The annotated Petronella

A Zesty Contra dance, quite at home in an eCeilidh environment. You'll remember it for the Petronella Turn, a flashy in, out, spin-to-next-place move you do in a little circle of four people.

The caller will say Longways and, when enough people have formed up, most likely a Hands Four from the Top, Yes, it's jargon... If you've danced the Nottingham Swing, you'll have met this

There are apparently many different versions of the dance, with something a little different in the Scottish County Dancing Repertoire. This version makes no claims to be anything beyond what sometimes appears in ceilidhs.

The Dance:

Danced to a 32 bar reels

A: Petronella Turn...

Join hands in a circle of four, balance in and out

  • There are many sorts of balancing. This being a Contra dance, think of it as everyone taking a step-two-three into the middle of the circle and a step-two-three back out again

You want to get round to the next position to your right... Look towards the person on your right, everyone should be looking at someone's left ear. You are going to take that person's place. They will have got out of the way.

  • You do it with a clockwise spin and it needs to be fast. You need to get round three quarters of a turn. You end up in the next place round and facing into the centre of the little circle.
  • You were holding hands, so don't forget to let go. If you are feeling friendly, give the person behind a lead that the spin is a clockwise one.
  • You can clap twice right at the end of that spin. The spin takes four beats and the 'clap-clap' is on beats 3.5 and 4.

The clapping seems to be controversial, although why it is so is not clear. However there are many dances that include the Petronella move and it is likely to fit better with some tunes and dances than others. It does make sense that everybody finds the right beats to clap on.

You do this four times to get back to your original position

B1: Lead down, back and cast

First couple lead down the set, turn as individuals, come back up and cast round the twos. Remember who you cast round, you will be still dancing with them...

The 'twos' move up a bit as the first couple cast round them.

B2: Four Changes...

You've progressed, but are still dancing with the couple you were dancing with. You'll be dancing a Right and Left Four, or Four Changes in a Circular Hey. Think of it as a four person Grand Chain with hands and not a Right and Left Through.

Imagine a square on the floor. You will be dancing along each side:

  • Your partner is opposite you...
    Take their right hand and pull past to get to the other side of the set..
  • You give your left hand to the next person...
    You remember you cast round someone?
    That is the person you need to give your left hand to. Make sure you catch their eye, it's quite possible, even quite likely that they'll be wanting to face the wrong way.
    Pull past this person...
  • You'll see your partner again across the set...
    Give them your right hand and pull past...
  • You'll see the other person...
    Make sure you catch their eye again, give them your left hand and pull past.

Four moves, four sides of a square, and you should be back to place.

If you are a first couple, face down the set and look for a new couple to join hands with. If you are a second couple face up the set. If you are doing that and find you are at the end of the set, don't panic

Don't Panic If you are at the end of the set...

If you've got to the end of the set and there's no-one there wanting to form a circle with you?

Don't panic, it's one of those things that happen in longways dances, you get to an end and have to head back the other direction. If you've danced Nottingham Swing, Speed the Plough or Portsmouth, you'll have been in this situation.

There will be one time through the dance where you'll be watching and then someone will head towards you expecting you to join them. If you had been a 'first couple' dancing down the set, you will start dancing as a 'second couple'.

Vice versa, the couple who had reached the top of the set, having danced as a second couple all the way up, watch and start dancing as a 'first couple' and dance down the set.

More information: Origins...

Shedloads of dance archeology here, the Scottish Country Dance Petronella didn't (and doesn't) have what seems to be known as the Petronella Turn and there seems to be loads of descriptions of the "old" or "original" Petronella Contra. There is an article on the wayback machine that describes how the dance first evolved to include all four people in the A music (extemporisation after having danced Roxburgh Castle) then the Petronella Turn.

The link between the "Petronella Turn", as per Zesty Contra, and Roxburgh Castle can be seen in the latter's description from the Community Dances Manual (Book 6):

  • 1st and 2nd couples dance round in a circle counter-clockwise (not holding hands) turning single four times as they do so. (Rant or balance step)

What appears in the eCeilidh repertoire is the "modern version", where everyone balances in and out and spins. It's been labelled Citronella but the old name seems to be sticking

The Music:

Classic tune is Petronella, ABC notation