoulder and walks behind the B man to the place vacated by the next A man in line as he has also cast and moved down the line. The A lady does the same casting over her right shoulder and walking behind the B lady on her side of the set.

Cross-The cross is you getting to the other side of the set. In Hole in the Wall the cross is done along the diagonal, so instead of facing your partner, you face and cross with the person of the same gender next to your partner.

Hands Round-Often called as four hands round, though all four people and all eight of their hands (two each) are used. Everyone joins hands in the square, making a circle. The circle now advances a certain number of places, in Hole in the Wall, it is two, or half way around the circle. In this dance you end up back where you started so this is often called as half way to place.

Progression-The term for how couples move on to dance with new people. Advancing to your next set of partners.

The Dance Figures:

The first part of the dance:
❖The A couple exchange honors, which is the man bowing and the lady curtsying.

❖Casting-The A man turns over his left shoulder and walks behind the B man to the place vacated by the next A man in line as he has also cast and moved down the line. The A lady does the same casting over her right shoulder and walking behind the B lady on her side of the set.

❖Meet below and pass through means that the A’s are now next to the B’s, the B’s have not moved, along the line. This is often done with the active couple lightly touching inside hands at shoulder height. They walk back between the B couple and return to the place they started the dance. The entire figure is done without stopping.

❖The second part of the first figure is the B couple doing everything the A couple just did. The B couple is at this time the active couple.

The second part of the dance:
❖This is now done on the diagonal, the A man honors the B lady and she him. They cross to each others place passing right shoulders. Again many touch the fingers of their right hands to each other in our modern interpretation with a bit of flirtation. When they reach the place that was occupied by the other, they honor once more.

❖As there was repetition before, so too again. This time the B man and the A lady do what was just done by their partners.

❖All four join hands and walk in a circle clockwise, halfway. This puts each person in the place where they started the dance.

❖As at the beginning of the dance, the A couple casts down, but not this time to where the other A’s were before. To where the couple they have been dancing with (The B’s) are standing.

❖Our B couple must get out of the way, and joining inside hands, as is done now, the B man leads his partner to the place that their A couple has vacated.

❖At the end of this the B’s find themselves with a new A couple, and the A’s have a new couple as well.

Please note that at each end of the line, after once time through, there are extra couples. The B couple at the very top of the line has no couple to dance with, and the A couple at the bottom of the line. This happens and the couples will wait one time through the dance and return to dance, but this time as they go along the line to the very other end, they are now the reverse couple of what they were before. If they started as an A, they are now a B, and vice-versa.

At the Regency Assembly Press pages there is one page devoted to Regency Dancing, as you would find at the time and that is recreated today.

Kate Van Winkle Keller and Genevieve Shimer The Playford Ball, 1994

Mr. Wilkin writes Regency Historicals and Romances, Ruritanian and Edwardian Romances, Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is the author of the very successful Pride & Prejudice continuation; Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence. His most recent work is the humorous spoof; Jane Austen and Ghosts.

His work can be found for sale at: David’s Books, and at various Internet and realworld bookstores including the iBookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords.
He is published by Regency Assembly Press
And he maintains his own blog called The Things That Catch My Eye
You also may follow Mr. Wilkin on Twitter at @DWWilkin


  1. It would have been helpful to have a video of dancer performing the dance. At regular then half then again at regular speed to understand the directions better.

  2. Thank you, David! You article has made sense of what I've watched, and of lessons I've taken. I enjoyed it very much!


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