The Corporation
Country Dances, Ancient and Modern

irst there was Playford

Well, not quite first. But Playford did publish the first collection of country dances containing both music and a description of the figures in 1651.

Slightly prior to Playford is the Lovelace (Patticke) Manuscript, a hand written document in a library at Harvard which contains descriptions of about 33 dances mixed in with random bits of poems and whatever struck the author's fancy. This manuscript is undated, but was probably written between 1621 and 1649. At least one of the dance descriptions is incomplete. Some of the dance titles appear later in Playford, often, but not always, with a similar figure.

The Playford dances (and Lovelace dances) are generally quite complex and well thought out (and use quite complex sub-figures). There are also decided idioms in the style. They do not seem to be indicative of a new style, but of something well established.

A Lively Shape of Dauncing claims (without providing references) that a number of Playford dances were around in Shakespeare's day.

They suggest that the dance Dargason / Sedanny, which is like nothing else in Playford, is a survivor of a style from the 15 hundreds that predated the Country Dance.

Playford's version of Dargason uses a hey, indicating that figure may date back to the 15 hundreds.

They say that a number of other "Playford" dances were being danced around 1600, singling out Sellengers Round, The Night Peece, and Putney Ferry.

Playford's versions of these last three dances all use the Up-a-double/Siding/Arming pattern indicating that this style of dance may date back to 1600.

(I say "may" because the name of the dance is more likely to reflect the tune than the figure. There are a few dances in Lovelace with the same name as a Playford dance but a different figure. The Chirping of the Nightingale being one. Thus with just the name of a dance one can't be sure that the figure matches.)

The Playford Assembly, Graham Christian, Easthampton, Ma. 2015, also claims an early provenance for Sellengers Round, as well as Huff Hannikin, (1623) and Trenchmore.

Shakespeare mentions dance frequently in his plays, but he never names any, nor does he ever use the term "Country Dance" (or if he does, I haven't found it). He does mention other styles:

BEATRICE:... For, hear me Hero:
wooing, wedding and repenting, is as a Scotch jig,
a measure, and a cingue pace: ...

Much Ado about Nothing, II.i

▼ Country Dance Vocabulary

If you are familiar with the vocabulary of English Country Dance, click on the arrow above to ignore this section

Minor set dance
Cecil Sharp divided country dances into two types: whole set dances and minor set dances. In a whole set dance everyone in the set interacts in the same dance, in a minor set dance the lines of dancers are divided into small sub-groups of dancers and each sub-group does does the same dance, but only interacting with people in their own sub-group. Then the dance repeats with a different set of sub-groups.

Most of the first progressive Playford dances are what are called "Duple Minor" dances (another term invented by Cecil Sharp), where the sub-groups consists of two couples hence "duple". (The Scottish 2 couple dance in a 4 couple set is a modified duple minor). As time went on dances started to appear where sub-groups consisted of three couples each (or "triple minor", again the Scottish 3 couple dance in a 4 couple set is a modified triple minor).

I have found it convenient to use the term "singleton" to describe dances like Halfe Hannikin, or I Care Not For These Ladies where the unit of progression is a single couple (and the dance is often a mixer).

Up, Down
Up is toward the music (or in the old days, the presence). Down is away from the music.
1s, 2s, 3s, etc.
The couple closest to the music is called the 1s, the next couple the 2s, and so on. In a minor set dance there are 1s and 2s (and maybe 3s and 4s) in every sub-group.
In the standard country dance there would be a long line of men facing an equally long line of women. this was "proper". If a male dancer was in the female line, or a female dancer in the male line, then he/she was improper.

The term has a related meaning, in a duple minor dance if the 1s are improper then the entire dance is called an improper duple minor. (If the 2s are improper it is called an indecent dance).

Progression involves repeating the same figures of a dance with a new permutation of the couples involved. In a whole set dance, the 1s might move to the bottom and everyone else move up 1 place, and the dance would repeat with the original second couple now dancing the role of the 1st couple.

