This easy mixer has been danced for more than a century, and is a great dance to introduce on the fly.
The Paul Jones name* dates back at least as far as 1910, and the dance itself dates back to the 19th century, at least as far as the early 1890s.†
* For an in-depth analysis of the name, see this page by Susan de Guardiola.
† The earliest complete description I've found is from 1892, but I've also found an 1879 description of a figure from The German that resembles it, with several key differences. It shuffles partners by circling right, circling left, and grand chaining, but it's not a mixer, and it doesn't repeat (see below).
Begins with couples dancing ab libitum around the room. At a pre-arranged signal, couples form one large circle with Follow on the right. (Alternatively, some versions begin in the circle, which can be helpful for practicing the partner change figure before the dancers get distracted by dancing with their first partner.)
Couples begin dancing to any kind of dance. Historically, it's been a traveling dance (Waltz, Polka, Galop, Schottische, One Step, Foxtrot, Two-Step), but it doesn't have to be.
At a pre-arranged signal (a whistle, a call, a change in music), all join hands to form a large circle around the room (or several concentric circles, if space demands), Follows on the right.
At the next signal, grand chain right and left around the room.* Leads weave around the circle along line of dance, Follows against line of dance, with each giving right hands to the first person they pass, left to the second, right to the third, etc.
* Some versions of the Paul Jones include circling left and circling right as a whole group before beginning the grand chain. Castle 1915 proposes a chassé to the right and a chassé to the left. For the grand chain, some versions begin the grand chain facing your partner, while others have everyone turning away from their partner and beginning the grand chain with someone new. Personally, I prefer to connect with my partner once more before leaving them, but it's up to you.
Anything goes, as long as it's danceable.
Many sources note that the music should be continuous throughout the entire dance.
© 2015 Nick Enge
(Click to expand)
The German - Grand Chain (Two Amateur Leaders, 1879):
[This appears to be a precursor to the Paul Jones figure. In this figure, from The German, partners dance, then are mixed by a roulette of concentric circles right and left, and at the end, original partners are regained through the grand chain.]
—— couples up and dance.
Signal partners, favor, and dance.
Signal general circle. Ladies forward and join hands; gentlemen join hands. Ladies circle to right, gentlemen to left. Call "halt" at any time.
Ladies find vacant places between any two gentlemen.
Grand chain. When chosen partners are met, they dance, the circle meanwhile contracting.
Signal seats. Favors for both.
The German - Grand Right and Left Figure (Elmwell, 1892):
[This is the earliest description I've found, but I've yet to conduct an extensive search.]
(Have a whistle for signal.) Play either a Polka, Schottische, Galop or Waltz. Explain before starting the music that when the signal is given (by blowing whistle), All will join hands and form a large circle around the hall; (next signal), Grand right and left; (next signal), All dance with the partner opposite you; (next signal), All form a circle around the hall.
After explaining the above to the dancers, start playing a waltz and play (32), (give signal) and say All form a large circle around the hall (do not stop playing). After the circle is formed (give signal) and say Grand right and left (16); (give signal) and say All waltz with that lady (32); (give signal) which means to form a circle again. Vary the number of measures for the Grand right and left and also while they are waltzing. Keep them guessing as to who they are going to dance with. Stop music after going through the figures five or six times.
Waltz. The German. (French, 1893):
When there are not too many couples the prompter may introduce the following.
Play the first two numbers of a waltz, then stop the music and call "all please join hands and form a circle around the hall." After circle is formed call "now we will have the grand right and left figure. All change partners when signal is given and waltz." (Signal may be given by blowing a whistle or tapping on music stand.) Then call the figure as follows: grand right and left ; (signal) all waltz ; (signal) all form a circle (signal) grand right and left ; (signal) all waltz ; (signal) form circle again (signal) grand right and left ; all waltz around the hall.
While dancing this figure the music should be continuous until all have danced around the hall at the finish. The prompter may use his own judgement in the number of measures to allow for the waltz after each signal, etc., etc.
Round Two-Step (Newman, 1903):
Music, Two Step, 2-4 or 6-8 time.
This dance is rapidly gaining popularity, as it is most enjoyable.
All the dancers take part at the same time and form one grand circle with hands joined, and all move to the left. Then the director of ceremonies calls out a certain number, say, for example, No. 5. All execute a grand chain, counting your partner one, the next lady two, etc., and dance the two step with the fifth lady until a signal from the director is given; then all form in circle again. This can be repeated indefinitely, a different number to be called each time, so that the dancers are constantly changing partners. The music to continue uninterrupted until signal to cease is given.
[In chapter on The German, he adds:]
Round Two Step, which has already been described, makes an excellent closing figure.
Thanks to Susan de Guardiola for finding this one.
