Folk dance moves and folk dance steps - participating in English folk dancing is even easier if you first learn some basic moves and terminology. You will find it more enjoyable if you wear suitable clothes - so advice is given. Updated February 2013.
This was originally one webpage but has now been split into two. All the diagrams for Grand Square and related moves are now here.
Not sure what folk dancing is all about? Here are a few youtube videos to show typical bands and dances at folk festivals in the UK.
Folk dance clubs in the UK are in decline - here is some discussion of what might be done to revive them.
These notes are based on those produced by many folk dance clubs. High speed 'thrashing about' on the dance floor is reserved for ceilidhs - where you need to know what you are doing! Terms in purple have special meanings and are used in dance instructions. Learn what they mean!
What type of clothes are most suitable for folk dancing? - click here for my opinions.
What is the best way to learn to dance? Find a really good dance partner to help teach you. Never try and learn by dancing only with someone of your own (limited) ability. This applies especially to 'difficult' dances such as a French mazurka or polskas. The polska is amongst the most difficult of all dances to learn because steps for the man and woman are 'offset' in time.
Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere » The Middle Class Gentleman » Scene II
All the misfortunes of mankind, all the dreadful disasters that fill the history books, the blunders of politicians and the faults of omission of great commanders, all this comes from not knowing how to dance.
"If people going through divorce or relationship breakdown learnt to dance I believe this country could completely turn around. I have saved two marriages by sending the couples to dance lessons. Many marriages break down because couples have forgotten that sense of fun they had at the beginning. Dance lessons are about £50 an hour; my fee is £285 plus VAT"
Divorce Lawyer VANESSA LLOYD PLATT's prescription for mending Broken Britain
Sunday Telegraph, 28 June 2009
A brief and incomplete explanation of basic folk dance steps
These few brief notes are just tips that I have found useful. There are many websites showing videos of dance steps. Despite what purists may tell you, it is not necessary to learn each and every correct step in order to enjoy village folk dancing. Many people muddle through - being on the wrong foot some of the time. So long as you get from A to B at about the right time, you'll survive!
Indeed the three golden rules for inexpert barn dancers are that they should be in the right place, at the right time, and facing in the right direction.
I always advise that first of all, you should learn the MOVES listed below and worry about steps later. In partner dances such as waltz and polka, steps really do matter - you do need to be on the correct foot at all times, or it will be uncomfortable for your partner. For set dances and at local 'barn dances', getting from A to B is all that some people ever manage - and they can dance well enough not to annoy everyone else in the set.
There is a difference between a step and a tap or a lift. A step involves weight transference from one foot to the other. It is a definite move. However, in many dances it is required either to tap the floor with a foot whilst maintaining weight on the other foot, or to lift a foot slightly and put it down again whilst maintaining weight - these are 'lesser' moves and are not steps. I often call then twiddly bits, and,depending on the specific dance, they may be done either with the foot that has weight on it, or with the other foot. In all cases, they can usually be missed out if you are learning the dance and it won't matter too much, because you'll still be on the correct foot for whatever follows.
The three-time waltz is one of the simplest dances - but of course other waltzes can be much more complicated. A simple waltz is in three time and every beat corresponds to a step. For men LRL followed by RLR, for women RLR followed by LRL. In a ballroom waltz there can be an equal emphasis on each step. In a folk dance waltz, there can be more emphasis on the first step, thus: ONE two three, TWO two three. Indeed, a waltz can be danced as one time, and folk dance waltzes are sometimes called 'one time' because there can be so much emphasis on the first step of each group of three.
In any waltz, if you lose the timing the 'recovery mode' is just to do the leading step of each group of three. When you and your partner get back into synchronisation, you can move seamlessly from one-time back to three-time. In a five-time waltz which is essentially 123,45 123,45 you can just omit steps 4 and 5 from each sequence and do nothing! Because you are missing out groups of two steps, you will still be on the correct foot for whatever follows. What you must never do in any dance is to miss out one step - because then you'll be on the wrong foot for whatever follows.
A polka is strictly four time but is danced as three time with a pause (or hop) on the fourth beat - there is no weight transference and thus (as in the waltz) the leading feet change from L to R and back again. If it was danced as genuine four time, the leading foot would always be the same one!
Missing a beat is very common - in a French Schottische the music is twelve beats but there are only ten steps and the dance is often counted as 123, 123, 1234. In fact, it is 123 pause, 123 pause, 1234. The pauses can be slight rotations to change direction for the next 123. In many mazurka dances missing a beat is an important feature of the dance - again there can be twelve beats but only ten steps.