The same concept applies in a minor set dance. In a duple minor, at the end of each iteration of the dance the top couple in the minor set will have moved down one place, and the second couple will have moved up. The dance repeats with each couple dancing the same role as before but with a new couple. When the 1s reach the bottom, or the 2s the top they wait out a turn and then start dancing the other role.

A triple minor is similar except that 3 couples are involved and the mechanics at the end of the major set are a bit more complex.

When the 1s move down 1 couple the dance is called "single progression", however it is possible for the 1s to move down two or three or more couples. This is called "multiple progression".

How things have changed

Table of Contents

Country dances have been around for three or four or maybe five centuries now. Unsurprisingly things have changed over that time. Some changes are clear, while others are hidden from us because we don't even realize how things were done before.

Starting a dance

In modern Country Dances everyone starts dancing at once (except, possibly the bottom couple), but that is not how things were done in Playford's day.

In his day only the top two couples of a duple minor set (three for a triple minor, of course) would start. After they had danced once the top couple would go down to the next couple(s) below and dance with them. The original second couple would wait at the top until there enough couples below them, and then they would start dancing down as 1s.

No one started until the top couple reached them.

When the original top couple reached the bottom they would start up the set as 2s. When they reached the top they would stop. But the dance would not. Now the top couple would wait, and the dance would end when each couple had reached its original place. (if there are n couples then this takes 3*n-3 repetitions of the dance in a duple minor, and 4*n-4 in a triple minor).

In part this was because the top couple would choose the dance, and would teach it to each couple below by dancing it with them. They did not have walk-throughs beforehand to teach the dance.

As an example of this, for an improper duple minor see: (untitled Ecossoise), for a triple minor: The Carnival of Venice.

There is still a vestige of this style of dancing in Scottish Country's 2 couple dance in a 4 couple set, where only the top two couples dance the first time through.

Things were even more complicated when a dance consisted of two (or more) parts as Jamaica does.

In a multi-part dance, the original top couple would dance down the set as 1s doing the first part of the dance, then dance up as 2s. Then they'd wait until there were enough couples below and start the second part, even though most couples below them would still be dancing the first part.

This makes for some difficulty in calling the dance: What can a caller say when two different dances are going on at once? Of course, in Playford's day the dances were not called so that problem wasn't significant.

▶ Quotes and Justification

Playford does not say this explicitly, he simply assumes you know it, but if you read his instructions they do seem to be addressed to the top couple alone rather than to all the 1s. "The first Cu. turns single, then lead down thro' the 2d Cu. and cast up again · The 2d Cu. do the same : Then the three first Cu. go the Hey · The first Cu. cast off and turn Hands ··" from "Masquerade Royal", John Young (John Playford's grandson in law), 1718: Now, why say "the three first Cu." when you mean "all the couples" unless those first three were the only ones dancing at the start?

John Essex in For the Further Improvement of Dancing, page 17 (and following), gives a very verbose, but still sadly vague, description of how an improper dance should start and finish:

1st. When a Couple begins to Dance from what ever place they begin they must not discontinue till they are arriv'd not only to ye last Couples place but also to ye very place where they have begin.

2d. Every time that a repetition begins again, the same increases always by Couples, so that ye Dance which before was but of two, comes to be of four, then of 6, of 8. 10 &c till every Body be in motion.

3d.When a Couple coms into the first Couples place they must follow the same way which the preceeding Couples have gon.

4th. When a Couple is come down to the last Couple and finds there no Body more to Dance with, then that same Couple Dances again together (GWW: in other words partners cross over) and afterwards moves up always Dancing till they come to the same place where they have begun & then all the repetitions of that Couple are at an end.

Page 21

And in another place:

The first figure is always that by which one begins, and goes on till you arrive to ye last which will be the end of ye part, which is to be repeated not only by them who have begun, but also by all the other Couples. who must follow the same way as the first and shall likewise continue in ye same order; till every Body be arrive'd to the same place from whence they began and the the whole parter will be intierely finish'd and there every Couple make their Honour as they finish.

