Terminology and Conventions
- Left File - in
longways sets, those with their left shoulder to the top (where the
music is) as they face their partner.
- Right File - in
longways sets, those with their right shoulder to the top.
- Designating roles
in circle dances - person on the left (or right) of partner (for
dance like Jovial Beggar); or ones and twos (for dance like Gathering
- First Diagonal -
in duple minor longways sets, those diagonally across with right hands
closest (#1L-file, #2 R-file) (In many English Country Dance groups
around the country this is referred to as 1st corner.) In square
sets the concept of diagonal with right hand closest with opposite
couple follows from longways formation; in a square of eight there
are four first diagonals (another way to describe this position in
a square is 'person on the left of partner'). In Sicilian circles first
diagonals are on the left of their partner or those with right hand
closest with diagonal of opposite couple.
- Second Diagonal -
the other diagonal.
- First Corner -
used in longways sets of six, triple minors, Scottish longways sets
referring to relationship of other dancers to the twos (or the ones
when in second place) - the person across the set diagonally to the
right (e.g. ones turn first corner).
- Second Corner -
the other corner (the person across the set diagonally to the left).
- Who passes in front (when
crossing down the dance...) - we have a convention of passing right
shoulder to right shoulder (within a couple, who the person that passes
first is will vary depending on where you are both coming from in the
dance). However, when in doubt don't crash or wait around to accommodate
the convention if someone is late (i.e. whoever who gets there first,
- How to hold hands
in circles, two-hand turns, hands with neighbor... - our convention
is right palm up, left palm down.
- How we deal with 'improper
dances' - this term becomes meaningless because of the way we dance;
since it doesn't matter what side of the dance one starts on, it becomes
pointless to add this layer. When teaching duple minors we don't bother
to have people change sides at top or bottom. When teaching set dances
where you change sides we will point out at the end of one time through
that some (or all) people will have switched sides and that is what
was supposed to happen (just as we would point out at the end of a
dance like Merry Andrew where you switch partners each time through
- Forming sets: When we form sets we call for the number of additional dancers needed
rather than calling for couples. Everyone who wants to dance comes
to the floor to either side of the set (generally as individuals).
By taking hands four (or six...) from the top it determines who is
dancing with whom. If people want to dance an occasional dance with
someone special, we ask them come in at the bottom after the set has
been formed. Sometimes a couple may find themselves leaving an odd
person out ahead of them in the middle of a longways. If this happens
we encourage shifting so that one of them dances with the odd person
out and the hands four continues on down the longways or inviting someone
coming to the floor to jump in that spot.
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). H&R 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.
- Partners - you
don't need one to come to any H&R dance. We encourage people to dance
with as many different people as possible. Improvement comes more quickly
by dancing with more experienced partners. We recommend that two beginners
not dance together for more than a dance or two. If you want to dance,
come to the dance floor and you will find a partner and a set. By taking
hands from the top (and retaining hands until the whole set is formed)
you will determine who is dancing with whom. If you want to dance an occasional
dance with someone special, please come in at the bottom after the set
has formed. Make sure not to leave anyone without a partner in the middle
of a set.
- Children - our
events are family environments, and dancers sometimes bring their children
along. We invite children to dance. The annual dance camps and balls will
provide childcare on request. In order to maintain a safe environment for
both children and adults, we request that parents prevent non-participating
children from coming on the dance floor during the dance, for this may
be very dangerous for everyone.
- Fragrance - please
avoid wearing perfume, aftershave, cologne and other scented products to
a dance. Besides their scent being magnified by the aerobic nature of dancing
and making them unpleasant to many, some dancers are very sensitive or
allergic to such products. This is not a preference issue - it is a health
- Clothing and Shoes -
H&R classes/dances are informal. Wear comfortable, breathable clothes.
For balls and other special events some people get more dressed up but
it is not required. Shoes should be clean-soled and non-marking, no big
heels. Ghillies or ballet slippers work well for Scottish. Many dancers
like jazz shoes (oxford style rather than sneaker style) with a soft arch
- these give flexibility and point for Scottish and a bit more support
- Presence - historically,
the location in the ballroom of the highest ranking person. In modern country
dance usually the location of the music. Sets are generally organized with
the top nearest the presence.
- 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).
- Corner - see diagonals
and corners in H&R Terminology and Conventions.
Can also mean (in a square or round set) your neighbor.
- Opposite - The
person you are facing.
Common Set Formations
- Longways set -
a set made up of two parallel lines, partners facing. May be for a specified
number of people in English and Scottish (six and eight being the most
common, sometimes ten, rarely more) or for as many as will in English.
- Duple Minor -
a longways formation for as many as will with 'minor' groups of two couples,
each couple progressing down or up to join a new couple for the next repetition
(ones move toward the bottom of the set and twos move toward the top).
- Triple Minor -
a longways formation for as many as will with minor groups of three couples
with the ones progressing down the set to the bottom, twos and threes progressing
up changing numbers with each repetition.
- Square set - English
and Scottish. Usually eight dancers (four couples) arranged so that each
couple forms one side of a square, all facing the center of the square
with partners standing side by side.
- Head couples or Heads -
in a square set, the heads are those facing and with their backs to the
- Side Couples or Sides -
In a square set, the couples on either side of the head couples
- Round set - English
and (occasionally) Scottish. Any even number of dancers (six or more) in
a circle, partners side by side.
- Sicilian Circle -
English and Scottish. Two facing two in a circle around the room.
- Allemande - Scottish.
A progressive figure for two (or more) couples. Facing up with hands joined
right in right (the person on lefts hand behind shoulder of partner) and
left in left (in front), with the ones followed closely by the other couple(s):
dance one step out to the right, turn 1/4 left as a couple to face across
the dance, dance across the dance and turn down, dance down the dance,
turn into a line facing the center, dance into the center with the dancer
on the right turning under to face partner, in two bars partners fall back
- Arming - English.