In waltz and polka, shoulders should be parallel with those of you partner. The man's right hand should be holding his partner behind her left shoulder blade. The man's right elbow should be kept high - not allowed to droop down. He should lean slightly backwards. Women should put their right hand behind the man's left shoulder but should not press downwards on the top of his shoulder.
Finally, don't be put off thinking 'I shall never be able to dance'. I am not a natural dancer, I have little sense of rhythm, it takes me about six weeks to learn things that some people pick up in five minutes, so if I can do it (and many women say how good I am these days) anyone can do it - including you. But, like me, you may find it hard going!
A summary of terms used at English folk and ceilidh dances
The top of the set is always nearest the music (the band or other source of sound!). In a longways set the men will have their left shoulders towards the top, the ladies their right. Sometimes a caller will deem the top to be elsewhere so that sets can fit into the room better - typically when sets can fit better across the hall. In these cases the top should still be defined so that the men's left shoulders are to the top!
|Longways sets can be for four
couples (as shown) or for any number of couples from 3 to 8.
A longways set can also be 'for as many as will' meaning as many couples as wish to dance, all in one long set.
When forming longways sets it is polite to join at the bottom. Joining elsewhere can cause chaos if the set has already taken hands four (paired off into groups of four people).
If you are told to move up the set or room you walk/gallop/promenade (or whatever) towards the top of the set or room. If you are told to walk/gallop (or whatever) down the set or room you move towards the bottom of the room. This is obvious - move up towards the top and down towards the bottom. Or sideways of course - again obvious!
In all dances, unless otherwise told, ladies are always on their partner's right (unless standing facing them). This is most important: ladies stand on the right of their partner. More succinctly: WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT. In a longways set when couples turn to face the top of the set (or "FACE THE MUSIC") they can once again hold inside hands (man's right hand holding woman's left hand) in this default position.
Calls and alternatives - and an explanation of how to do them.
Allemande Right or Left: otherwise known as a right or left hand turn. The arm should be bent upwards and weight given to assist the turn. Often a turn is once around, back to where you started. Sometimes it is a half turn, one and a half, or two or more turns. In American Contra dance especially, it is good form to keep your thumbs out of the way - they can get wrenched out of place! You should not grip the other person's hand, the correct contact is better described as pressing hands together.
Back to Back/ Do Si Do: Face your partner and move forward passing right shoulder, move across to the right (passing back to back) and come backwards to place. In some dances the instruction may be for left shoulder. During this entire move you should continue to face in the direction in which you started. More advanced dancers can do spinning do si dos - they follow the same basic path on the dance floor but spinning on their toes as they go, ideally glancing into their partner's eyes on each synchronised rotation! If all else fails, just get back where you started!
Balance/Set: Step to the right and step to the left twice before a swing unless the caller tells you to do it only once. In a line it may be step and hop on one foot and kick the other across, or a small step forward on your right foot and back on the left, or holding your partners right hand stepping forward and back. When the dance is in waltz time the balance is a swaying movement, forward and back, holding inside hands with your partner. In American (contra) dance the balance is forwards and back. A balance is generally a preparatory move: you will be told to balance AND swing or balance AND turn single ("turn single" is just turning around on the spot).
Box the Gnat: A couple meet giving right hands they change places with the lady going under their raised arms and turn to face each other still holding hands, this means that they swap places and end up facing back the way they came, facing each other. Swat the Flea is less common where you use left hands instead of right.
Basket: In a circle of up to eight people, men with their arms around the back of the ladies waists and ladies with their hands on the men's nearest shoulder, pivot around to the left (clockwise). Not recommended if you have slipped discs or other weaknesses - tell the other people not to be too violent. Done with some enthusiasm at ceilidhs, the rotation can be quite fast. Ladies feet have been known to leave the ground - this can be prevented (or made more difficult for men to achieve) by the ladies leaning backwards. The rotation should be around a single point on the dance floor, not wandering off in any direction, with right feet kept close in to the centre if only four people are involved. In Irish dance a very similar move is called a Christmas but all hands are kept at waist level - ideally, right hands around the waist of the person on your right and left hands on top of someone elses right hand. This move is occasionally reversed, then left feet act as the central pivot and the rotation is anticlockwise.
California Twirl: Starting when couple are moving in the same direction side by side, man's right hand to ladies left raising hands she turns left and moves to his place while he moves a step forward and turns right and moves into her place. You both end up facing the opposite direction and have exchanged places with your partner, but still holding same hands. (Couples start and end this move both facing the same direction as each other, and side by side.) Sometimes used at each end of a dip and dive move in a longways set.
Cast: Face up (or down occasionally) the set and move up and around, away from the other line towards the bottom of the set. A double cast - face up the set and cast with your partner all the way around to the left or right using promenade hold.
