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 title 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 primitive musical instrument, obsolete since around 1600; called “The Hornpipe”. It was a woodwind instruments consisting of a single reed mouth-piece, similar to a bagpipe drone reed, a narrow bore wood melody pipe with finger holes ending in a bell made from an 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 -|
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 full 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 “Durang's Hornpipe” a tune written specifically for the dance by a German dwarf violinist known only as Hoffmaster. Here is a depiction of the style of dance by dynamic ballet dancer Wayne Sleep -