country dance

English Country Dance, sometimes abbreviated ECD, is a form of folk dance. It is a social dance form, which has earliest documented instances in the late 16th century. Queen Elizabeth I of England is noted to have been entertained by "Country Dancing," although the relationship of the dances she saw to the surviving dances of the mid-17th century is disputed. English Country Dance was popular well into the Baroque and Regency eras. Whereas several figures common to English Country Dance, e.g. arming and the straight hey, are found in the traditional dances and display dances such as morris, ECD's origins rest among the gentry, first at court, then spreading to bourgeois-London, finally moving into country manors around England.


Published instructions for English Country Dance first appear in John Playford's The English Dancing Master of 1651. This collection was reprinted, revised, and enlarged many times, with a final edition published sometime around 1728. Playford was not the author or choreographer of these dances; he was a music publisher, for whom dance manuals were a profitable sideline. By the early 18th century, other publishers began to issue collections of dances as well; a conservative estimate of the number of dances in the English style published between 1651 and 1810 would run to around 2,000. Most of the dances we have from the 17th and 18th centuries are anonymous, notable exceptions being Nathaniel Kynaston and Thomas Bray. Most of these dance collections, unfortunately, offer little or nothing by way of description of steps; at best, they suggest 'floor tracks.'

English Country Dance was also popular in France. André Lorin visited the English court in the late 17th century and after returning to France he presented a manuscript of dances in the English manner to Louis XIV. In 1706 Raoul Auger Feuillet published his Recüeil de Contredances, a collection of "contredanse anglais" presented in a simplified form of Beauchamp-Feuillet notation and including some dances invented by the author as well as authentic English dances. This was subsequently translated into English by John Essex and published in England as For the Further Improvement of Dancing. Copies of these books may be found online.

In the early 20th century, ECD was revived in England by Cecil Sharp, who also was known for collecting folksongs. ECD continues today as a social dancing form, in Britain, the United States, and around the world. There are several related dance forms, such as Scottish country dance, Contra dance, and perhaps square dance. There is also English Ceilidh style; a very energetic form that uses simple country dances, newly composed dances and traditional dances that were collected in the twentieth century.

Some (modern) English Country Dance terms

Active Couple - for long-ways sets with more than one couple dancing, the active couple is the couple doing the more complicated movement during any given portion of the dance. For duple dances, that is every other couple, and for triple dances, or every third couple is the active couple. The term is applicable to triplet dances, where typically the active couple is the only couple that is active. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, only the active couple--the "1st couple"--initiated the action, other couples supporting their movements and joining in as needed, until they also took their turn as leading couples.

Arm right (or left) - couples link arms and move forward, returning to their starting positions.

Back to back - facing another person, move forward passing right shoulders and fall back to place passing left. May also start by passing left and falling back right. Called a do si do in other dance forms (and dos-à-dos in France).

Balance back - a single backward.

Both hands - two dancers face each other and give hands right to left and left to right.

Cast off - turn outward and dance outside the set.

Cast up (or down) - turn outward and dance up (or down) outside the set.

Changes (starting right or left) - like the circular hey, but dancers give hands as they pass (handing hey). The number of changes is given first (e.g. two changes, three changes, etc).

Chassé - slipping step to right or left as directed.

Circular hey - dancers face partners or along the line and pass right and left alternating a stated number of changes. Usually done without hands, the circular hey may also be done by more than two couples facing alternately and moving in opposite directions - usually to their original places. This name for the figure seems rather modern, since "hey" also means certain long, and not circular, objects (e. g. fences). Nonetheless, some early country dances calling for heys have been interpreted in modern times using circular heys. In early dances, where the hey is called a "double hey", it works to interpret this as an oval hey, like the modern circular hey but adapted to the straight sides of a longways formation.

Clockwise - in a ring, move to one's left. In a turn single turn to the right.

Contrary - your contrary is not your partner. In Playford's original notation, this term meant the same thing that Corner (or sometimes Opposite) means today.

