Nancy Dawson… all that delights a sailor’s heart. 1
One night in October 1759, Nancy Dawson became spectacularly famous by dancing a hornpipe in The Beggar’s Opera at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. The man who usually danced the hornpipe among the thieves was taken ill and a replacement was suddenly required. Nancy’s pretty figure and light, dainty style was an immediate success and she was soon a leading celebrity in London.
A minor actress, singer and dancer before her extensive success, Nancy Dawson was the stage name of Ann Newton. Her celebrated hornpipe continued to impress for several years as she was engaged to perform regularly in frequent revivals of The Beggar’s Opera and between the acts of various other plays.
Songs, poems, music and dances extolled Nancy success, not always politely. A song praising her charms was set to the traditional tune “Here we go round the mulberry bush” (formerly “Piss upon the Grass”) and became an immensely popular, entering into the folk repertoire.
Beloved by rich and poor alike, her greatest fans were seaman in the Royal Navy. Music and dance were important to sailors, and a beautiful woman, reputedly free with her favours and able to dance a hornpipe, must have held a special appeal. The tune and the country dance became favourites with sailors, particularly in Nelson’s navy and the dance undoubtedly was popular in Australia in the early days of the colony.
It remained within the dance culture, a version being published in the second half of the colonial era by Lovenberry of Brisbane in The Australian M.C. or Dancers Enquire Within, Containing One Hundred of the Newest Fashionable English , Irish, Scotch, French, and Colonial Dances. Woodcock & Powell, Brisbane. 1884.
The black, the fair, the brown,
Who dance and prance it up and down,
There’s none like Nancy Dawson.
Her easy mien, her step so neat,
She foots, she trips, she looks so sweet,
Her every motion is complete,
I die for Nancy Dawson.
See how the Op’ra takes a run,
Exceeding Hamlet, Lear or Lun,
Though in it there would be no fun,
Was’t not for Nancy Dawson.
Though Garrick he had had his day,
And forc’d the town his laws t’obey,
Now Johnny Rich is come in play,
With help of Nancy Dawson.
This version from No Kissing Allowed in School! A Virginia Dancing School in 1784.
Kate Van Winkle Keller & George A. Fogg.
Country dance: Longways set for 4 couples.
|A1||1-8||1st couple cast off down outside and back.|
|A2||1-8||1st couple cross and cast, cross and cast, lead up to face 1st corners. 2nd couple move up on bars 3 & 4.|
|B1||1-8||Set [basic setting, or rigadoon]to 1st corners and dance around them by the left shoulder. Meet partner in the middle, clap hands [own, own, partner’s] and two-hand turn to face second corners.|
|B2||1-8||Repeat B1 with 2nd corners.|
1Classified Advertising for the play 12,000 TOP-SAIL SHEET BLOCKS,OR, THE GUNNER AND THE FOUNDLING
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842) 9 Jul 1842: 3. Web. 19 Feb 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2556949>.
Ellis, Peter. Calling the Tune and Leading a Merry Dance. Part 1
Kate Van Winkle Keller & George A. Fogg. No Kissing Allowed in School! A Virginia Dancing School in 1784. Colonial Music Institute, Maryland, 2006.
R. Lovenberry. The Australian M.C. or Dancers Enquire Within, Containing One Hundred of the Newest Fashionable English , Irish, Scotch, French, and Colonial Dances. Woodcock & Powell, Brisbane, 1884.
University of Queensland Library. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/15137316?q=lovenberry+dances&c=book
Victoria & Albert Museum. Dance in popular theatre.
Accessed 18 Feb 2014
“PRETTY NANCY DAWSON.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 15 Jun 1937: 2 Supplement: Women’s Supplement. Web. 19 Feb 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17381672>.
“Sailors and Music.” Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954) 16 Dec 1905: 2 Supplement: Supplement to the Border Watch. Web. 19 Feb 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84839422>.
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