Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


The Dance - (2012)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


Heel and toe, heel and toe,
That is the song we sing;
Turn to your partner and curtsey low,
Balance and forward and swing.
Corners are draughty and meadows are white,
This is the game for a winter's night.

Hands around, hands around,
Trip it, and not too slow;
Clear is the fiddle and sweet its sound,
Keep the girls' cheeks aglow.
Still let your movements be dainty and light,
This is the game for a winter's night.

Back to back, back to back,
Turn to your place again;
Never let lightness nor nimbleness lack,
Either in maidens or men.
Time hasteth ever, beware of its flight,
Oh, what a game for a winter's night!

Slower now, slower now,
Softer the music sighs;
Look, there are beads on your partner's brow
Though there be light in her eyes.
Lead her away and her grace requite,
So goes the game on a winter's night.

3 pages, circa 2' 25"

Paul Laurence Dunbar


The text is found in Dunbar's collection, Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903), available at the very fine Wright State University Libraries online Dunbar Collection. For other song settings of Dunbar's texts, click here.



The cakewalk rhythm - short long short long long -- which became ragtime and much of American musical theater musical gestures is the "dance" for this text. The poem is in four strophes, the first three being further descriptions of the dance, each followed with a short reflection on the world around and of time passing. This is done via alternation of allegretto and adagio tempo markings. The fourth strophe slows, remaining in that adagio until a short outburst at the end to inform us that, though the song setting ends, the dance continues into the night.




The score for The Dance is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.


The Dance