Nantucket, or Paul Jones (Hegger, 1910):
[This is the first known description attached to the "Paul Jones" name.]
We had eighteen dances in all. The first nine were waltzes, two-steps, the varsovienne and barn dance, alternately; then supper, followed by the cotillion. The music for the cotillion was first a waltz, then a two-step, which we danced at the completion of each figure.
For the first figure we always had the "Nantucket" or "Paul Jones." In this, partners stand around the room forming a large circle; the whistle blows, and giving your partner your right hand, you continue as in the "grand chain" in the lancers; the whistle blows again and you must dance with whichever man you happen to be facing. We had, of course, no favors for this, as it served simply to bring us all together again after supper.
Paul Jones (Castle, 1915):
Described and analyzed here by Susan de Guardiola.
Paul Jones (E.J. Rath, Sam, 1915):
[A fictional source, but a useful one nonetheless. It mentions the whistle, the grand chain, and an odd-man-out cutting into the circle.]
Chapter XIV: What the Paul Jones Did
They were hurrying swiftly across the floor, Rosalind trying to decide whether Tom Witherbee danced like a frog or a rabbit, when somebody blew a shrill whistle. With an abrupt apology she found herself released by her partner.
Then something horrible happened. She was a link in an endless chain of persons who had joined hands and were boisterously whirling in an undulating circle, like children playing "London Bridge."
Rosalind had heard of such things. In some places they called it the Paul Jones; in others it had equally undescriptive names. But by whatever term it was always the same; it meant changing partners every time a fiend blew a whistle-taking pot-luck with the crowd.
Another shrill toot sounded. The men began weaving in and out to the right, the women to the left. Rosalind was driven onward remorselessly by the necessity of saving her heels from being stepped on. She did not look like a lady who enjoyed being among the peasants and humble villagers. Her jaw was set at too grim an angle.
The whistle blew again at an instant when Rosalind's left hand was grasped firmly by one knight of the white shirt-front, while her right had just been seized by another. The signal, she knew, meant another partner. She wavered; it seemed like a chance to escape.
The captor of her left hand whirled about and stretched forth his arms. It was a fatal and short-sighted maneuver, for in doing so he released her fingers. Then with compelling force Rosalind found herself drawn into a firm grip by the person who still retained her right hand. She was dancing again.
It happened so swiftly that her half-formed intention to flee from the dance was never carried into execution. She was angry at herself, at Tom Witherbee, at the whole undignified affair.
And yet-this man could dance! She knew he was a stranger, although she had not even glanced above the second button on his shirt. Beyond doubt he was a vulgarian-one of the countless herd. But he could dance!
For the moment her irritation gave way to surprise. She had not expected this-after Morton and the Jones boy and Tom Witherbee. Here was a man who did not step on her feet, who did not employ her as a ram to batter his way through the swinging crowd, who did not crush her in a bearlike embrace, and who did not persistently fall out of time with the music.
He danced; he was neither a laggard nor a race-horse. He respected the functions of the band. To Rosalind it was like being rescued from a trampling mob and expertly piloted into a path of ease and safety and perpetual rhythm.
A common villager, perhaps; yet she yielded to the temptation. She also danced. And when Rosalind Chalmers really wanted to dance she was capable of attracting the eye and the envy of a Pavlowa. She was even conscious of a pang of regret that it would be so brief, for the fiend with the whistle would soon be playing his killjoy tune. But it was an oasis at least; one tiny, bright spot in a desert of clumsiness.
Rosalind half-closed her eyes and abandoned herself to the sway of the music. She was almost enjoying herself. He was not in her set, of course; yet there was a distinction about his dancing that seemed for the moment to lift him to that exalted plane.
She dreaded the whistle; it meant unknown terrors-perhaps even the Jones boy, who was circling near her with his arms full of a large lady in pink. The ominous blast sounded.
"Please, if you don't mind-"
Rosalind marveled to find herself speaking, then checked her tongue and flushed. A second later and she was marveling again, for her partner had understood. They were opposite one of the big French windows that led to the porch. As easily as if the maneuver had been rehearsed they swung through the opening and whirled away from the crowded room.
She glanced back and glimpsed another merry-go-round of couples, fated to be presently resolved into hopelessly mismated pairs. But Rosalind and the man who could truly dance went on and on, down the porch, still in the thrall of the rhythm that was so spirited and compelling.
"Thank you," she said.
He made no answer, save a quick pressure of her fingers. It was this silent acknowledgment of his gratitude that awakened Rosalind. Her fingers had, it is true, been pressed before, when she was taken unaware; but never by a stranger. She now remembered the pedestal she occupied in the world. She glanced upward.
For several seconds her vision remained fixed upon the most extraordinary necktie she had ever seen.