But if there be a second part you must instead of making your Houour goe on in the same order: as you have done in the first and putt off making your Honour till you come to ye end of the last part.

Page 17

"The Dancer's Guide", London, Chivers, 1821: gives a much clearer description, and a picture which shows the start of an improper dance. Only the top couple is crossed over. This only works if the top four people are the only ones active at the start.

He describes this in his section on Ecossoises, page 45 "Any number of persons can join, observing that the first couple exchange places (each couple doing the same as they regain the top), and when they get to the bottom, they take their own sides"

This style of starting a dance continued for centuries and was used on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is described in The scholars' companion and ball-room vade mecum, New York, Hillgrove, 1857.

The last place I have found it spelled out is in Cecil Sharp's description of a minor-set dance in The Country Dance Book, Part 1 (1909):

The top minor-set, headed by the leading couple, opens the dance by performing the complete figure, the rest of the couples being neutral. This results in the exchange of positions between the leading and second couple.

The second round is now danced by the minor-set composed of the second and third couples, of which the second one is the leading couple. The rest of the dancers, including the top one, remain neutral. This brings the leading couple down to third place from the top of the General Set.

In the third round two minor-sets will now participate, namely those consisting, respectively, of the two couples at the top (the second and third of the original set), and of the the third and fourth couples (originally the first and fourth).

However, at the end of the section Sharp adds the comment:

Expert dancers will sometimes constitute themselves into minor-sets for the performance of the first round, and thus avoid the gradual and somewhat tedious opening as above described; that is to say, they will omit the first six rounds in our first illustration and begin with the seventh round.

As far as I can tell, later parts of the The Country Dance Book omit this entirely. So perhaps Sharp changed his mind. And that may mark where this style of starting a dance was lost.

The first place I have found mention of the modern way of starting is The Complete Ball-Room Hand-Book, Elias Howe, Boston, 1858 which says In forming for Contra Dances, let there be space enough between the ladies' and gentlemen's lines to pass down and up the centre. It is usual for those at the foot of the set to wait until the first couple has passed down, and they have arrived at the head of the set; but there is no good reason why they should so wait, as every fourth couple should commence with the first couple. In other words he is saying that traditional dancers would only begin when the top couple reached them, but there is no reason why the whole line couldn't start at once (He is assuming a triple minor dance, as was most common at the time, hence the reference to "fourth couple").

In Scotland, in ~1868, H. D. Wilcock describes the start of an improper triple minor in a way that only works if all dancers start at once (page 66 of Ball-Room Guide; A Manual of Dancing for the dance The Guaracha)

Previous to commencing, the couples stand up, facing each other, in two lines, the ladies on one side and gentlemen on the other. The first and every fourth couple change sides before commencing the figure, and all begin together.

Adding the final words "and all begin together" suggests to me that this method of beginning was not common, and perhaps only used for this dance...

(I find it interesting that both Howe in Boston and Wilcock in Edinburgh make the same mistake of saying "every fourth couple". It isn't every fourth couple, it's every third couple. Maybe this mistake was a cliché at the time.)

In Elizabeth Burchenal's American Country-dances (New York/Boston, 1918) page 37, she describes the start of an improper duple minor dance (again the method only works if all couples start at once):

Before beginning the dance, the man and woman of each odd couple (first, third, fifth, etc.), exchange places

and on page xi:

Some of the longways dances have figures which involve two couples, while others involve three couples, but in both cases the progression is accomplished in the same manner, that is, all these sub-groups of two (or three) couples throughout the set dance simultaneously, and at the "cast off" the head couple of each of these sub-groups move down one place lower in the set, so that with the next repetition of the dance they dance with the new couple or couples who are now next below them.

Note that all sub-groups simultaneously progress. No waiting for the top couple to dance down to them.

