Some Elements of English Country Dancing
While ECD is partner dancing, there is no lead or follow. Each dancer, individually or as a couple, weaves patterns with and around the other dancers. The patterns, or figures, are arranged in sequences that form one cycle of the dance.
Historically, a wide variety of footwork was used and changed over time, some steps falling out of favour as new dance trends came and went. In modern ECD the travelling step is a light, upright dance walk, with occasional skip-change and chassé steps.
Up: Facing the music
Down: Facing away from the music
The set: The group of dancers on the floor
Minor set: The smaller group of dancers you’re working with within the larger group
Hands four: Taking hands with the other dancers in your minor set
Ones (or “first couple”): The pair of dancers who start the dance standing closest to the music in each minor set. The goal of the ones is to eventually work their way down the set to the bottom.
Twos (or “second couple”): The pair of dancers standing furthest from the music in each minor set. These dancers are working their way toward the music, up to the top of the set.
Corners: Dancers who are standing on diagonals from one another in the minor set. First corners are first man and second woman; second corners are first woman and second man.
Progression: Pairs of dancers shifting up or down the set in such a way that by the end of one full cycle of the dance they have moved above or below another couple. These shifts sometimes take place temporarily; “the progression” is the figure that leaves you permanently in your progressed places for the beginning of the next round through the choreography.
Out: Once you have worked your way to the top or the bottom of the set, you are usually “out” for one cycle of the dance. Some dances do not work this way, but most of them do. In triple minor dances, you must wait two cycles if you are at the top waiting to become a one.
Basic Choreographic Elements (Figures)
Single: One step forward with a “closing” step to bring both feet together
Double: Two of these steps, ending with a closing step
Turn single: Tracing a large circle, usually in four walking steps
Casting: Turning away from the set and moving either up or down the outside.
Back to back (dos à dos): Walking forward to pass a dancer by one shoulder, stepping slightly behind them, then falling back by the other shoulder
Figure of eight: Tracing a figure of eight around two other dancers who remain stationary.
Hey: A figure formed by at least three dancers creating a weaving pattern around one another. There are many different heys; the most common types in ECD are heys for three, which resemble a figure of eight with all three dancers in motion simultaneously.
Half figure of eight: a dancer tracing only the first part of the figure, which means that they loop around only one stationary dancer. This figure leaves them opposite the place where they began, sometimes improper (on the “wrong” side of the set).
Four changes of rights and lefts: This was done in at least two different ways, historically. In modern ECD the figure resembles a chain, with partners giving right hands to begin, left hands to neighbours on the side, partners by the right again, and neighbours by the left. Note for Scottish Country Dancers: “polite turns” are not used in English Country Dancing.