English Country Dance figures
As a Scottish Country Dancer you have a huge head start in learning English
Country Dance, and in some ways ECD is easier.
Here is a bit of an intro to ECD for people who know SCD.
In addition to knowing most of what you need to know about the basic set layout,
already know a number of figures which are the same or nearly the same,
casting, figure eight (full or half), rights-and-lefts, hands across,
"Turn" usually means two-hand turn if not otherwise specified.
Several other figures listed below will be very familiar but have slight
Some specific figures:
- Turn single:
- "Turn single" is unlike anything in SCD; I think it's the figure you
will find to be the most foreign,
although walk-around and siding
will also be new to you (next two items).
In "turn single", you walk in a small circle turning over your right shoulder, ending up
back where you started (and again facing the way you were facing). You
use four steps to do this, except in 3/4 time you use three
steps (see below about timing). A brief practice might be wise (e.g. ask
someone else for a pointer just before we start dancing). "Turn single"
is a VERY common figure in ECD. Our teacher has described it as "walking
around a pizza", which seems to be a very good description.
"Turn single" almost always means "turn
single right"; there is also "turn single left".
- Walk-around (formerly known as "Gypsy"; still often called that):
- The "walk-around" figure consists of walking around the person you are facing,
so that you each form a U
shape and get back to place. You look at each other the whole time, so
you are turning your body as you do it —
it's really a right-hand turn without hands.
"Walk around" means "walk around right"
there is also "walk around left" (left shoulder).
Also called "right shoulder round" or "left shoulder round".
- Similar to the walk-around except you do not pass nor turn — you walk
backward. You go forward, then stop when you are beside the person,
and then reverse, looking at them
the whole time but only with your eyes, as your body remains facing the
- Lead up/down means to take nearer hands.
- The setting step is not as vigorous as in SCD, but just daintily on
your toes —
In 3/4 time the steps are all equal time.
Even if several people are setting on the sides
you do not take hands (see below re hands).
- Moving up:
- Moving up/down is not done on the sidelines. You take nearer hands
with your partner and lead briefly up or down the middle as instructed (remember
that "lead" means nearer hands).
(Usually you spend a few steps walking towards each other before moving
upward, to allow the 1s to get out of the way.)
- Rights and lefts:
- What SCD calls "rights and lefts" we call "four changes of rights and
lefts". The number of changes is always specified (it's most commonly four or
In SCD, it's always two bars for each change. In ECD, two bars per
change is the commonest, but also seen is one bar per change, which
usually feels very fast (depending on the speed of the music).
- Circling often uses the walking step, although we do take hands.
If not specified, circle means walking; but slip-step circles do
occur in many dances.
- "Star" means four hands across. We say "right-hand star" or
"left-hand star". The traditional ECD term is "hands across" like in SCD,
but some people seem to say "star" instead.
I initially assumed that this was due to the influence of American
Square Dance, but I've more recently found out that "star" is the
invariable term in the UK, so I don't know why we say "star".
I personally prefer the term "right hands across" (or left).
- Up a double:
- "Up a double" means walk upwards for two bars (four steps) (often
with partners, or often in lines of
four people across the set).
This is most commonly part of "up a double and back", in which you walk
upwards for four steps, then backward another four steps.
We take hands (nearer hands) for "up a double".
- A "hey" is a reel. In ECD you'll find that the people on the ends
sometimes don't start
immediately at the beginning and don't go out to the side as far, but
actually it works better if they do start immediately and do go
out to the side (i.e. like in SCD).
Heys for three with the middle person starting from the sideline (e.g. the
progressed first man does a left-shoulder hey for three with the third couple) are
pretty common, but most other variations you know are not; but we have our
own variations and you will find
some aspects of it quite new from time to time.
Heys for four also occur, and are the same as in SCD.
"Hey" does NOT mean right shoulder by default like in SCD, unless it's a
hey along the sidelines.
Otherwise, you do what's most obvious given whom you've been told to do a
hey with. That is to say, it might be
left-shoulder even though they just say "hey" and not "left shoulder hey".