It was filmy and semitransparent. Also, it was ragged, frayed and rumpled. But-and this was its really amazing feature-it was marked with her own exquisitely embroidered monogram!
Her feet halted abruptly. She flung herself backward out of the arms of Sam, the boatman. He was smiling benignly.
"Has been a great pleasure," he supplied, but the bow that accompanied the words was slightly satirical.
Rosalind stood gasping and angry.
"You deliberately planned-"
"Sure I planned it. A man's got to do some figuring in this world if he wants to get anything."
She stared at the outraged handkerchief that graced a neck about which at that moment she would willingly have passed a rope. This creature had danced with her. She had been in his arms! And she had been seen there!
"I had to break into that dance without a partner," he explained lightly. "It was the only way to get you; to horn in and take a chance. I knew there wasn't any use asking you for a dance."
Old Dan Tucker (Hofer, 1917):
[A reference to the Paul Jones, tucked into a description of Old Dan Tucker.]
Formation: Many popular versions of this old romping dance claim our attention. Form in two rings ladies on the inside and gentlemen outside while Dan stands in the middle.
I. All join hands and dance, ladies to the left and gentlemen to the right; at a clap or a whistle gentleman dances with the lady in front of him, Dan claiming one, leaves one man over to begin again.
II. A short waltz or two step is inserted by musicians when the song begins again. Couples may dance round in a single circle in the same way with Dan on inside. The popular Paul Jones is on the same order, starting with a grand chain until the call of whistle sounds. The call may be omitted, the figures changing with the music.
Thanks to Susan de Guardiola for finding this one.
The Paul Jones (Coll, 1919):
An excellent diversion and one that breaks the monotony of continuous Fox Trot, One Step, and Canter Waltz may be found in the following suggestion. It seldom fails in stimulating enthusiasm by a complete change in dancing partners and by offering to the self-conscious a sufficient way to overcome their timidity.
[It's unclear what exactly the illustrations above are meant to illustrate, as the illustrations don't match the written description. The first circle makes sense. The second circle seems to suggest co-ed concentric circles traveling in different directions, which is possible, but not described. The third appears to be an attempt to illustrate the grand chain, but it has both roles traveling the same direction, which isn't what is described. The fourth is likely an illustration of everyone dancing the one step at the of the change.]
Select some popular member to act as a Master of Ceremonies, and at a signal from him all join hands, ladies on the right of partners, and form a circle, the master in the center.
Should the number of people be too great for the size of the room, a second circle may be formed inside and concentric to the first and even a third circle may be so formed. But the participants must be impressed with keeping their respective circle inviolate; each must return to his or her assigned circle after the dance figure.
On signal from the master the gentleman starts by taking the lady's right hand in his right and passing her; the lady going around circle to the left, takes with her left hand the left hand of a second gentleman coming from the right, thus making a grand right and left movement, forming a chain, the ladies going to the left, gentlemen to right. This figure gives a change of partners and a chance for a tête-à-tête. At the fourth signal all join, enmane, in dance of one step - until stopped by signal; then join hands again and on signal go hands around. This may be repeated as the master deems it advisable.
Paul Jones (Stewart, 1930):
Described and analyzed here by Susan de Guardiola.
Paul Jones (Richard Powers, "Paul Jones," 2011)
Richard's notes on the "Paul Jones" presented at Stockton Folk Dance Camp 2011 describe six different versions of the dance, referencing Castle 1915, Lee 1926, Stewart 1930, and Shaw 1948.
Paul Jones (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2015):
Paul Jones, noun, a method of changing partners during a dance whereby at a signal the dancers form a circle and execute a grand right and left until at another signal each man resumes the original dance taking as his new partner the lady who is opposite him
Paul Jones (Oxford English Dictionary, 2015):
An energetic ballroom dance in which the dancers change partners after circling in concentric rings of men and women. Also fig.
1914 Sunset Aug. 291/1 It may be like dancing the Paul Jones. The fun of the dance is the change of partners.
1920 Atlantic Monthly July 89/1 The whole sprightly, smiling, hand-clapping population seems engaged in one vast ‘Paul Jones’..with no one..refusing to join the dance.
1942 M. Dickens One Pair of Feet vii. 147 A blond A.C.2 whom I had picked up in the Paul Jones.
1967 Times Rev. Industry May 58/3 Driving a private car is often a death-defying Paul Jones with an endless succession of lorries.
1984 I. Huggan Elizabeth Stories 141, I don't expect anyone to ask me except in the Paul Jones and the Snowball, but I go along with her cheerful delusion that I will be dancing my feet off.
For more, see our two books on dancing:
Waltzing: A Manual for Dancing and Living (2013) by Richard Powers and Nick Enge,
and Cross-Step Waltz: A Dancer's Guide (2019) by Richard Powers and Nick & Melissa Enge.
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