However, Burchenal presents Devil's Dream which is to be started in the old way (with only the top couple active), and goes to great lengths to describe this pattern. So the old method had not completely died out, but was, at this point, viewed as exceptional.


In the US, or at least in Santa Barbara, we dance everything with a walking step. occasionally slipping or skipping. I gather from Colin Hume that in England people will sometimes use other steps.

But that wasn't always the case. Playford says nothing about steps, not surprising since he says nothing about technique. John Essex in For the Further Improvement of Dancing, 1710 says the following (on page 15):

Advice concerning ye steps that best sute with Country Dances

The most ordinary steps in Country Dances (those excepted that are upon Minuet Airs) are steps of Gavot, drive sideways Bouree step and some small Jumps forward of either Foot in a hopping Manner, or little hopps in all round Figures as the preeceding & following are, one may make little hopps or Bouree steps but little hopps are more in fashion.

As it is ordinary that every figure of a Dance ends at every cadence of end of the Aire, it will be proper to make a small Jump upon both Feet.

In all figures that goe forwards and backward, or backwards and forwards, you must always make Gavott steps.

In all figures that goe sideways you must always drive sideways.

When it will be requisite to make other steps than them wee have mentiond, as Rigadoon steps, balances &c. they shall be mark'd upon ye figures.

In other words, in 1710, everything was danced, not walked.

Colin Hume suggests that this got largely lost in the UK during the Square Dance boom of the 1950s and 60s when people switched from learning dances to having them called.

But in the US, steps appeared to have been lost before 1918, see Elizabeth Burchenal's American Country-dances (New York/Boston, 1918) page xii:

The invariable step used throughout these dances (unless otherwise specified) is an easy, natural walking step.

Multi Part

Most of the dances in The English Dancing Master of 1651 are multi-part dances, often three part dances each part starting with either "Up-a-double", "Siding" or "Arming" (USA dances). The dances in the Lovelace Manual follow a similar pattern.

Over time new dances began to lose the "Siding" and "Arming". The fashion changed so that there was a single introduction based on leading up. And eventually even the introduction got lost.

The last "Up-a-double, Siding, Arming" dance published by John Playford was in 1670 in the 4th edition of the Dancing Master.

50 years later his grandson-in-law published one more USA dance, the Fairy Queen (John Young, 1726 in the Third Volume of the Dancing Master). Which looks like a dance from 1651.

(I have not examined every Playford dance, I may have missed a few, but the trend is clear).

In 1808 Thomas Wilson published An Analysis of Country Dancing where he describes all the figures then in use in Country Dancing. He does not list "up-a-double", "siding", nor "arming". The entire format was gone.

In 1932, Marjorie Heffer and William Porter revived it in their book of new dances, Maggot Pie.


There are not many improper duple minor dances in Playford, but there are a few.

There is one in The English Dancing Master of 1651 (I don't think there are any in Lovelace), A Soldier's Life.

It is a little different from a modern improper dance: the 1s do not start improper. Instead the first time through the dance they do something different than they do on subsequent iterations: they become improper. In this dance they also progress.

In the second edition, in 1652, there is another improper dance which follows this format, Touch and Take, here, again, the first iteration of the dance has the 1s changing sides.

By 1679, in Old Simon the King the 1s started out improper.

There are (at least) six more improper dances in the various editions of the Dancing Master, right up to the end, when John Young published three in his third volume (1726). Thomas Bray (1699) also devised three improper dances, and John Essex describes how to dance improper dances in 1710 (though he does not present any of his own).

Then I have found no more until Chivers starts describing Ecossoise dances in 1821. He seems unaware of the earlier tradition from 100 years before himself, and postulates that they developed by serendipitous "mistake".

John Playford does not use the word "proper" (or "improper") in any of his dances, but his son, Henry, starts using it in the 8th edition of the Dancing Master in 1690 (the first one he edits).

