The usual tune for this dance was first printed as “The College Hornpipe” around 1797 by J. Dale of London, although it was found in handcopied manuscripts at least 50 years before then. The dance evokes the life of a sailor and their duties aboard ship. Sailors from the Royal Navy are believed to have invented the solo dance as an exercise. Due to the small space that the dance required, and no need for a partner, it was a popular on-board activity.
It is likely that hornpipe was performed on the wet deck of a ship, in bare feet. The traditional accompaniment was a tin pennywhistle or a small squeezebox or a fiddle. Captain Cook took a professional musician on at least one voyage and would order his men to dance the hornpipe when they weren’t working in order to keep them alert and in good health.
This particular hornpipe gained worldwide fame when it was used as one of the themes for the Popeye cartoon series. In early cartoons, Popeye would sometimes be seen dancing a couple of steps from the hornpipe.
The hornpipe typically has a number of twisting and turning melodic passages, making it somewhat of a fingering challenge.
Key: C major
Mood: buoyant, animated
Pedagogy: fingering, staccato, fast tempo