Chassay: A sideways movement, either in a ballroom hold, taking two hands or nearest hand moving to the right or the left.
Corner/Contra/Neighbour/Shadow: The person next to you who is not your partner (therefore on ladies right or man's left). Will usually be of the opposite sex!
Cross over: Cross over the set passing the opposite person (often your partner) by the right shoulder and then turning to face back in.
Cross trail: Often used in square dances where one couple will pass through a couple who are facing them but in doing so they cross over (lady going first). Similar to part of a half of a figure of eight move.
Cross-over hey (reel): Common in a 3 couple longways set and sometimes used in a 5 couple longways set - as shown below. Starts with lead dancers crossing over the longways set with the lady going in front of the man (as in cross trail and figure of eight). Can be more complicated than shown below!
|Each lead dancer will cross the set and do a reel with people of the
opposite sex (purple lines and boxes).
These dancers will then cross back to their own side and do a three person reel with people of their own sex (green lines and boxes). None of the reels are 'complete' in this example.
Dip and Dive: Used most often in longways sets, but can feature in circles, typically double Sicilian circles (two couples facing two couples). Couples approach each other holding inside hands. One couple arches, the other couple dives under the arch. The 'active' couple who start the move may dip and dive under and over each couple all the way down a longways set until they get to the bottom. Each of the other couples may only be 'dipped' or 'dived' once. However, often the move is continuous, as couples reach the end of the set they turn round and start 'dipping and diving' in the opposite direction - thus everyone eventually gets back where they started (as in a full reel). When used in a circular formation, every couple starts at the same time (and you will be told which couples arch first). Maintain inside hand hold with your partner at all times except when turning around at the end of a longways set (but if you do a California twirl at the end you get to hold hands here too). Sometimes dip and dive is danced so fast there is hardly time to do a California Twirl at either end of the set.
Dolphin Reel: Similar to a normal reel (see below) but at least one of the 'people' in the reel is comprised of two people who travel together, one closely behind the other, and at each end of the reel they change who is in the lead. The simplest example is a three person reel which is actually danced by four people - two of them acting as one person. The changeover at each end is effected by whoever is in the lead (of the two acting as one person) taking a slightly wider arc to turn around, allowing the 'follower' to take an inside track and nip in front - thus becoming the lead person until they reach the other end.
Figure of eight: You and your partner dance a figure of eight around another couple. Leading through that couple (lady goes first) crossing with your partner, go round behind the person who was next to your partner and into your partner's place, (this far is a half figure of eight). For a full figure of eight you continue, crossing again with your partner to get home - ladies first in the crossing, as before.
Grand Chain: Move around the set by passing right hands with your partner, left with the next, right with the next, etc. (Men go anticlockwise, ladies clockwise). Start by facing the person you are dancing with (often your original partner) give right hands and pull by each other (passing right shoulders). Someone else should be coming towards you with their left hand outstretched. Weave the ring is a right and left grand chain but without touching hands. A wrong way grand is simply a grand chain but men move clockwise and ladies anticlockwise. There is also a running set move called 'rights and wrongs'.
Grand Square - and the related moves grand rectangle and grand triangle are explained in detail here.
Grimstock Hey: Danced for three couples. It is essentially two sets of three-person reels side by side but synchronised, with couples holding hands when they can across the two reels. Easily explained with a diagram! Very easy to do if you think of it just as a 3 person reel (and if everyone else is in the right place). Because these are 3 person reels (see Reel/Hey below) at one end it will be right shoulders, at the other end, left shoulders. Stay on your own side of the set, in the reel in which you started! A Morris Hey is the inverse of a Grimstock Hey - you come together in the middle rather than push away from each other.
|Start of a grimstock hey. 3 couples each holding hands, 1s facing down, other two couples facing up. The lines of both 3-person reels are shown as blue lines. Middle couple push away from each other, drop hands and move outwards up the set (green lines) whilst top couple move down the set (green lines). Third couple then join in as the original tops push away from each other, drop hands and move outwards to reach the bottom of the set. And so on!|
Gypsy: Two dancers walk around each other shoulder to shoulder gazing into each other's eyes. Can be in either direction but usually rotating clockwise (right shoulders adjacent). Often 'melts down' into a swing - you will already be rotating in the correct direction if told to do this!
Half Pousette: A way for two couples to change places. Hold both hands with your partner as though for a two hand turn (but not crossing over your hands) and one of you pushes to move forwards while the other moves backwards, the move should be on a diagonal towards the other pousetting couple and having moved a double out (two steps out) you fall back diagonally into the other couples place. To do a full pousette you keep moving so you get home (back where you started from) having gone around a complete square.
