The wonderful variety of Country Dance & Contra Dance Formations.
Improve your dancing and enjoy it more. “Dancing well is more fun” by Anthony Stone offers clear counsel on the basics of country dancing.
Ways to make the dance more fun
- Eye Contact – this is a social dance form so looking (and smiling) at the people you are dancing with is a good thing. Keeping your eyes focused on the other dancers will also help you catch cues on where to go or what to do next if you have momentarily forgotten.
- Giving Weight – on circles and turns, applying tension to improve centrifugal force – in circles this helps keep the circle round, with a partner it helps regulate the speed, helps the appearance of the turn and makes it more fun.
- Listen – when the teacher is teaching or calling the dance and encourage others in your set to do the same; if you have a question ask the teacher (the whole room will benefit). Some teachers tend to stop calling the dance fairly soon so dancers can enjoy the music while dancing.
- Helping others – the subtler the help the better. If you help within your sets do so with your mouths closed – use eye contact, smiles, very small gestures (an occasional ‘here’ or ‘left’… during the dance is fine, but please no sentences). Most people don’t like to be pushed, pulled or grabbed so don’t.
- Country Dance Police – there are none, if you or someone else makes a mistake it’s ok; this is supposed to be fun – rather than worrying, chastising or stopping, use it as an opportunity to play and keep dancing.
- When in doubt, leave it out – for example if you didn’t quite get through a figure and there is still a two-hand turn to do but the music/dance is on to the next figure, leave out the turn and do the next figure. [You get no extra points for being early but you will spoil things for others if you are late.]
Some Common Terminology
- Top of the Set – location of the number one couple as the dance begins.
- Bottom of the set – the end farthest from the top (or the music/presence).
- Numbering – couple nearest the top in a longways set are ones, others are numbered in sequence down the set. In a longways set for eight dancers numbering is one, twos, threes and fours. In a duple minor longways for as many as will numbering is hands four from the top with ones and twos all the way to the bottom; in a triple minor numbering is hands six from the top with ones, twos, and threes all the way to the bottom.
- Improper – (or crossed over) when you are on the opposite side of the dance from where you started (in a longways dance).
- Partner – The primary person you are dancing with; in a longways this person is across the dance from you, in a square, circle, Sicilian circle this person is next to you
- Neighbor – the person you are standing beside (in a longways dance) or the person next to you who isn’t your partner (in a square set).
- Corners and diagonals – 1st corner or diagonal in duple minor longways sets, those diagonally across with right hands closest. In a square or round set can mean your neighbor. 2nd Corner – the other corner (the person across the set diagonally to the left)
- Opposite – The person you are facing.
Some Common Figures
- Arming – Two dancers link right or left forearms and dance round each other.
- Back to Back – two dancers move forward toward each other to pass right shoulders and then backing up pass left shoulders to end where started the figure (may also be done starting by passing left shoulders).
- Cast – turn outward and dance outside the set. Cast up (or down) is to turn outward and dance up (or down) outside the set.
- Chase – a figure in which one partner follows the others track
- Circular Hey – see Rights and Lefts.
- Cross over (or just cross) – changing places with partner (or diagonal) usually with right shoulder.
- Cross and cast – cross over and dance down (or up) one or more places, done without turning away as in a regular cast.
- Chain – a number of handing figures, for example rights and lefts around a circle (a grand chain).
- Circular hey – see Rights and Lefts
- Corner, Partner, Corner, Partner – with the ones in second place of a set of six, ones turn first corner by right (or left) hand once round, ones turn by left (or right) to get to second corner, ones turn second corner by right (or left) hand once round, ones turn by left (or right) to own side in second place.
- Draw poussette – see poussette-draw.
- Figure of 8 – dancing the pattern of a figure of 8 (usually around standing dancers).
- Grand chain – Circular hey done by more than two couples facing alternately and moving in opposite directions-usually to original places. – see Rights and Lefts
- Gypsy – Two dancers move around each other in a circular path facing the center.
- Hands across (Star)- usually for three or four dancers. In the four person figure diagonals join either right or left hands to form a star and all move in the direction they face. This may be once round, halfway round, 3/4 round, etc. Three hands across: two dancers join hands, the third dancer places his/her hand on top.
- Hands three, four (six or eight…) – The designated number of dancers form a ring/circle and move around in the direction indicated, usually first to the left and back to the right.
- Hey – Interwoven figure for three or more dancers.