The dance Childgrove is usually danced improper now, but Playford did not describe it that way. He draws his standard little picture of proper dancers. The Playford Ball (Keller & Shimer, 1994) says that the fashion for dancing it improper arose in the 1940s.

Henry Playford also published an improper triple minor dance, Arrundel Street. As yet I have found no other improper triple minors until 1956.

In Greenwood, a 3 couple longways dance from 1651, Playford shows the 2s improper (he draws a little picture of the initial set up. These pictures are not always accurate but nothing in Playford is).

In Lull Me Beyond Thee, from 1651, and Ten Pound Lass, from 1670, both 4 couple longways dances, Playford shows the 3s+4s improper.

In the US, Howe, 1858, Boston, and Burchenal, 1918, US, both publish a number of improper duple minor dances (but no improper triples or whole set dances). By 1956 Holden (US) publishes a number of improper triples, and by 1983 Jennings (Cambridge, Ma.) publishes more improper dances than proper ones.

In Scotland improper dances do not seem popular, I know only one Scottish dance with a couple improper, Paisley Weavers,, which is a 3 couple longways dance with the 2s improper.


Playford's dances start in: single lines, double lines (longways), triple lines (three face three), two couples facing, circles, squares, triangles, really all kinds of shapes. Most of the dances from 1651 are longways, but there are 18 (of 105) which are in other shapes, but these fade away. The last dances starting in circles or squares were published in 1670 in the 4th edition. In the Regency period "Country Dance" had come to mean just longways minor set dances (and mostly just triple minor dances).

The square formation (though no other form of circle) did reappear under the name of cotillion (or contredanse française), and later as quadrilles.

There are two three-face-three dances in 1651, and none after that until Chivers prints some in 1821.

Dances for two facing couples were present in the Lovelace manuscript, and new ones were printed in the first three editions of The Dancing Master (1651, 1652, and 1657), but none after that.

Three couple longways dances were present in the Lovelace manuscript, and again in the first three editions of Playford, and none after that.

Four couple longways dances were present in Lovelace, and in the first four editions of Playford (1651, 1652, 1657, and 1670). The only one published after that was Fairy Queen, which, as I've said before, seems a total anachronism.

Improper dances also fade away during the 18th century, the last I have found is from 1726.

The Sicilian Circle formation (originally called Circassian Circle) makes its debut in Chivers, 1822, as does the Mescolanzes format (four face four), and he also revives the improper dance (calling it Ecosoisse) and the three face three calling it Swedish, seemingly unaware that they existed before.

Title# DancesMinor SetWhole Set
SingletonDupleTripleTrios4 Face 4LongCircSquareOther
Lovelace Manuscript
The Engliſh Dancing Maſter
Two Hundred Favourite Country Dances, Vol. 8
The Dancers Guide
American Dancing Master
Unique Dancing Call Book
The Country Dance Book, Part 1
American Country-dances, Vol. 1
The Scottish Country Dance Book, Book 1
The Contra Dance Book
Zesty Contras
CDSS 75th Contra Gems
Collection of Modern ECD
Collection of Modern SCD
SB Weekly Contra Dance

The "Modern ECDs" are the 329 English style dances devised after 1999 I had made animations of in Oct. 2022. The "SB Weekly Contra Dance" is drawn from memory (I have not recorded all the thousands of dances we danced).

Caveat: To some extent assigning a formation to a dance can be a bit subjective. For instance Step Stately is a three part longways dance, the first part is a whole set non-progressive figure, the second a duple minor progressive figure, and the third a very odd triple minor progressive figure, and it is silly for me to try to give it a single formation. For that matter, I say that one of Johnson's dances is a duple minor if the 3s are not mentioned in the instructions — however in Captain Catton's Maggot, which makes no mention of 3s, the instructions end with Right hands and Left at top. Since "top" is pointless in a duple minor when describing rights and lefts, this suggests to me that what I call duple minors were danced as triple minors with the 3s doing nothing whatsoever.