Half/Full right and Left through: Danced by two couples, frequently facing across the set to your partner, but sometimes facing up and down the set. Each person moves along typically 2,3 or 4 sides of a square. Facing as directed you change places with the person you are facing giving right hands as you pass (by right shoulders), then turn to your neighbour on the side and change places with them giving left hands acknowledging them as you do so, do not turn your back on the person with whom you have changed position (this is known as a courtesy turn). Full R & L through face across again giving right across and left on the side to finish up where you started. This move can of course be danced without giving hands, just passing right and left shoulders. This is common in Irish set dances.
Hey: American term for reel.
Home: (home place) : where you started the dance.
Improper: Starting the dance on the opposite side to where you would normally, i.e. man on the ladies side and the lady on the men's side. In a longways set this could be couples 1 or 2, in longways sets it could be couples 1, 3 and 5, or couples 2 and 4 etc. Sometimes the 'men's line' will be told to do something despite that it contains ladies - the men's line is the one that originally had all the men in it......In a longways contra dance all first couples (couples 1,3,5,7 etc) will swop sides to become improper.
Ladies Chain: Couple facing couple, the ladies give right hands to each other and pass to give left hand to the opposite man who helps them turn around, the ladies give right to each other again, then left to their partner who also helps them to turn round. Ladies may put their right hand behind their back, to be held by the man's right as he sweeps them around. There are many variations of this move - all end up with a lady standing on the usual right hand side of a man - so if all else fails, just get there! Ladies get most of the exercise in these moves.
Morris hey - see Grimstock Hey above.
Pass through: Walk forwards past the facing dancer passing right shoulders.
Promenade Hold: Standing side by side with your partner, facing in the same direction, holding hands across in front of you, right to right, left to left, usually with right hands above left hands.
Promenade: Holding hands as above. In a circular or square formation usually the promenade is anticlockwise around the room or dance set (sometimes called Ballroom direction) which means the man is on the inside and the lady on the outside. A half promenade applies either to square sets, or a longways set, where you promenade across the set and then turn as a couple to face in.
Reel/Hey:A weaving figure, dancers moving by passing (usually) right shoulder first then left shoulder along the line, when you get to the end you turn around (counting that as passing someone) and work your way back. Often causes a great deal of trouble but is very simple once grasped! It is essential to think of a reel as being danced in a straight line - albeit a wavy straight line. It is also essential to remember you turn around to change direction ONLY at either end of the reel, never when you are in the middle. These rules can be adapted (ie: broken) for more complex reels, such as a push-off hey! (Also Shetland Reel ; Cross-over Hey (reel) ; Grimstock Hey ; Dolphin Reel)
|Start by facing as shown (> or <) and dance in that direction. Pass
(usually) by right shoulders first with the person you are facing.
The third dancer will weave in his/her starting direction to the end of the set (A) then all the way to B, then back to his/her starting position. Everyone will dance twice the distance A-B.
ALWAYS be clear which line is being danced - and with whom, as there may be several options - listen to what you are told to do! Often, start by facing your partner and passing right shoulders. Pass the next person left to left, then right to right, etc, all the time moving in the same direction. At the END of the line of dancers who are 'reeling', you turn around and on the way back pass the first person coming towards you with the SAME shoulder as you passed the last person before you turned around. Simple when you get the hang of it, and often danced quite fast. Think of it as passing right/left/right/left/turn/left/right/left etc. Some callers say you turn with a ghost person at each end of the line - this is just another way of explaining that you come back in with the same shoulder or hand that you went out with - having used up one move with the ghost. Reels can be for as few as three people or for many more. More complex reels includes dolphin reels and grimstock heys (explained above), shetland reels (explained below), push-off heys and Morris heys, all of which are easy if you practise them often enough. In contra dance a hey is just a reel - a different term for the same thing. Some callers will say "hey hey hey" - this just means do a reel. Reels that are diagonal often give the most trouble: the rule is the same - make sure you know which straight line is involved.
I always explain that if there is an even number of people in a simple reel (4,6,8 etc) then whatever happens at one end happens at the other (right/turn/right OR left/turn/left at both ends). If there is an odd number of people in the reel (3,5,7 etc) then at one end it will be right/turn/right and at the other it will be left/turn/left.
Reels on the diagonal of a set can occur simultaneously and interactively - in this case a star is danced in the middle. The diagrams below give the general idea. It is ESSENTIAL to remember which reel you belong to at any one time - as the dance progresses you may become part of the other reel!
The first diagram above shows a simple four couple longways set. There are various ways to change this into the formation shown in the second diagram. Two diagonal reels can now be danced at the same time, one along the green line, one along the purple line. Dancers belong to one or other reel until it is completed. Everyone passes right shoulders at the corners of the set and does half a left hand star (for four people within the blue circle). A dance with simultaneous but parallel diagonal reels is shown below. These are independent reels - each group of three people does not interact with the other group, unlike in the example above. This can be made more challenging by making dancers do three quarters of a star each time, rather than half a star: dancers then spend time fleetingly in each reel, green, purple, green etc. and they progress around the set visiting each corner in turn.
