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Dance vocabulary

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Right foot start: (Sorry Lefties) English country dance steps almost invariably start with the right foot. That is, you start with your weight on the left foot and your first step is onto your right foot. The English (as with other cultures of the Elizabethan era) were very superstitious. Bad things peered over your left shoulder (hence throwing salt over your left shoulder, being served from the right, etc.). Yes Martha, there are exceptions in our dances, but these are EXCEPTIONS.

Stepping: There is usually one step per beat of music. Exception is Set & Turn, which has the sets on beats 1, 1 (known as "and"), and 2.

Couple Dances: Most all of the dances are couple dances with one or more couples. The woman is on the man's right, holding hands in a relaxed manner.

Hands: Men offer hands with palm up, women palm down. When people are in a set where 2 people of the same gender are next to each other, hands are offered for the position you are standing in: Man's position, palm up, Women's, palm down. When the same gender takes hands facing, usual practice is right palm down, left up.

High Fives: While the clapping of hands, or pushing off with hands in the Upward raised position, palms toward each other may have been done, it looks very 20th century. For this reason it is highly discouraged. Try clapping with hands reaching downward.
Exception: Creating a 2 handed arch with 2 people facing each other.


Up a double and back (In a double): (8 beats, usually done twice)

Starting with your right foot, take 4 steps forward, ending with the weight on your left foot. Then, starting with your right foot, take 4 steps back. Note: there are 8 changes of weight for the up a double!

Siding: (8 beats, usually done twice)

Facing your partner, starting with your right foot, take 4 steps to exchange places "passing" left shoulders (as a couple, you will do a counter clockwise half circle, without holding hands). Then, still facing and with your right foot, take 4 steps to do a clockwise circle, exchanging places "passing" right shoulders.

Arming (right arm, left arm): (8 beats each arm)

Starting with your right foot, gently hook right elbows and taking 8 steps, circle clock-wise back to place. Then, again starting with your right foot, hook left elbows and circle counter clock-wise back to your place in 8 steps. The right arming and left arming are sometimes done separately, separated with a Set & Turn.

Set & Turn: (8 beats)
Set: (4 beats):
Facing your partner, take a small step to your right with your right foot. Then staying in place, step onto your left foot, then onto your right. (There are 3 changes of weight done in 2 beats. Changes being done on "1", "1" ("And"), and on "2".) Next, stepping with your left foot take a small step to your left, then change to right foot, then left.
Turn (Turn Single): (4 beats)
This is called a turn when done as part of a "Set and Turn", a Turn Single otherwise. Taking 4 steps do a right hand turn (turning to the right) in place.

Slips (Slipping Circle or Ring): (Number of beats depends on the dance)

Slips are usually done in a circle, all holding hands. Circle goes clockwise some number of beats. Depending on the dance, you may do a 2nd slipping circle counter clock-wise.


Not really a dance step, but usually done at the end of a dance. Take your partners' right hand, men bow Very slightly, women curtsy.

General dance sequences:

"Something", set & turn, "something" again, set & turn.
Replace the "Something" with "Up a double (in a double)", "Siding", or "Arming".
For arming: Arm right, set & turn, arm left, set & turn.

"Something", that again, set & turn, that again:
Replace "Something" with "Up a double", "Siding", "Arming".

Larger dance sequences:

Most dances have a sequence of "A" part, then "B" part, 3 times. Some have ABC, 3 times, others are exceptions. Usually the "A" part is either "Something, set & turn, something again, set & turn" or "Something, that again, set & turn, that again".

So, to put that in a dance: Rufty Tufty, being a "Something, that again, set & turn, that again"

A1: In a double, that again, set & turn, that again
B1: Rufty Tufty chorus.
A2: Siding, that again, set & turn, that again
B2: Rufty Tufty chorus.
A3: Arming (both right & left), set & turn, that again
B3: Rufty Tufty chorus.

Other Dance Basics

Absolute Positions:

Top Position or Number 1 position: In a length wise set, the people facing toward the audience.

Number 2 position or 2nd position: People right in back of Top couple.