- Hey for three dancers, the first dancer faces the other two and passes right (or left) shoulders with the second dancer, left (or right) shoulders with the third, the other dancers moving and passing the indicated shoulder. On making the last pass, each dancer makes a whole turn on the end, bearing right if the last pass was by the right shoulder, left if the last pass was by the left, and reenters the figure returning to place. Each dancer describes a figure of 8 pattern. May also be done half way.
- Dolphin hays -Dolphin hays and different names for them: dolphin reels, shadow reels, reels in tandem. The Scottish Country Dance deviser Barry Priddey did not give the reels a name when he published The Flight Of The Falcon, in his book Anniversary Tensome, the first dance to contain these reels. I cannot find a publication date for Anniversary Tensome. The description in The Flight of the Falcon is:
9-16 1M, followed by his partner, begins to dance a diagonal reel of 3 with 1st corners. At the end of bar 10, having passed 3W by the right, 1M and 1W each turn by the right to continue the reel with 1W leading, then at the end of bar 14, having passed 3W by the left, they each turn left about to complete the reel with 1M leading.
17-24 are similar with 2nd corners.
Barry Skelton in 1994 initially described them as ‘tandem’ reels but later simply as ‘dolphin’ reels because of his use of these reels in the dances in his “Dolphin Book”. (The inspiration for this collection came about because an observer told him that the reels looked like dolphins frolicking in the surf.) Skelton’s book gives various orientations of this type of reel, for example with 1 and 2C reeling across the dance, and these have come to be called “dolphin” reels. It would appear that Barry Skelton did not know of The Flight of the Falcon when he wrote the book as he doesn’t acknowledge Barry Priddey as the source.
- Grimstock Hey, also referred to as symmetric or mirror-image – the men’s line starts by the top two men passing right shoulders, the top two women start by passing left.
- Morris Hey – the middle couple lead up the middle while the tops cast out to meet in the middle and lead down as the bottom couple cast up. This is exactly the same path used in the Grimstock hey, but danced in the reverse direction.
- Hey for four (or six or more even number of dancers), dancers face alternately, the two in the middle facing out; each dancer goes forward passing alternate shoulders with the other dancers as they approach until they get to end of the line where they pass out, turn and pass in by the same shoulder they went out by, then continue weaving back to where started. May also be done half way.
- Honour is an acknowledge that your partner exists with a little bow or curtsy. Some dances have an explicit coda added to the end for a more formal honour where you take a small step to the right and bow or curtsy, possibly followed by a step left and another bow or curtsy.
- Lead (up or down) (and lead down the middle and back) – traveling down or up the inside of the set to move into a new position, usually done holding inside hands in.
- Orbit – traveling around the outside of the set (or one or more standing or moving dancer).
- Poussette – a non-progressive figure for two couples. Each couple, with both hands joined, moves as a unit without turning. One pair moves a double (diagonally) toward the right wall, the other to the left wall and then back into set formation progressed, then complete the poussette moving in the opposite direction to end in original places. May be done clockwise or counterclockwise. Some dances use a half pousette to progress.
- Poussette – Draw – a non-progressive figure for two couples. Each couple, with both hands joined, moves as a unit while turning in a smooth oval to dance around the other couple. May be done clockwise or counterclockwise. Some dances use a half draw poussette to progress.
- Rights and Lefts – usually a figure for four dancers where each person travels forward alternating right and then left hands or shoulders around a square. Can be two, three or four exchanges. Usually starts facing partner across the set (partner by right, face neighbor up or down by left, partner by right, neighbor by left). May sometimes start with neighbor and/or by left. Sometimes referred to as a circular hey when no hands are given.
- Siding – two dancers dance forward to meet right (or left) shoulders and retire. (Another version is Swirly siding in which two dancers come forward in a curve passing left shoulders and reverse that track back to place.)
***See Notes for Siding Interpretations and Variants
- Star – see Hands accross
- Turn single – Turn in four steps, clockwise (i.e., to your own right) unless otherwise directed.
Some Common Footwork
- Chasse – Slipping step to right or left as directed.
- Double – Four steps forward (or back) closing on the fourth step; up a double and back or forward a double and back are common introductory figures.
- Pas de Basque – see Setting.
- Rant – a particular type of step.
- Set – a set of two pas de basque steps.
- Setting – beginning with weight evenly distributed, then shifting to the right foot, back to the left foot and finishing on the right foot; then left, right left for a full setting step. May be in place or traveling.
- Single – two steps in any direction, closing feet on the second step.
- Skip Change – a light traveling step: step-close-step-hop.
- Skipping – move along lightly, stepping from one foot to the other with a hop or bounce.
- Slip Step – sometimes used in circular or sideways movements.
Some Common Musical Terms
- Bar – 1) a vertical line on the staff separating measures of music.2) an alternate term for one measure of music.