Another example of a dance with diagonal reels is Eight of Hearts, a dance for eight people (no partners and sex doesn't matter). Part of the sequence is shown above. If taught properly, the whole dance is easy. If taught badly, it quickly degenerates into chaos because there is so little recovery time.
The dance formation is three people facing three people (shown red) with two standing back to back in the middle (shown blue).
|The dance is led by the blue
people but the two red dancers at X and X have the most difficult role - they have to
decide very quickly which diagonal reel they are in! This is easier than it looks - if the
caller says 'right reels' this is an instruction to the lead dancers, so the dancers at X
simply look in the opposite direction - diagonally to their left!
The blue dancers start a pair of three person reels (green lines) by facing to their right and passing right shoulders (blue arrows). Immediately the green reels finish the blue dancers face left and start the purple reels (purple arrows).
Dancers at X and X need to keep awake: they dance the green and purple reels with different people. So do the blue dancers - but they are in charge and this makes life much easier! Each set of reels involves only 6 people - the other two stand still.
reel along the red lines, man 1 along red line 1, and so on. Ladies reel along the blue
|In a square set,
interconnected three person reels (figures of eight) can happen simultaneously. It looks
complicated on paper!
Men are denoted by red circles (with numbers 1 to 4). Ladies are black circles and are standing beside their partners in a simple square set (black square).
The key to it is to remember that each person does a three person reel ONLY with his/her partner and his/her corner - and with no regard for who else their partner is interacting with.
Each couple will start by facing their partner and passing by right shoulders before turning around - each having reached one end of their reel. Once they have in effect turned around each other (passing right shoulders again) they finish their respective three person reels in different reels (along different lines) before returning to their home positions.
Thus man 1 will reel with lady 1 (his partner) and lady 4 (his corner). Similarly, lady 1 will interact with her own partner (initially) and then with man 2.
In practice, it's remarkably easy! And even easier if you forget the complicated explanation and just do a right shoulder gypsy with your partner followed by a left shoulder gypsy with your neighbour.
Right or Left Hand Stars: Usually danced sedately by two couples. Give right hands across holding the opposite person's hand, or left hands for a left hand star. Again giving weight will help. Sometimes all the men or all the women (3 or 4 or 5 or more) in a set will be required to do a part or whole right or left hand star - and sometimes as they sweep around they 'scoop up' their partners (or another person) putting arms around waists. The people being 'scooped up' are usually ladies and they should put nearest arms on the shoulder of the man who has (in some fast dances) almost swept them off their feet. This is (of course) never done intentionally.
Shetland Reel: identical to a normal simple reel except each 'person' is now two people, one following closely behind the other. Therefore, a '3 person' Shetland Reel would involve 6 people - but they act as though they were only 3, each couple being an entity. Often quite fun in that it involves men following very closely behind their partners (or vice versa) and with 'no holds barred'.
Sheepskin hey: only ever used in one dance as far as I know, diagram to follow.
Square Through: This is similar to right and left through but without any courtesy turns, and especially without the final turn, but can be danced more quickly. A left square through simply starts with left hands - but is rare. Lack of the final turn leaves you facing in a different direction (90 degree out) than if you were doing full or half right and left through moves.
Star Ladies Chain: Ladies move halfway around a (square) set in a right hand star. The opposite men give them their left hand and turn them around into another right hand star to return to their partners, who turn them in the same way. Sometimes, instead of going half way round in their star, the ladies go 3/4 round - and sometimes as they are rotating in the star (in the middle of the set) the men nip smartly around on the outside to another mans place.
Star Through: With a man facing a lady he holds up his right hand (like a policeman stopping traffic) and she holds up her left so they touch palms. Each moves forward, the man turning right after passing her and the lady left after going under their raised arms, the couple end up holding hands both facing the same direction (compare with California Twirl and Box the Gnat which are both quite different). All three moves achieve a rapid change in position and/or orientation of a dancing couple.
