Derivation of the term Hey
During 1995 there was some discussion on rec.folk-dancing there was some discussion on the derivation of the term hey (often alternatively known as a reel in Britain). Below is the most detailed article on the subject sent by Jim Saxe on 7 Dec 1995 21:46:41 GMT.
Here's yet another posting about the history and etymology of
the hey, citing some references that nobody else has mentioned so far,
at least in postings that have made it to my site.
Let's turn first to Thoinot Arbeau's (pseudonym for Jehan
Tabourot, born c. 1520) Orchesography. This treatise, written in
the form of a dialog between a dancing master, Arbeau, and his student,
Capriol, was first published in 1589. My citation is to the 1967 edition
by Dover Publications, New York. The Dover edition is based on an annotated
translation from the French by Lady Mary Stewart Evans (Kamin Dance Publishers,
New York, 1948), but edited and supplemented with a second set of annotations
by Julia Sutton. In what follows, bracketed numerals refer to Evans's end notes
(which in the Dover edition are referenced by superscripted numerals, counting
serially from the beginning to the end of the book), bracketed letters
refer to Sutton's end notes (originally superscripted letters, starting
over with "a" on each page), and bracketed text is mine.
On page 167, Arbeau describes The Montarde Branle:
[A variation of the Montarde Branle is still danced in Britain, under the
name Horses Brawl - Rhod]
In bygone days we used to dance a mimed branle called the Montarde. It
was danced [description of footwork omitted] always moving to the left
without any deviation to the right. An equal number of men and women take
part, one of the men leading and one of the women bringing up the rear,
and they all dance four _doubles a` gauche_ together. This done, the leader,
detaching himself from the others, makes a turn alone, then the second
makes a turn and joins the first. The third does likewise, joining the
second, and so on ... . And when the last dancer has finished her turn,
the first one makes a hay, passing in front of the women and behind
the men, and places himself at the tail end, taking the last woman by the
hand. And while he is making this hay all those before and behind whom
he has passed join hands and repeat the branle as at the beginning. Thus
the woman who was at the end [sic, but see below] finds herself leading
and must follow the example of the original leader. In this way each dancer
becomes leader and last in turn. After the last one has made her hay she
is back once again at the end where she started. ...
Evans's annotation is:
In case it's not clear without more context than I care to quote, the formation
is a line of alternating men and women, all facing the same direction,
with hands joined:
 This is a weaving back and forth between a line of other dancers.
/\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\
Each dancer in turn detaches from the leading (left) end of line and weaves
hey-style to the rear (right) end, the other dancers meanwhile moving to
the left, and dropping hands only as necessary to let the heying dancer
through. The line may well be curved into a broken circle, if only to limit
the amount of space used.
After Arbeau gives a tabulation of the music and steps for the
Montarde, Capriol remarks:
To be sure, this Montarde branle must be the one that damsels call the
Then he goes on to describe what we would now recognise as a progressive
straight hey, each dancer in turn beginning to weave back through the line
as soon as the preceding dancer has gone far enough to be out of the way,
rather than waiting for the preceding dancer to get all the way to the
The dance of the hay to which you refer is another. ... [Initial figures
omitted] and at the end they interweave and make the hay.[a] ...
... Suppose the dancers to be seven in number, A, B, C, D, E, F and G.
When A who is first has changed with B who is second and when the said
A has also changed with C, who is third, and is about to change with D
who is fourth, then B who is now first must begin the hay and change places
with C who is now second and so on.
From what you say, I gather that C is now the first and so he must begin
his hay by changing with D who is now second at the same moment that B
changes and makes the hay with E who is now fourth and so on accordingly.
Evans's note says:
You have grasped it very well.
The haycock theory is interesting, but I put more credence in the etymology
suggested in Sutton's note:
 Spelled variously, hay, haye, and hey, this is a very old country
dance, usually a round one, and Dr. Johnson, in his dictionary, suggests
that it may have been so called because it was originally danced round
a haycock. In Love's Labour's Lost, Dull, the constable says, "I will play
on the tabor to the Worthies and let them dance the Hay."
The reference is to _Dances of England and France from 1450 to 1600_, by
Mabel Dolmetsch (first published by Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd., London,
1949, republished in paperback by Da Capo Press, Inc., New York, 1976).
Dolmetsch offers her explanation of the term "haye" in connection with
Arbeau's description of the Montarde, of which she gives a translation
that differs in some details from the Dover [Evans/Sutton] version. In
particular, where the Dover edition has the questionable
a. Arbeau describes the hay exactly as it is still done in English country
dancing today, as well as elsewhere in Europe. ... The term may be pictorially
derived from "la haye," a French for an artificial hedge, "formed of upright
wooden stakes interlaced with transverse strands consisting of thin supple
stems" (Dolmetsch, op cit,. p. 64).
Thus the woman who was at the end finds herself leading ...
Also Dolmetsch uses the spelling "haye" where the Dover edition has "hay."
This suggests that Arbeau's original spelling was indeed "haye," and this
suggestion is strengthened by the fact that the tabulation for "The Hay"
in the Dover edition is captioned "TABULATION OF THE HAY DANCE" and, on
the next line, "Tabulature de la dance de la haye" in a different and,
to my eye, slightly coarser font. The music for all the tabulations in
the book is claimed to be photocopied from Arbeau, and I don't know any
reason that the French caption (using the word "haye") would have been
included unless it had been photocopied along with the music the follows
it. I haven't had access to any French edition (modern, facsimile, or original)
of the book.
Thus doing, she who was second finds herself the first, ...
In modern French (according to several different French/English
dictionaries), the word for hedge is "haie" and word for "hay" (cut grass)
is "foins." "Le Haye" is the (modern, at least) French name for The Hague,
of which _The New Encyclopaedia Britannica_ (15th ed., 1986) says:
In Joseph Wright's, _The English Dialect Dictionary_ (published by Henry
Frowde, Oxford, 1905), one of the definitions of "Hay" is: "A hedge, fence;
a boundary." Wright says this definition is, "In gen. dial. use in Irel.
and Eng." and mentions the variant spellings "hey" and "hye" and the plural
forms "haies," "hayes," and "haze."
The city's name recalls the hunting lodge and principal residency of the
counts of Holland, located in a woodland area area called Haghe or "hedge"
I've dug up a few more titbits, but I think this is about enough
for one posting.
This page last modified Tue Apr 2 1996 11:36:44
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