- Circular heys:
- A "circular hey" is not a reel; it is simply rights-and-lefts without
hands. When you do it you will see what it has in common with reels, but
you will probably continue to think of it as "rights-and-lefts without
hands". (And it's often taught this way.)
- If Sally "gates" Lisa, they start beside each other holding nearer
hands, and Sally walks backwards while Lisa walks forwards, usually
ending beside each other on the sidelines. One example of gating occurs
in a particular method of progression: The ones lead down the middle and
as they reach the twos on their way up
they drop hands with each other and take nearer hands with the twos all
and the twos gate them around three quarters to the sidelines ending with the twos in
first place and the ones in second place. You might have to try this to
understand — it's not difficult, just perhaps unfamiliar.
The rules about which way up you hold hands are the same as in SCD, but fewer
people know them or care about them. Similarly, in some groups you will find people sloppier
about set lines (even though it matters more, since you will be dancing all
the way down the set!).
Counting the set: Rather than counting down the set lines, the
teacher (whom we call the "caller") will tell you to "take hands four", which
means to take hands in groups of four people (two couples), starting from the
top. You can release hands (and move back to the sidelines)
after the four people below you have taken hands.
The majority of dances are two-couple dances; for three-couple dances they will instead say
"take hands six".
In a two-couple dance,
the person in your group who is beside you along the set lines is called your
"neighbour", as opposed to your "partner" across the set.
In the dancing group of two couples, the first man and second woman
are "first corners" and the first woman and second man are "second
corners". That is, it's an absolute term rather than a relative term like in
SCD. (Sample call: "first corners cross".) However, in a group of three couples,
after the ones progress into second place, "corners" means the same as in SCD.
Hands: We don't take hands in ECD nearly as much as in SCD. When you
are told to cross with someone, you don't take hands unless specified;
similarly for setting on the sides.
However, "up a double" or "fall back" generally do involve taking hands, as
Footwork: Although skip-change was frequently done in ECD in baroque
times, there is very little footwork in modern times in Canada and the USA — it's almost entirely
walking step (they do more footwork in the UK).
Circles are done with walking step unless slip-step is specified.
Sometimes you slip-step down the middle and up.
When people do skip in modern ECD, it is
usually not skip-change but rather the kind of
skipping you did in Kindergarten.
Progression: The commonest format is a "duple minor longways set", where the
couples are alternatingly ones, twos, ones, twos, and so on down to the end.
Dancing once through the dance involves a progression as you would expect
(exchanging the ones and twos);
then for the next cycle of the dance, the ones dance with new twos below
them, and the twos dance with new ones farther above them. In this way the
ones gradually make their way down the whole longways set, and the twos make
their way up the whole longways set, with everyone dancing all of the time.
When you reach the top or bottom you are out for one cycle of the dance, then you
become the other number and work your way back, until the dance ends.
That means that this still works with an odd number of couples, where the
last couple is "out" to start.
(This is actually almost identical to SCD's "two-couple dance in a
four-couple set", except that the "set" here consists of as many
couples as are in the entire line.)
Timing: "3/4 time" is common (as in a waltz), although
2/2 is still the most common by far, like in SCD.
3/4 timing changes the feel of everything.
Sometimes the teacher plays the music a bit before we start walking through
the dance; when this happens it's good to set back and forth to the music to
get the hang of the timing.
Some music has other time signatures too! In general, ECD music is more
varied than SCD music.
Social dance: As with SCD, the social aspect of the dance is
emphasized, although instruction on this point might not be as thorough as
it is in SCD, and we take hands less. One thing you will notice is that we
retain hands for a bit longer sometimes, even at the expense of having to
back in to place.
People also talk about "giving weight" — producing some tension in
the hand-hold, like we do in SCD for particularly fast turns where you help
them get around quickly, but in ECD we like to do this even if it isn't fast.
On the other hand, don't be offended when someone doesn't look at you when you
think they should, as these sorts of things are not generally taught in ECD
and some people don't do them.
The video at
may give you more of an idea about what ECD looks like.
If you're looking for a particular dance,
is a good index of videos.
I've also written a similar document for
English Country Dancers starting to dance Scottish, as well as a bunch of
other stuff about me and dance.
Some nearby English Country Dance groups, most of which meet weekly as social dance