- Beat – Originally one strike to a drumhead, now used to designate the number of counts per measure, i.e. 2/4 time has two counts/beats per measure. Each strong beat corresponds to a dance step.
- Duple meter – dances with time signatures divisible by 2 (two beats per bar), requiring two, or multiples of two, steps per bar.
- Hornpipe – modern hornpipes are strongly dotted (sharply uneven divisions within a measure) reels; historical hornpipes are in 3/2
- Jig – dance written in 6/8 time.
- Measure – one time through the time signature, e.g. in 4/4 time, one repetition of four beats.
- Reel – dance written in 4/4 or 2/4 time.
- Rhythm – a series of strong and weak beats in each measure of music, e.g. a reel has four strong beats per measure, while a jig has a sequence of one strong beat followed by two weak beats per measure.
- Slip-jig – a dance written in 9/8 time.
- Tempo – the speed at which music is played
- Time signature – musical notation that defines the meter (number of beats per measure) and the note value of one beat, e.g. 4/4 time has four beats per measure and a quarter note has a value of one beat.
- Triple meter – dances with time signatures divisible by 3 (three beats per bar), requiring three, or multiples of three, steps per bar, e.g. 3/2, 3/4, 9/8
***Notes on Siding by John Sweeney:
The pre-Playford Lovelace Manuscript has words such as “Arme or halfe turne”
(e.g. in Moll Peatlye). It would appear from this that what we now consider
the standard introductions were not quite so standard. So maybe next time
you teach a dances with Sides All you could try a variant.
Only the first half is described, moving to the left. The second half is a
mirror image, except for Crochet Hook and Swirly Siding, where the Left and
the Right are combined into eight steps.
Crochet Hook Siding
Sharp’s original siding: dance straight forwards, looking straight ahead,
passing by the Left Shoulder; then when you get to your partner’s position
you make a 180 degree turn to your left (counter-clockwise). You then dance
straight forwards back to your place, again looking straight ahead, passing
by the Right Shoulder; when you get home you turn 180 degrees to your right.
Swirly Siding (or Banana Siding) is Half a Left Shoulder Gypsy then Half a
Right Shoulder Gypsy, the smooth, eye-contact version of Crochet Hook
Into Line Siding
All move forward into line right shoulder to right shoulder with partner and
Sharp’s final 1923 version, used by Shaw in 1931 in Monica’s Delight with
the wording above. Whether he called it Siding or just Into Line I don’t
know – he may have been trying to avoid controversy by not calling it
Siding, since Crochet Hook Siding was the standard.
Crochet Hook Siding, but after passing left shoulders you turn right (away
from your partner) to face back.
I will leave interpretation of this complex variant to the experts. Just
remember, when attempting this move, never put your weight on the foot that
is in the air!
Chassis sideways two chassis steps to the left along your own line, then
chassis back – there are videos on YouTube of European dancers using this
interpretation of Siding.
The same as Chassis Siding, but twice as fast with twice as many steps.
Into Line & Face Siding
Partners move forward side by side right shoulder, turning right to face
each other in a single line, fall back along the same path – Michael
Barraclough taught this one at Sidmouth this year.
Half Gyp/Hands Siding
As Morris Dancers do it – the same as Into Line Siding, but you go past your
partner before you start to fall back.
Pat Shaw had a lot of fun adding Siding variants to his three part dances.
Here are some, with the names of the dances that they come from.
Arrival from Holland
Partners move forward side by side right shoulder (4); Cast left to other
side of partner (i.e. end standing left shoulder to left shoulder with
partner) (4); All fall back to place (4)
Partners move forward side by side right shoulder, turning right to face
each other and three-quarters turn single right back to original places.
Down in the Nettles
All move forward to stand right shoulder to right shoulder with partner. All
half turn single left, falling back into partner’s place (i.e. crossing the
The Kindly Shepherd
Partners forward side by side right shoulder and without pausing all cast
left back to place. This is the way that Roy Dommett taught Ilmington Into
Line; men, it is a good idea to start on your left foot to avoid the
Nutcracker Effect. In the Bledington version you go past your partner before
you turn left back to place – you need to be dancing vigorously to cover the
The Rose of Tankerton
All move forward into line with partner, right to right shoulder and turn a
quarter right to face partner, (all are in one line, Men facing down, Women
up) (4). All set right and left (4), all fall back to places (4) and turn
single to the left (4)
And since I have mentioned a few Morris variants, here is another one:
All move forward to the left into line, the men turning 180 degrees right so
that everyone is facing the same way, step in line, fall back to place along
the same path.