You can't do English Country Dancing for long without coming across a poussette — most likely a half poussette. The first kind, which I refer to as a “normal” poussette or a “push-pull” poussette, works like this. Assume the ones are above the twos, both proper. You give two hands to your partner (straight, not crossed) and in four steps the first man and second lady push, their partners pull, finishing with the two couples level with each other in a column of four. In the next four steps the other two people push, to finish progressed. That's a half poussette, and for a full poussette you continue in the same direction to go all the way roiund the other couple and back to place. Fried Herman objected strongly to the terms “push” and “pull”, so the politically correct term in The States is “the first man moving forwards and the first woman moving backwards”, but I use the shorter terms and take it for granted that it won't turn into an arm-wrestling match. In fact in order to maintain a good connection the action really is “the first lady pulls and the first man resists slightly”. Give some weight, and keep the arms reasonably straight without looking like a couple of Daleks. This also helps to avoid the “pseudo-poussette” where one person pushes and the other bends their arms without really moving much.
The second kind, which seems to be very fashionable these days, is a draw poussette. This time often the first man and the second lady go backwards, drawing their partners round, and they keep going in the same direction as if circling right half-way, until the ones are below the twos and both are improper. That's a half draw poussette; a full draw poussette is very rare. The Scottish poussette is a rotating move, like a swing and change in English traditional dances, and has been formalised by the RSCDS who specify bar-by-bar where the four people are.
“Poussette” is the French word for “Pram” — meaning a “little push”, which is an appropriate word for carriage in which to push babies around. I don't know when this word was first applied to the English Country Dance move.
As the word “poussette” was not used in Playford's day, I've been wondering whether what is described in The Dancing Master is what we do today, and in particular whether the draw poussette actually exists! I went through my repertoire of dances from The Dancing Master containing a poussette and looked at the original wording for each, with the following results:Cuckolds all a Row (Hey, Boys, up go we)
Men put the Co. Wo. back by both hands, fall even on the Co. side.Drive the Mounsieur from Flanders
The 1st Man draw his partner into the 2d Cu. Place, and the 2d Man put his Partner into the first Cu. place.The Devil's Dream
The first man pull up the second man and the second wo. put back the first wo. then the first wo. fall back against the second man s back. Then the first man put back the second man on the Co. side, and the second wo. put back the first wo. on the Co. side, and fall back.Mad Moll
The 1. cu. take hands and draw into the 2. cu. place, the 2. cu. at the same time hands to the 1. cu. placeThe Opera
the 2 (?) men take hands with your own and put backOrmond House
Then 1. Cu takes hands, and puts back into the 2. cu. place the 2. cu does the same at the same timeThe Princess
The first man and woman take hands, and the second man and second woman take hands and draw their Partners into each others placeQueen Bess's Dame of Honour
The first and 2d couple take Hands and draw (?) half round, then back againThe Twenty-Ninth of May
First Cu. take hands, the 2. Cu. doing the like at the same time, the first man puts back his wo. and slips down behind the 2. wo. into the 2. Cu. places, while the 2. man draws his wo. to him and slips into the first Cu. places. Do this back again the same wayThe Witches
The two first men take hands, the two first we. do the same, and put back till the men fall in the we. placesOrleans Baffled
The first couple cast off and draw Hands below the third couple, then cast up again and draw Hands above the second couple
I'm pretty confident that “put back” means poussette, and you can see that this phrase appears in most of them. But what about those where it doesn't?The Princess
is normally done with a draw poussette, but it could be made a normal poussette by speeding up the four changes and making the final two-hand turn oce around instead of half-way. Charles Bolton's interpretation of Queen Bess's Dame of Honour
has a full draw poussette, but it could equally well be a full poussette. And we always dance Orleans Baffled
with a normal poussette, but by analogy with The Princess
maybe it should be a draw poussette.
I suggest that the draw poussette is a 20th century misinterpretation of instructions which actually mean an ordinary (push/pull) poussette. I asked the ECD List and the two people whose opinions I particularly value both agreed with me. There was also other discussion — some people didn't like the ordinary poussette and much preferred the draw poussette, which is certainly not my opinion.