Note that 100 years after Playford's diversity of formations, Johnson has only dances in the longways minor set format, and almost all, if not all of those are proper triple minors.

Again, in the 1950s, the New England Contra Dance had a great diversity of formations, and now 70 years later almost all the contra dances in Santa Barbara are improper duple minor dances. I can recall only once dancing a three couple longways dance, never a triple minor, and rarely a proper duple minor. History seems to have repeated.

Triple (and Quadruple) Minor

The first triple minor dance in Playford is The Silver Faulken from the 2nd edition in 1652. And then no more until the 7th edition in 1686.

(I suppose you might call Step Stately, 1651, a double progression triple minor, but because it is double progression it does not work as a traditional triple minor and isn't like anything else.)

As in mentioned above, in the 1750s it appears as though duple minors were danced as triple minors. In 1869 I have direct evidence that at least one duple minor, The Guaracha, was danced as a triple.

The first quadruple minor dance comes from Kynaston in 1716, when he published two of them Oswestry Wake, and The Queen of Hearts,. He published two more the next year, and John Young published two more in 1726.

Chivers published some Mescolanzes dances (four-face-four, which are minor set dances with four couples) in 1821, and Gary Roodman devised a double progression, becket, quadruple minor dance called Rational Reel in 1987.

Multiple Progression

Multiple progression dances are rare before about 1957. I tend to think that most early examples are more likely to be misprints, or modern misunderstandings than intended.

Nathaniel Kynaston's The Tuneful Nightingale does appear to have two progressive moves in it.

Bolton interprets The Highlander's Wedding as double progression, but I don't think that's what Playford says.

I think Becket Reel, 1957 may be the first, but I'm not sure. There are no multiple progression dances in The Contra Dance Book, Rickey Holden, 1956.

(Zesty Contras, 1983, claims in the comments to "Judge's Jig" that Judge Merrill devised the first double progression contra. But they don't give a date, nor the name of a dance)

Zesty Contras contains about 30 double progression improper duple minors (~13% of improper duples), but only 1 double progression proper duple minor and 1 triple progression improper duple minor (and that dance, Apothecary Reel, has the 1s become improper in the first bar). It contains 4 double progression improper triple minors and 2 triple progression improper triple minor — which is odd because a double progression triple minor behaves in very unexpected ways (and an improper one is even worse), while a triple progression triple is relatively simple. There are also 3 proper triple progression triple minors.

The first dances where dancers interacted with others outside their minor set were "Contra Corners" dances that got squished from a triple minor to a duple minor. Chorus Jig is the first I know of, it was a triple minor in Howe, 1858, and a duple minor in Burchenal, 1918.

But after Becket Reel there is a great explosion of dances interacting outside the minor set. The figure "Long Lines Forward and Back", a staple of modern contras, does not appear in any dances in The Contra Dance Book, Holden, 1956, and it is the simplest way of interacting outside the minor set.

Lovelace Manuscript
The Engliſh Dancing Maſter
Two Hundred Favourite Country Dances, Vol. 8
American Dancing Master
Unique Dancing Call Book
The Country Dance Book, Part 1
American Country-dances, Vol. 1
The Scottish Country Dance Book, Book 1
The Contra Dance Book
Zesty Contras
CDSS 75th Contra Gems
Collection of Modern ECD
Collection of Modern SCD


Mixers make sense in circle dances, and in 3 couple longways dances. At the end of each progression the women have gone one direction, and the men another.

In four couple dances mixers only work if one sex stands still while the other progresses.

Playford has a few mixers, but there don't seem to have been any others until Old Dan Tucker which was sort of a square dance with an extra person in the middle. Then sometime between 1956 and 1983 the circle mixer evolved.


Playford in his early editions (and Lovelace before him) use a number of terms that basically vanish from dance vocabulary by 1680. These include: "Siding", "Arming", "Kiss", "Backs and Faces".

