Country Dances

Last updated: August, 2020

This document details a variety (Celtic, English, Gaelic, American) of country dances.  Dances are categorised by formation e.g. longways, circle etc., then by name - roughly alphabetically. 

Dance details originate from a number of different sources (hence their inconsistent presentation) - but often they’re simply documented after having actually done the dance…  ‘n’ not only do dances evolve, often their precise interpretation can ‘flex’, to accommodate local circumstances.

This site, comprising a web-based copy of my country dance ‘calling’ aide-memoir, is intended as a reference resource for those occasions when I don’t have a hard copy to-hand - but I do have access to the web.

Dance terminology/conventions:  your ‘set’ is the particular sub-group of people with whom you’re dancing – often multiples of four people.  Formations can be:  longways (‘proper’, ‘improper’ or ‘Becket’), crossways, circular or square.  Square dances comprise four-couple ‘sets’.

‘Partner’ is the person - usually of the opposite gender - with whom you commenced dancing the current figure.  When couples are standing side-by-side, the man is on his partner’s left.  Explain:  ‘neighbour’ and eventually ‘opposite’ and ‘corner’, …  ‘galop’ c.f. ‘gallop’.

Country Dance music categories:  jig (“didley-dee” - encourages a bouncy, skipping-step), reel (where a smooth walk is needed), polka (triple-step, pause/hop)…  occasionally hornpipe (step-hop), rant (double-reel).  Usually, tunes repeat after 32 bars (equating to 64 beats or steps) - comprising four, 8-bar phrases, designated A1, A2, B1 and B2, i.e. four groups of 16 beats = 64 beats in total.  Occasionally, dances are other multiples of 4 bars long - say, 16 bars or 48 bars.  Slip jigs are unusual, their bars are three beats long.

Dance tempos are roughly 32 bars in 32 seconds (except for hornpipes) i.e. a bar per second or two beats - or steps - per second.

Suggestions for recorded accompaniment to dances are offered - categorised by type e.g. jig, reel etc., and tempo (expressed as the duration for ‘once through’).  However, for an event, the flexibility and atmosphere provided by live music is preferable.

Tune titles are shown in italicised text.  (‘Welcome to the Dance’, WttD, is a compilation Compact Disc set by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, EFDSS.)

Col,  December 2018