ABC's of English Country Dancing 

by Adelaide de Beaumont


Arms:              Take hands, grasp forearms, or link elbows with your partner; typically, you’ll make a complete rotation, separate and return to place.  Since this is usually done twice, you’ll usually take right hands/arms for the first rotation and left hands/arms for the second rotation.  A modern styling calls for a double clap if the steps are quick enough to get you back to your place by the count of 7.


Back:               Usually, performing some movement while walking backwards.  “In a double and back” involves taking four steps towards your partner, then taking four steps away from your partner while still facing them.  Some dances require the backwards steps to come first.


Cast:                Head couple in a set turn away from each other and proceed down the outside of the set, sometimes followed by the rest of the dancers.


Contrary:         In a square dance, the person directly next to you who is not your partner.  Also called your “Corner”.  Assuming there are two ladies and two gentlemen in the square set, and you are a gentleman, it will be the lady who is NOT your partner.


Double:           Four steps, usually leading with the left foot and bringing the feet together with the fourth step.  May be performed in any direction; “up a double and back” is four steps forward from the head of the set and four returning steps backwards.


End:                The bottom of a longways set, toward the back of the hall.


Hands:             Everyone in the line (or circle) should join hands.


Hands Round: A specified number of people (a couple, three people, four people, all) join hands and make a complete rotation back to place.  Some dances call for “half hands round” which results in the dancers changing places.  Usually takes 8 beats.


Hey:                A weaving motion involving some or all of the dancers; dancers pass alternate shoulders, usually starting with the right, for as many counts as required by the music.  May also be performed by taking alternate hands with successive dancers.


Honour:           A bow or curtsey.  Also called “Reverence”, an acknowledgment of other dancers usually done at the end of a dance, but sometimes at the beginning and sometimes within the dance.


Improper:        A set in which gentlemen and ladies alternate sides of the set rather than lining up with ladies all on one side and gentlemen on another.


Meet all:          Usually “in a double” towards your partner or the center of the set.


Opposite:         In a square dance, the person directly opposite from you.  In a set of two couples, your opposite is the same as your contrary.  In a set of four couples, however, your opposite is not your contrary.  If there are four ladies and four gentlemen, and you are the gentleman on the south side of the set, your opposite is the lady on the north side; your contrary is the lady on the west side, to your left.


Partner:            Person with whom you will perform most steps, also called your “own.”  If you are a gentleman, your partner will generally be on your right (a lady is always right, after all!), though for some dances she will be across the set from you.


Set (1):            A group of dancers.  The set is defined for each dance (i.e., “a longways dance for three couples”).  A longways set has a “head” towards the front of the hall and an “end” towards the rear of the hall.


Set (2):            A step sequence using up four beats of music.  Playford describes it as “a single to one hand, and a single to the other.”  Modern styling is much more complex: Hop onto the left foot, bringing your right foot across in front and brushing the ground with it, then hop on your right foot and perform the brushing motion with your left foot.  Often, the second time you perform the set, you’ll reverse order and start on your right foot, though some people only set to the left first.


Sides:              Changing places with your partner, using four beats of music, and returning to place using another four beats.  Siding can be performed in a straight line just passing shoulders with your partner (usually passing first right, then left shoulders), or it can be performed in a crescent-shaped figure maintaining eye contact between the partners.  Siding is sometimes performed only passing left shoulders so that the gentlemen are always on the outside of the set.  Sometimes the dance calls for “single siding” in which you change places with your partner, using four beats of music, and remain in your partner’s place.


Single:             Two steps, usually leading with the left foot and bringing the feet together with the second step.  May be performed in any direction.


Slips:               A sideways step; hop onto your left foot and slide your right foot along the floor to bring your feet together.


Star:                 Raise right arm shoulder high, touching fingertips with the other dancers, then rotate clockwise back to place using eight beats of music.  May be performed counterclockwise by using left arms.


Turn by Hand: Take your partner by the right hand and make a complete circle, returning to place using eight beats of music.  May be performed with the left hand.  May be performed in four beats to exchange places with your partner, contrary, or opposite.  May be performed while holding both hands.


Turn single:     Four steps in a circle, using four beats of the music, performed in place as though spinning on an axis through your shoulder.  Often performed in combination with a set (2); the direction “STS” means “set and turn single.”  If the set began on your left foot, you’ll start the turn on your left foot and turn counterclockwise; if the set began on your right foot, you’ll start the turn on your right foot and turn clockwise.


Worship figure: In a circle dance, all dancers come into the center and usually raise their arms and/or clap.