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The Galloping Carousel

Merry Go Round Day

Jul 25

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"The “carousel is like life. You never know for how long is it going to spin for.”

With origins in European and middle East jousting practice contraptions, carousels became a fixture of fairs and carnivals in the late 19th century, making use of the steam power, electric lights, and a time of increased prosperity when more leisure time and spare money could be spend on entertainment. In the United States, in the early part of the 20th century, considered the Golden Age of Carousels, several centers and carousel-manufacturing styles emerged: Coney Island style – characterized by elaborate, and sometimes faux-jeweled, saddles for the carousel horses; Philadelphia style – known for more realistically painted saddles; and Country Fair style – often with no saddles at all! Giddyap! 🎠🎠🎠

The Galloping Carousel

Also known as The Painted Ponies, The Merry-Go-Round, and The Roundabout, the carousel, has a long history beginning with war games training.

The word carousel comes from the Italian word carosello (meaning "little war"). Carosello was a 12th-century game played by the Arabs and Turks, on horseback, using scented balls tossed from one to another. 

Carosello was adopted by the French into an exhibition (now called carousel) of many types of horsemanship pageantry and competition, including spearing a ring suspended from a post or tree, while riding at full speed.


A practice machine was created to help young knights prepare for this competition - a series of legless wooden horses attached to a rotating platform (driven by human-power or horse-power). 

Eventually, the carousel gained popularity as the amusement device we know today. 

The "golden age" of the carousel was from about 1880 to about 1930. 

The phrase to "grab the brass ring," sometimes used figuratively, is derived from the carousel.

"Grabbing the brass ring" or getting a "shot at the brass ring" also means striving for the highest prize, or living life to the fullest. It is not clear when the phrase came into wide use but has been found in dictionaries as far back as the late 19th century.


A carousel's brass ring is a small grabbable ring that a dispenser presents to a carousel rider during the course of a ride. Usually there are a large number of iron rings and one brass one, or just a few. It takes some dexterity to grab a ring from the dispenser as the carousel rotates. The iron rings can be tossed at a target as an amusement. Typically, getting the brass ring gets the rider some sort of prize when presented to the operator. The prize often is a free repeat ride.

Although there are a lot of carousels extant, only a handful of carousels still have brass rings. 


There are many interesting and unique carousels operating throughout the world.  The Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel in Los Angeles, California, features all endangered species.  Located in the Los Angeles zoo, it also features “California Sound” music from the 1960s and 1970s, including Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, the Carpenters, and other popular musical groups from that era.

Among the unique animals featured are a tapir, an armadillo, a gorilla, a skunk, a caterpillar, three racehorses, a dung beetle, and a unicorn!

See below for a video of the dance performed at Youth Weekend West in 2015, in Victoria, British Columbia.

For some other fascinating restorations of historic hand-crafted carousels in the US, click the picture of the calliope, from a vintage advertising poster of 1874 titled "Calliope, the wonderful operonicon or steam car of the muses." 

The Galloping Carousel

Click the dance cribs or description below to link to a printable version of the dance!

The Galloping Carousel

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WELCOME TO An Entertainment Site for Scottish Country Dancers - Enjoy the curated selection of theme-related dances for celebrations and holidays, or find a dance associated with a special calendar day, or EVEN your own birthday!  

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