Strip the Willow: Great fun, and often danced very fast at ceilidhs and with violent turns - especially if everyone knows what they are doing......! The end couple turn each other by the right (with an elbow hold keeping thumbs tucked under) once and a half to get to the other side, then turn the next person on the side by the left, go back to their partner for a right turn (in the middle of the set), the next person on the side by the left and so on to the bottom of the set, turning everyone of the opposite sex on the side by the left and partner by the right. At the end the working couple need to turn half (or once and half) to end up on their correct side. Remember the golden rule - right to your partner in the middle, left to everyone else on the side. Sometimes a half strip the willow is danced first - whilst one of the 'active' couple turns each person in the opposite sex line by the left (and partner by the right) as usual, the other simply walks sedately down the middle of the set doing only right arm turns. On the way back the roles are reversed. Strip the Willow can be danced in a square formation - easy if everyone remembers that their 'number one person' is to their right, their 'number two' is opposite them and their 'number three' to their left. Everyone's number four is their own partner - see below!
Strip the willow in a circle (square formation) can be even more fun - two opposite men start by turning 3/4 by the right, left to their 3/4 lady (the one who was diagonally to the man's right), by the right in the middle of the square (two men again), by the left to their respective 1/2 lady (opposite where the men first started) and so on back to their partner. All the right arm turns are in the middle of the set (with a same sex person) and all the left arm ones on the sides (with an opposite sex person). Can be very fast and can be danced six times through - head men leading, side men, head ladies, side ladies all the men together, then finally all the ladies together. It is a good idea to know this sequence off by heart before attempting a teacup chain! The similarity is that each 'active' dancer interacts in turn with each member of the opposite sex going around the set in an anticlockwise direction. Once this pattern becomes ingrained, a teacup chain is quite easy.
Swing: Stand facing your partner so right shoulders are in line, place right feet side by side outside your partners to act as a pivot, then use your left foot to push you around similar to riding a scooter in a clockwise direction giving weight as you do so. Various arm holds are used, the most common is a variation of ballroom hold. Cross hand hold is used for some dances e.g. hornpipes. It is important that both dancers respect their partner's capabilities when swinging and ensure it is safe to release the hold before doing so. Can be very fast and some ladies may get seriously giddy - men should not let go until they know it is safe to do so. With practice, the man's left hand and the ladies right can be free - the only real contact being the man's right arm FIRMLY around the ladies back (preferably some distance above the waist) not pulling her towards him but offering firm support. Imagine you are rotating around a point on the floor - do not move sideways in any direction. At the end of a swing the lady should be on the man's right and facing in the same direction. All swings can be done at a greater rotational speed if the dancers keep close to each other - holding each other far apart means that a lot of rotational energy has to be built up for a given angular velocity.
Teacup Chain: (includes alternating teacup chain and double teacup chain) There are several variations of a teacup chain. All are best taught for side or head couples alone in the first instance. I may add a few more diagrams sometime but the full American Square Dance sequence for a simple teacup chain is shown in an animation on this page. However the last turn is shown as a courtesy turn. Sometimes (including in one or two Irish set dances) it is a simple left arm turn instead so all the men end up standing where their partners normally stand (and vice versa). The men can then lead the dance but starting from the ladies positions. They then follow EXACTLY the steps that the ladies took when they led the dance. Note that there are two sets of starting moves - each pair of opposite women (or men) do different things. My own method of teaching a simple teacup chain is explained below. It is not possible easily to CALL the dance because each set of dancers will be 'out of phase' with the other set except half way through! So it is best learnt and then just danced!
At the Eastbourne Dance Festival in April 2010 I learnt a different way of teaching a teacup chain from an American caller Sue Rosen. Conceptually it is the opposite of the method I use in that my method requires the 'active' dancers to know exactly what they are doing - and the 'static' dancers need know very little. Sue's method needs the 'static' dancers to know where to send each 'active' dancer. It works very well: the 'static' dancers at each position shown below send every 'active' dancer who approaches them off in the same direction - that is all there is to it!
|Teacup chain: it can be helpful to visualise the route taken by an individual dancer. Here a lady starts from the bottom of the diagram, moves across the set (track 1) to do a right arm turn with the man to her right, across to the middle of the set (arrowed) to do a left arm turn with another lady (who will be approaching her from the left of the set), to the man who was originally opposite to her (track 3) for a right arm turn, then cutting across the corner of the set again (track 4) to do a left arm turn with the man originally to her left, then to the centre (arrowed) for a right arm turn (with the other lady) and finally back to her partner (track 6) to finish with a left arm (or courtesy) turn. This can be practised with just two opposite men or ladies leading. In the full dance, all four men (or ladies) are moving at once. Unlike in a strip the willow square, there are two right and two left turns on the sides, and one of each type in the middle. The other two ladies will at the same time be doing something similar but different! (see diagram below)|
|The other two 'active' dancers will start
the teacup chain by moving into the centre of the set. Thereafter, whilst the moves are
similar they are in a different order. Again only one dancer's tracks are shown. They
visit each man in turn (anticlockwise around the set) but instead of getting to the first
one (on their right) directly across the corner of the set, they go outwards from the
Thus, the two ladies opposite each other start by moving to the centre (track 1 for the dancer shown and track 4 for the lady opposite) for a right hand arm turn (star) 3/4 round and then (track 2) to a left arm turn with the man on the right. After that it is all very similar, but note that it is only pairs of 'active' dancers who do turns in the middle of the set - not all four together. Viewing the animated sequence makes this clear.