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
hands in Scottish and right shoulder in English.
- Cross and cast -
cross over and dance down (or up) one or more places, done without turning
away as in a regular cast.
- Double Triangle -
Scottish. Ones are back to back in the middle of the dance facing their
own side with right hands joined with person on right and left hand joined
with person on left all six set, then ones drop hands and with setting
step dance round right shoulders to face opposite side while others set,
taking hands as before all six set, then ones drop hands and with setting
set dance round right shoulders to second place on their own sidelines
while others set.
- Draw pousette -
- Figure of 8 -
dancing the pattern of a figure of 8 (usually around standing dancers).
- Chain - a number
of handing figures, for example rights and lefts around a circle (a grand
- 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
- Corners Set and Turn -
Scottish. Ones set to first corner, ones 2-hand turn with first corner
(using setting step) to get to second corner, ones set to second corner,
ones 2-hand turn once round with second corner
- Corners Pass and Turn -
Scottish. Ones cross, passing right shoulder and dance
right around first corner positions, while first corners turn once
round by two hands; ones repeat this pattern with second corners, on the
last two bars ones return to own sides passing right shoulder.
- Gypsy - Two dancers
move around each other in a circular path facing outward or towards the
center as directed.
- Hands across -
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
- 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.
- Hello/Goodbye Setting -
see set to corners and partners
- Hey - English
figure (same as Scottish reel) Interwoven figure for three or more dancers.
- When 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.
- When 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
- 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 right hands
in Scottish and inside hands in English.
- Orbit - traveling
around the outside of the set (or one or more standing or moving dancer).
- Petronella - moving
one position counterclockwise while setting and turning over the right
- Poussette (Scottish
quick time) - a progressive figure for two couples (or more) in which
each couple, with both hands joined, uses eight pas de basque or setting
steps to dance three sides of a square. Each couple moves as a unit counterclockwise
(out to the side, quarter turn, up or down, quarter turn, into the middle,
half turn, fall back, fall back - all turns are done by pulling back
the right shoulder). If the figure is done with three or four couples
the ones move all the way below the other couples who each move up one
- Poussette (Scottish
strathspey time) - also called diamond poussette or all around poussette.
A non-progressive figure for two couples. Each couple, with both hands
joined, moves as a unit counterclockwise using strathspey setting and
traveling to go once round each other. May also be done halfway to progress.
- Poussette (English) -
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 (English) -
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.
- Promenade - a
figure for two or more couples with partners in promenade hold and moving
as a unit, the lead couple, followed by the other couples, dancing (casting)
to left (or right), down to the bottom and back up the middle to place.
- Reel - Scottish
figure (same as English hey).
- 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 in English dances when no hands are given. May also
be done by more than two couples facing alternately and moving in opposite
directions-usually to original places; this is sometimes called a grand
- Set and Link for four -
Scottish. Neighbors set with nearer hands joined, then
2nd diagonals cast up or down while 1st diagonals dance through center
and curve into neighbors' places.
and Link for six - Scottish. Begins
with all improper - set, dancers at the left end of each line (1st
corners) dance through the middle to the right end, to end on the left
end of a line of three across the dance facing up or down. The dancers
in the middle (ones) and at the right end (2nd corners) pull their
right shoulders back and cast clockwise (2nd corners following middles),
finishing in two lines across the set facing up or down (middle people
still in the middle); Repeat the figure to finish on own sides progressed
- Set to Corners and
Partners - Scottish. Ones set to 1st corners but use the
second part of the setting step to pull back right shoulder to the sideline
and face partner across the dance; ones set to partner but use the second
part of the setting step to face second corner; set to second corner
but use the second part of the setting step to face partner up and down
the dance; set while turning over right shoulder to second place on own
side of dance. The corner set back when the ones set to them.
- Siding - two dancers
dance forward to meet right (or left) shoulders and retire. (Another version
is Sharp siding in which two dancers come forward in a curve passing left
shoulders and reverse that track back to place.)
- Turn single -
Turn in four steps, clockwise (i.e., to your own right) unless otherwise
- Chass - Slipping
step to right or left as directed.
- Double - in English
dance, 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 -
a basic three-beat step 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. Used in both
English and Scottish setting, may be in place or traveling.
- Rant - a particular
type of step in English dance.
- Set - a set of
two pas de basque steps.
- Single - in English
dance, two steps in any direction, closing feet on the second step.
- Skip Change -
the Scottish traveling step for jigs, reels and hornpipes.
- Slip Step - Used
in circular or sideways movements in English (sometimes) and Scottish (always)
- Strathspey - a
slow but strong Scottish dance step. Written in 4/4 time.
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 (English)
- dances with time signatures divisible by 2 (two beats per bar), requiring
two, or multiples of two, steps per bar.
- Hornpipe (Scottish)
- a reel variant characterized by a distinctive note sequence.
- Hornpipe (English)
- modern hornpipes are strongly dotted (sharply uneven divisions within
a measure) reels; historical hornpipes are in 3/2
- Jig - a quick
time (Scottish) dance written in 6/8 time. Many English dance tunes are
- Measure - one
time through the time signature, e.g. in 4/4 time, one repetition of four
beats. Quick time (Scottish) music played at a rapid tempo, e.g. reels
- Reel - a quick
time (Scottish) dance written in 4/4 or 2/4 time. Many English dance tunes
are also reels.
- 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.
- Strathspey (Scottish)
- a slow tempo dance written in 4/4 or 2/4 time, characterized by a fiddle
snap (dotted quarter note).
- 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 (English)
- 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