He also describes the movements of "Grand Square" in Hunson House and never again. (The "Grand Square" reappears (under that name) in Duval's Second Set of Lancers' Quadrilles, Dublin, ~1817)

Similarly he describes the movements which might be interpreted as "Open Ladies Chain" in Parson's Farewell and never again. The name "Ladies' Chain" first appears in Quadrilles (I think). Wilson in his The Art of Dancing, 1852, page 16, describes an open ladies' chain as does Hillgrove, Boston, 1857. But Burchenal in American Country Dances, 1918, page xiii, describes a closed ladies' chain (gent puts his arm around ladies' waist).

A number of other early figures seem to have vanished by 1808 when Thomas Wilson published list of Country Dance figures in An Analysis of Country Dancing, these include "Up a Double" and "Turn Single". Wilson also does not include "Set", but that term lives on in other dancing masters' works.

To replace these the Regency period introduced some figures of its own: "1s lead down the center and back", "3 Couple Promenade Round", "Allemande", "Lead out Sides", "Double Triangles", "Turn Corners", and "Set and turn corners". Many of these have been taken up in Scottish Country Dancing, and a few into New England Contra ("Turn Corners" mutated into "Contra Corners").

Playford spends a lot of time describing dancer's motions, he does not have many named and standardized figures. The Regency dances, on the other hand, consist almost entirely of standardized figures, most of which take up 8 bars, so the Regency dance descriptions are much more concise.

If a Playford figure took four bars then the Regency figure would repeat it as in "Circle left and back to the right" or "Right hands across and back to the left" to make up the full 8 bars. Two bar figures often got subsumed into larger movements: "cast" became "1s lead down the center and back and cast off", setting became part of "set and turn corners" and so forth.

KissFig 8HeyRight
Lovelace Manuscript
The Engliſh Dancing Maſter
Two Hundred Favourite Country Dances, Vol. 8
American Dancing Master
Unique Dancing Call Book
The Country Dance Book, Part 1
American Country-dances, Vol. 1
The Scottish Country Dance Book, Book 1
The Contra Dance Book
Zesty Contras
CDSS 75th Contra Gems
Collection of Modern ECD
Collection of Modern SCD

What's in a name?

Just as "Country Dance" became "Contra Danse" so the various figures have changed their names.

Hands across star

Playford talks about "right hands across" and in England this term remained constant though Wilson in 1808 and beyond. The French called this figure "Le Moulinet" or, in English, "Little (Wind)mill" (See La Gavre) and this term came over in the Quadrille. Howe, 1858, page 116, (Boston) still describes a quadrille figure called "Le Moulinet" as "hands across", but he goes on to say that it can also be called a "cross" and a "star". Burchenal, 1918, describes a figure she calls "The Mill" (not using "hands across" or "star"). Modern Square dancing and Contra dancing (and to a lesser extent modern English dancing) call the figure a "star"

The figure itself has mutated slightly, English and Scottish use hands across stars where all hands are clasped in the center. Contra usually uses a wrist clasp star (where each dancer grabs the wrist of the dancer in from of them), though sometimes a caller will specify a hands across star. And square dancers use a wrist clasp if all the dancers in the star are male, but a palms up star otherwise.

In the Regency period a right hand star was almost always followed quickly by a left hand star

by star back
Lovelace Manuscript
The Engliſh Dancing Maſter
Two Hundred Favourite Country Dances, Vol. 8
American Dancing Master
Unique Dancing Call Book
The Country Dance Book, Part 1
American Country-dances, Vol. 1
The Scottish Country Dance Book, Book 1
The Contra Dance Book
Zesty Contras
CDSS 75th Contra Gems
Collection of Modern ECD
Collection of Modern SCD
Hand Turn/Allemande

Playford talks of turning someone (he rarely says whether to use right, left, or both hands). Howe, Boston, 1858, uses many different words: turn, swing, allemande. In modern Square and Contra dancing single hand turns are always called "Allemamde", but two hand turns in Modern Western Squares are "single circle"

Figure Eight

Playford uses the turn "figure eight" or even "the figure", and this term persisted through Wilson, 1808. Howe never uses the term at all — except as the name of a dance in which he describes the movements of a figure eight but never names it.