Corner - in a two-couple set, the dancer diagonally opposite, i.e., the first man and the second woman, first woman and second man.

Counter-clockwise - the opposite of clockwise - in a ring, move right. In a turn single, turn to the left.

Cross hands - face and give left to left and right to right.

Cross over - cross with another dancer passing right.

Cross over one couple - cross as above and go outside below one couple ending improper.

Double - four steps forward or back, closing the feet on the 4th step (see "Single" below).

Fall (back) - dance backwards.

Figure of 8- a weaving figure in which dancers pass between two standing people and move around them in a figure 8 pattern. A full figure of 8 returns the dancer to original position; a half figure of 8 leaves the dancer on the opposite side of the set from original position. In doing this figure, the man lets his partner pass in front of him.

Forward - lead or move in the direction you are facing.

Gip or Gypsy - two dancers move around each other in a circular path facing outward or towards the center as directed (4 bars).

Hands across - right or left hands are given to corners, and dancers move in the direction they face.

Hands three, four etc. - the designated number of dancers form a ring and move around in the direction indicated, usually first to the left and back to the right.

Hey - a weaving figure in which two groups of dancers move in single file and in opposite directions (see circular hey and straight hey).

Honour - couples step forward and right, close, shift weight, and curtsey or bow, then repeat to their left. In the time of Playford's original manual, a woman's curtsey was similar to the modern one, but a man's honour (or reverence) kept the upper body upright and involved sliding the left leg forward while bending the right knee.

Lead - couples join inside hands and walk up or down the set.

Mad Robin - a back to back with your neighbor while maintaining eye-contact with your partner across the set. Men take one step forward and then slide to the right passing in front of their neighbour, then step backwards and slide left behind their neighbour. Conversely women take one step backwards and then slide to the left passing behind of their neighbour, then step forwards and slide right in front of their neighbour. The term Mad Robin comes from the name of a dance which has the move.

Neighbour - the person you are standing beside, but not your partner.

Opposite - the person you are facing.

Pass - change places with another dancer moving forward and passing by the right shoulder, unless otherwise directed.

Pousette - two dancers face, give both hands and change places as a couple with two adjacent dancers. One pair moves a double toward one wall, the other toward the other wall. In this half-pousette, couples pass around each other diagonally. To complete the pousette, move in the opposite direction. Dancers end in their original places. In a similar movement, the Draw Pousette, the dancing pairs move on a U-shaped track with one dancer of the pair always moving forwards.

Right & left - like the circular hey, but dancers give hands as they pass (handing hey).

Sides - Two dancers, partners by default if not otherwise specified, go forward in four counts to meet side by side, then back in four counts to where they started the figure. As depicted by Feuillet, this is done right side by right side the first time, left by left the second time.

Single - two steps in any direction closing feet on the second step (the second step tends to be interpreted as a closing action in which weight usually stays on the same foot as before, consistent with descriptions from Renaissance sources).

Straight hey for four - dancers face alternately, the two in the middle facing out. Dancers pass right shoulders on either end and weave to the end opposite. If the last pass at the end is by the right. the dancer turns right and reenters the line by the same shoulder; vice versa if the last pass was to the left. Dancers end in their original places.

Straight hey for three - the first dancer faces the other two and passes right shoulders with the second dancer, left shoulder 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 or left if last pass was by the left, and reenters the figure returning to place. Each dancer describes a figure of eight pattern.

Swing - a turn with two hands, but moving faster and making more than one revolution.

Three hands across or Three hands star - two dancers join right or left hands. Third dancer places right or left hand on top. Dancers move in the direction they face.

Turn - face, give both hands, and make a complete circular, clockwise turn to place.

Turn by right or left - dancers join right (or left) hands and turn around, separate, and fall to places.

Turn single - dancers turn around in four steps. 'Turn single right shoulder' is a clockwise turn; 'turn single left shoulder' is a counterclockwise turn.


See also

Related Forms


External links

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