If the timing is correct, all four 'active' dancers will be turning their opposite people (on the opposite side of the set to where they started) at the same time (and all with right arm turns), and also finishing (with their partner and left arms turns) at the same time. Turns on either side will not be synchronised.
I have my own way of teaching a teacup chain - and I think it's one of the easist to remember!
Here goes... :
Start by teaching a strip the willow in a square set. This is easy (see above within main text) - two opposite men (say) move to the middle of the square set, do 3/4 a right arm turn and then go to the lady who was originally on their right to do a left arm turn. This whole sequence (a right arm 3/4 turn in the middle and a left on the side) is defined (by me and for the purposes of teaching a teacup chain) as MIDDLE. A complete strip the willow dance sequence for (say) the head men can therefore be taught (and called) as MIDDLE, MIDDLE, MIDDLE, MIDDLE. This involves eight arm turns. If all four men (or ladies) do it together, they just do a 3/4 right hand star in the middle instead of a 3/4 right arm turn - again this is easy.
The difference in a teacup chain is that there are only 6 arm turns to get back home and it can be left or right in the middle or on the side. Just remember you always start using a right arm and each arm is used alternately (right, left, right, left, etc) no matter where you are at the time. Sometimes however, as an introductory move, all dancers do a left arm turn with their own partner to begin the sequence.
There is also a new move to define : I call it CUT. If a dancer is told to CUT this means cut across the corner of the square and do an arm turn (may be right or left) with the man/lady who is on her/his right - the same person the dancer would have gone to when doing a strip the willow dance. The move CUT leaves the dancer at the same place as at the end of a MIDDLE move - but it has taken less time because the 3/4 arm turn in the middle of the set is omitted.
Now explain that one pair of (say) head men doing a teacup chain will dance CUT MIDDLE CUT MIDDLE whilst at the same time the other pair of men (the side men) will dance MIDDLE CUT MIDDLE CUT - each will dance 6 arm turns to get home.
Once the moves CUT and MIDDLE are understood, dancing a teacup chain is as easy as a strip the willow in a square. When taught differently, it sometimes perplexes even experienced dancers!
It can now readily be understood that a teacup chain is synchronised only at the start, half way through and at the end of the sequence. At the start, everyone is with their partner. Half way through every active dancer is doing a right arm turn with the person of the opposite sex who was OPPOSITE to them when they started. The dance is 'in phase' at this point because each set of dancers have travelled the same distance - one pair having danced CUT MIDDLE the other pair MIDDLE CUT. At the end of the sequence each dancer will be doing a final left arm turn with their partner, and at the same time!
Unlike in a strip the willow dance, the four people who are standing still waiting for dancers to come towards them need to keep awake - they may be required to give a left or right arm. In Sue Rosen's method of teaching the dance, everything depends on these 'static' dancers knowing where to send each 'active' dancer.
Notes added June 2012: More complicated versions of a teacup chain are the alternating teacup chain and the double teacup chain - both of which were taught at Chippenham Festival 2012 by Colin Hume. They were such fun dances that I will reproduce them here shortly with some diagrams - unless I can find good ones elsewhere on the internet. My own recollection is that they moved even experienced dancers well outside their comfort zone. Many other 'complicated' dances are simply the same old moves but in a different order - and most experienced dancers find them easy enough.These more complex teacup chains were challenging!
The starting sequence for an alternating teacup chain is the same as for a simple teacup chain - and the formation is again a simple square set. The essence of the dance is that each time an 'active' dancer does an arm turn with a 'stationary' dancer (one waiting at the side or head position) the turn is rotated half more (or less?) so that after each turn on the sides, each active dancer and stationary dancer swap roles. This has the effect of making pairs of men and women alternately 'active' doing arm turns in the centre of the set. It is helpful to appreciate that the only people you work with (have contact with) are your opposite person of the same sex and the two people next to you - both of whom will be of the opposite sex. Arm turns in the centre will always be with the same person of the same sex. And that is really all you need to know!
The double teacup chain is far more challenging - especially for the women who (unfairly?) have far more to think about than the men. As taught at Chippenham in 2012, the men stay rooted to their positions for each figure. Any chorus thrown at the set may have the effect of swapping over head and side men and giving everyone a different partner for the next turn through of the dance, just to make life as interesting as possible. Whatever their position however, the only role of the men in the teacup chain figure is to rotate women who come towards them using either a right or left arm turn - depending on what the woman wants to do. In this respect the job of men is similar to that of the 'posts' in the straightforward Posties Jig dance.
