The Maid Peept Out at the Window (also known as The Frier in the Well) is a dance from the first edition of Playford's English Dancing Master (1651).
In addition to being a fun dance, it's a good illustration of some of the challenges of reconstructing complex dances from brief 17th century shorthand.
Specified as longways for as many as will, but it works best for small longways sets, as you need to be able to cast all the way from the top of the line to the bottom in eight counts, flipping the line all the way from top to bottom.
Although not specified as such, the choreography of this dance requires it to be danced as an improper longways set. Start with all of the Follows to the right of the Leads facing up the hall, but then have the odd couples (the "ones") cross over to the other line. Why this is will be explained in Part 6 below.
There are six different parts to the dance:
Part 1 (16 counts)
Up and Back (8 counts): Taking hands with partner, walk four steps up the hall, and fall back four steps down the hall.
Repeat Up and Back (8 counts)
Part 2 (32 counts)
Flip the Lines (8 counts): The first couple casts out around the set, their respective lines following them, until they're reached the bottom and the bottom couple has reached the top, effectively flipping the lines from top to bottom.
Set and Turn Single (8 counts): Facing partner without hands, step side right, close left without weight, side left, close without weight, and turn solo in place by walking around a small clockwise circle with four steps. (The modest step close style of the set is one of the few pieces of footwork explicitly described in the source, although you'll very often see it replaced with a more energetic leaped triple step, or sometimes even a pas de basque, today. You'll also see some communities dance it as single left, single right, and turn counterclockwise, but the majority do right, left, counterclockwise.)
Re-Flip the Lines (8 counts): The first couple now casts out around the set from bottom to top, leading everyone into their original places.
Set and Turn Single (8 counts)
Part 3 (16 counts)
Side Right (8 counts): Approach partner with four steps, ending right shoulder to right shoulder, then back away four steps. (This is the historical style for siding, although you may also see some people do it with the more dynamic "Cecil Sharp" style of siding, in which you trade places and then trade places back home. In a modern context, either is fine, as long as you and your partner/community agree.)
Side Left (8 counts): Approach partner with four steps, ending left shoulder to left shoulder, then back away four steps. (Or do the Cecil Sharp styling, if that's your community's preference.)
Part 4 (32 counts)
Leads Slip, Lead Up (8 counts): Facing up the hall, the Leads slip in front of the Follows as Follows slip behind, trading places, then lead four steps up the hall. (The step for slipping isn't specified in the source, but it's usually danced as a quick repeated side-close step.)
Set and Turn Single (8 counts)
Follows Slip, Lead Down (8 counts): Facing down the hall, the Follows slip in front of the Leads as Leads slip behind, trading places to go back to their own side, then lead four steps down the hall. (Technically, the instructions say lead "up" here as well, but that would end up with the whole set having moved eight steps up the hall, so I concur with the common interpretation that we go up the hall the first time, then back down the hall the second time.)
Set and Turn Single (8 counts)
Part 5 (16 counts)
Arm Right (8 counts): Taking right arm with partner, walk eight steps clockwise around each other to place. (Many different styles are seen for arming including: touching forearms, linking elbows, holding forearms, or holding hands, low or high. The only real requirement is that you and your partner/community agree on how you're going to do it.)
Arm Left (8 counts): Taking left arm with partner, walk eight steps counterclockwise around each other to place.
Part 6 (32 counts)
This is why the dance needs to be improper.
The instructions for this part begin with, "First man put backe the 2. Wo. by both hands while the 2. man puts backe the first Wo. fall into each others places, all the rest doing the like, then set and turne S."
The only way the first Lead can interact with the second Follow in this manner, while the second Lead is interacting with the first Follow, is if the set is improper. If we interpret this literally with a proper set, the Leads will be trying to push the Follows diagonally backward with two hands, meaning that all eight hands will be crossed, and you won't be able to go anywhere. (And even if you could, you'd only succeed in pushing the Follows' line toward the right wall.)
The common solution to this 17th century puzzle (based on Cecil Sharp's reconstruction in the 1910s) is to ignore the instruction to interact with your opposite, and simply do a half pousette of the first couple around the second. But this not only requires ignoring the dancer numbers: it also disregards the figure instructions themselves, because in a half pousette of couple 1 around couple 2, the first Lead "puts back" his partner, but in the case of the second couple, the second Follow "puts back" her Lead!
Given that the instructions very clearly say that the "First man put backe the 2. Wo. by both hands while the 2. man puts back the first Wo.," I find the proper pousette interpretation highly unlikely.
After trying every possible way we could think of to make this figure work in a proper formation, my wife Melissa suggested that it would work perfectly well if the formation was improper, and she was right: this set of instructions makes perfect sense in an improper formation, without creating any issues for the other figures. And in this case, all we have to assume is that Playford neglected to tell us that it was an improper formation, which seems more likely than that a whole figure of the dance is physically impossible as written.
Given an improper formation, here's what the mysterious figure looks like:
Half Pousette Across the Set (8 counts): Taking two hands with your opposite (facing up and down the hall), the Leads push the Follows back, then, without rotating, draw them to the right, and pull them forward onto the other side of the set, trading places with your partner and their opposite.
Set and Turn Single (8 counts): Facing opposite, set and turn single. (This could also be done facing your partner across the set. It's not entirely clear which one it is, and both work, as long as everyone agrees.)
Half Pousette Home (8 counts): Taking two hands with your opposite (facing up and down the hall), the Leads push the Follows back, then, without rotating, draw them to the left, and pull them forward into everyone's home places.
Set and Turn Single (8 counts): Facing opposite, set and turn single. (Same note as before.)
Now, can we be sure that this is what the original dance looked like? Of course not. When working from shorthand dance descriptions like those found in Playford, there are so many uncertainties that we'll never be able to resolve fully. But if you ask me, the never-ending mystery is all part of the fun!
Here is a nice tune for dancing Maid Peept Out at the Window:
© 2020 Nick Enge
For more dance descriptions, see our three books on dancing:
The Book of Mixers: 100 Easy-Teach Dances for Getting Acquainted (2022) by Richard Powers and Nick & Melissa Enge,
Cross-Step Waltz: A Dancer's Guide (2019) by Richard Powers and Nick & Melissa Enge, and
Waltzing: A Manual for Dancing and Living (2013) by Richard Powers and Nick Enge.
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