3rd position: You get the idea...

Bottom position: Last position in a length wise set.

Head & Foot: (Only in 4 couple circle dances). The couple closest to the Music or Audience is the Head. The foot is the couple on the opposite side to the Head couple. Important in some dances.

Sides: 2 Couples in a 4 couple circle dance that are not the Head & Foot.

Relative Positions:

Partner: If you don't know, you shouldn't be dancing!

Corner: Person of the opposite gender, on the side of you away from partner. If you were holding hands in a circle, the person, other than your partner, holding your hand.

Opposite: Person of the opposite gender that you are facing (in a circle or 2 couple-facing dance). In a 2 couple dance, this same person would also be your corner.

Out a double:

Like in a double. Starts with couple holding hands, facing into the dance set. On first step, couple turns in, take other hands and walk out for 4 beats, turn and walk back, holding original hands, for 4 beats.

Gyps: (Usually 8 beats)

Gyps are basically slipping circles to the left, without holding hands, facing your partner. (Actually I know of 3 different dances that have Gyps and they are all done differently.) On beat 1, the hands cross each other in a plane parallel to the front of your body and swinging out to form an arc in this same plane. The arms stay that way for the rest of the figure.

Gypsy: (8 beats)

Think of a vaudeville act where a man is being chased by a woman with a rolling pin in her hand. This is the feeling for this step. Man turns to the left, (away from the woman) and "runs" a counter-clockwise circle ending by running through the woman's position back to his own. Woman "chases" the man, following in the same circle. (Woman, no fair making a smaller circle, the idea is to make it look like you are going to get him, not actually getting him.)

Pousettes: (8 beats)

Usually done in 2 couple dances. Couples take both hands with their opposites. This forms a set with 2 couples (we will call it "pairs"). In 8 beats exchange places with the other pair, men push women. With a slight "Prancing" step, men push women and women back about 1 couple length, way between pairs in 4 beats. At this point, the 2 pairs form a "Line". Next, the women push the men back to other pair's position. (Complete pattern traces an inverted "V".) This is usually followed by another step, most times a Gypsy. Then a 2nd poussette back to place again usually followed by a 2nd Gypsy.

Variation: Argeers has a different Poussette. Instead of prancing steps in a "V" shape, it is hopping steps (1 per 2 beats), in a 3 sided box shape. The first "step", men pushing women, ending with pairs 1 full couple offset in the forward/backwards axis. The second "step" pairs go to way position forming the line. The third "step" continues the second one. And the fourth step gets the pairs back to the others position.


Switches are done in 3 couple dances, usually as a way to "progress" a couple up or down the set. At the end of the dance, the couples are usually back in original positions. There are 2 types of switches. What I call, "X" switches, and "V" Switches.

"X" switches (16 beats): The "standard" switches. Top man exchanges places in 4 beats with 2nd woman, passing right shoulders. During the next 4 beats the following exchange places at the same time: Top woman & 2nd man and bottom man & bottom woman. At this point, top couple has progressed down to 3rd couple's position, 3rd couple has progressed to 2nd couples, and 2nd couple is now the top couple.

"V" switches (8+8 beats): Top man exchanges with 2nd woman in 4 beats passing right shoulder, while 3rd man turns single. Then Top man continues down, exchanging places with 3rd man while 2nd woman turns single. That took 8 beats. Usually something else happens, like up a double. (See "Hands" in Basics above.) The next set of exchanges is Top woman with 2nd man while 3rd woman turns single, then top woman with 3rd woman while 2nd man turns single. That takes the other 8 beats. This variation usually is done 6 times with all dancers back to place.

3 person Hey: (8 beats)

This figure is done in 3 couple dances, usually with men in their own hey and woman in theirs. 1st (top) position faces down the set (towards 2nd & 3rd) while 2nd & 3rd face up. 1st & 2nd pass by right shoulder, (2 beats). 1st & 3rd pass by left shoulder while 2nd does a small right-hand turn (2 beats). 2nd & 3rd pass by right shoulder while 1st does right-hand turn (2 beats).

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Revised: 03/01/02