THE SAILOR’S HORNPIPE: My favourite competition dance with so much history, so much detail and energy with mime and acting. I would like to share some details which may have been missed and add a little history and meaning to the dance as I was taught not just from my dance teachers, but from an ex naval officer also.
Every sea going Nation now seems to have a Sailor’s Hornpipe although the dance is generally accepted to be English in origin and was used to keep the Sailors fit whilst at sea. Today the dance is performed to Hornpipe music in 4/4 time, but in times past the term Hornpipe has moved around time signatures such as 3/2, 6/4, 9/8 and, in the beginning, the music took its’ name from a musical instrument, obsolete since around 1600 called “The Hornpipe”. It was a woodwind instruments consisting of a single reed mouth-piece, a narrow bore, melody pipe with finger holes ending in a bell made from animal horn.
So this is how it all started, a very basic exercise in dance format designed to the sailor's fit while at sea -
Sailor's Hornpipe Dance - Britannia Royal Naval College 2012
The Sailor’s Hornpipe dance is earliest recorded, as a stage dance, performed by American dancer John Durang (1768-1822) who in 1790 performed a dance in nautical style. Unfortunately details of the Steps used do not exist so we do not know if the dance was in any way related to the Hornpipe of today, except that it was danced to “The College Hornpipe” the music style associated with the dance today.
English actor Thomas Potter Cooke (1786-1864), it is said, visited every port around the coast, to learn all the Steps he could from sailors and put them together in the dance form known today and it was Miss A M Cowper Coles who, in 1910, first published the Hornpipe Steps collected at on ship competitions that she organised.
Whilst the dance is considered to be English in origin the version performed at Highland competitions is very Highlandised and Bobby Watson used to dance an entertaining English/Scottish comparison performance of the dance. A good example of the modern Scottish version is -
A Sailor's Hornpipe At Halkirk Highland Games 2010
Outstanding performance by Laura Smith in the navy blue uniform