Country Dance ‘Calling’ Notes

Last updated: May 2023

This site, comprising a web-based copy of my country dance ‘calling’ aide-memoir, is intended as a reference resource for when I don't have a hard copy to-hand - but I can access the web (usually via a ‘tablet’).

The choreography for a number of country dances (English, American, Gaelic) is documented.  They're the sort of dances that could feature at barn dances, ceilidhs and Contra events.

Dances are categorised by formation e.g. longways, circle etc., then by title - roughly alphabetically.

Dance descriptions originate from a number of different sources, but usually they're just documented after having actually done the dance.  However, not only do dances evolve, but their precise interpretation can ‘flex’ to accommodate local conditions.

Dance terminology/conventions

Your (minor) ‘set’ is the particular sub-group of people with whom you’re dancing – often multiples of two couples.  Formations can be:  longways (‘proper’, ‘improper’ or ‘Becket’), crossways, circular or square.  Square dance sets comprise four couples.

For ease of interpretation, terminology expressed on this site is consistent with heteronormative convention.

One’s ‘partner’ is the person - usually of the opposite gender - with whom the dance was commenced.  When a couple are side-by-side, the lady is positioned on the right.  Also explain:  ‘corner’, ‘neighbour’ and ‘opposite’…  ‘galop’ cf. ‘gallop’.

Country dance accompaniment categories are:  reel ("double-decker" - supports a smooth walk), jig ('bumpier' than a reel - “didily-dee” - encourages a bouncy, skipping step), polka (step-close-step-pause/hop)…  occasionally hornpipe (step-hop) and double-reel (rant step).

Normally, dances are structured to have a ‘revolution’ (repeat period) of 32 bars (usually equating to 64 beats - or steps) - comprising four, 8-bar phrases (aligning with four, 8-bar musical phrases), designated A1, A2, B1 and B2, i.e. four groups of 16 beats (usually).  Slip jigs are unusual, their bars comprise three beats ("didily-didily-didily" - 9/8 time) and encourage three running steps to the bar.  A few dances have revolutions which are other multiples of 8 bars long - say, 16 or 48 bars.

Dance tempos are roughly 120 beats per minute (bpm) (except for step-hop hornpipes), so a single revolution of a 32-bar dance could last about 32 seconds (except for hornpipes and slip-jigs).

A list of suitable, recorded tunes is included, but for an event, the flexibility and atmosphere afforded by live music is incomparable.

Col,  December 2018