For a double teacup chain, the set comprises 8 couples (16 people) and it is helpful if 8 of them are of either sex. The set is a square with two couples side by side on each side of the square. The job of side men is very simple - they have to receive a woman from the centre of the set, turn her around and pass her onto whoever is the nearest head man for that turn through the dance. The job of head men is to receive a woman from their nearest side man and to turn her round before steering her towards the centre of the set. Some women try and dance directly from a side man back to the centre of the set - it is part of the role of head men to grab them and persuade them that they must first turn at the head position!
The only people who ever occupy the 'middle ground' in the centre of the set are (alternately) the four side women (who turn a star) or the four head women - who again turn a star. However, these stars are either 0.75 (3/4) turn or 1.25 turns - and with the same amount of music (?). These stars have to be danced quite quickly and with the women deciding which side man they should aim for next, and with which arm. Therefore it is very useful for each set of 4 women to know who the others are - there can be a tendancy for either 3 or 5 women to be in a star at the same time! As in many teacup chains this one can be started with an introductory move where each couple do a left arm turn with their partner.
This paragraph might be wrong: - Four of these women (either 4 head women or 4 side women) will then make for the centre of the set and make a right hand star and then head for the side man two places to the right of their starting position. The other 4 will (I think) head directly to a head man with a right arm and he will then put her into the centre for a left hand star - I have probably remembered this quite incorrectly so treat it as provisional........
Diagram to follow when I have time, and have figured it all out! If you can find 16 competent dancers try it - it was a most interesting experience.
There are many other moves, including a whole group called Kentucky Running Set or just Running Set. Irish set and ceili dance is different again, and with different terms sometimes being used to denote similar or identical moves.
Grand Square - and the related moves grand rectangle and grand triangle are explained here on a supplementary page.
Becket formation A longways set, but instead of partners standing opposite each other they stand side by side with the lady on her partners right facing across the set to another couple. The progression is up one side of the set, across the end, and back down the other side.
Circle A ring of couples facing inwards, each lady on her man's right, as usual. It can be a small circle of two or three couples or a large circle of 50 or more couples all round the outside of a large dance hall.
Longways Set A line of dancers, with partners facing across the set taking hands four from the top forming rings of four, first couples are No.1 and second couples No.2 (1's moving down the set (away from the music) and 2's up, until you reach the end and have nobody to dance with (you are then a neutral couple), though in some dances they have to be awake to join in some bits even though they are neutral. Wait out one turn of the dance and come back in, if you are at the bottom you come back in as 2's and at the top as 1's. Some dances have the first couples swap sides, this is known as an improper set (in American dancing a contra formation), remembering to swap sides again when you get to the end and change numbers.
Longways Sets A certain number of couples in a Longways set, i.e. 3 couples or up to 8 couples in one set.
Sicilian Circle Couple facing couple around the room in a large circular formation. Remember which way you are facing around the large circle - you will usually move only in that direction to progress to subsequent couples coming the other way. There is also a Double Sicilian Circle - this has two couples in each line (4 people facing four people). If these dances go on for long enough each couple will dance with every other couple who start facing in the opposite direction. In Double Sicilian Circle dances, it is common for couples to change tracks after each turn of the dance. For example, the couple facing anticlockwise and starting on tracks 1 and 2 (man on 1, woman on 2) may find themselves on tracks 3 and 4 - and again facing anticlockwise to start the next turn of the dance. They will then swap back again for the third turn of the dance. It can be important to remember which track you are on and to keep the dance set neat and correctly positioned on the dance floor. DURING each turn of the dance, any dancer may be facing either anticlockwise or clockwise - it is only at the start of each turn of the dance that each couple will be facing in their original direction.
|Sicilian Circle - couple facing couple all round the large blue circle around the dance hall. Partners usually hold inside hands to start - women to the man's right as usual.||A Double Sicilian Circle- two couples side by side, facing another two couples. The pattern is repeated all round the blue circle.||It is important to know which of the four blue circles you are in at any time! A man may move (as shown) along track 1, go across to track 2, and then return home.|
Square Set Usually four couples in a square formation, each couple forming one side of the square. The couples are numbered anticlockwise, number one nearest the music. Couples facing up and down the room are head couples those facing across the room are side couples. In some dances there can be two side couples on each side, but only one head couple at either end (total six couples). It is still then called a square set despite being rectangular......In Irish dance the head couples are called top couples (and the sides are still sides).
If a dance 'falls apart' then reform the set and wait for an appropriate time to restart, never drop out and sit down!!
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