Right and left

This term and figure have probably seen more different names and mutations than any other. Lovelace doesn't seem to use the figure. Playford uses the term "Right and left", hard to say if this involved taking hands. Thomas Bray, 1699, says "Then Right hands, and left Hands twice" so presumably this involved hands. Wilson in 1808 describes "Right and Left" as if no hands were involved, and in 1852 does the same for "Right and Left" in quadrilles.

Hillgrove's "Right and Left" (New York, 1857) seems to involve no right hand clasps, but has a left hand turn (as opposed to a pull-by).

But the "Grand Right and Left" of Quadrilles, and later, Square Dancing, does use hand clasps.

Burchenal, 1918, defines the term to mean what Smucker and Millstone call "Right and Left Four"

The two couples advance toward each other, and "pass through," the one on the right in each couple going between the opposite two.
Then, keeping side by side as if their inside hands were joined each couple continue to the opposite side, wheeling half around (to do this, the one on the left makes a left-about-face and walks backward, keeping the right shoulder toward the other's left shoulder), thus finishing on the opposite side with the right one still on the right, and the left one still on the left. All this is done in eight steps (four measures).
They then return in the same mannor to their original position.

Cecil Sharp calls this a "circular hey". Playford may have used "hey" to describe right and left in Hit & Miss.

Scottish Country Dancing calls it "Rights and Lefts".

In modern square and contra dancing the term has mutated into "Right and left through" which now means only half the original figure. and has a courtesy turn rather than a left hand pull-by.

Then square dancing reinvented the original as a "Square through", and this term has migrated into modern contras, but in 1983, Zesty Contras used "grand right and left", see Queen's Favorite which has both a right and left through and a grand right and left (both within the minor set).

Lovelace Manuscript
The Engliſh Dancing Maſter
Two Hundred Favourite Country Dances, Vol. 8
American Dancing Master
Unique Dancing Call Book
The Country Dance Book, Part 1
American Country-dances, Vol. 1
The Scottish Country Dance Book, Book 1
The Contra Dance Book
Zesty Contras
CDSS 75th Contra Gems
Collection of Modern ECD
Collection of Modern SCD

Lovelace uses the term "hey", as does Playford and everyone after him up to Wilson and perhaps beyond. Scottish Country Dancing uses the term "reel" instead, this dates at least back to the The Register of Dances at Castle Menzies, 1749

Howe (1858, Boston) does NOT use the term except in a section where he adapts dances from an English book (Probably Thomas Wilson's A Companion to the Ballroom, London, 1816). In The Contra Dance Book, 1956, there are two uses of "reel" in the sense of "hey", both of these are from Scottish imports. By 1983 more than a quarter of the dances in Zesty Contras use heys (under that name). Gary Roodman's first book of country dances, Calculated Figures, NY, 1987, uses the term "hey" in one of his ECDs, but uses "reel" in his Contra Dances; in subsequent books he always uses "hey". Somehow heys fell out of fashion in the US before 1858, and didn't reappear until around 1983.

Long Lines Forward and Back

This is a staple call of the modern contra dance, but it requires holding hands with someone outside your minor set. This was just not done, even as late as 1956 there are no "Long Lines" figures in The Contra Dance Book, instead there are "forward four and back" (in a duple minor) or "forward six" in a triple minor.

1s lead down the center, turn, come back [and cast off]

Playford in 1651 never has the 1s lead down and come back, they tend to do more interesting things. This figure became common in the Regency period though, and was the standard progression in Contras between 1850 and 1950 but is almost never seen now in modern contras.

Basket Swing

The "Basket Swing" is a figure which is not mentioned in 1956 (The Contra Dance Book), nor in 1993 (CDSS 75th Anniversary GEMS) but is present in 1983 in Zesty Contras.

The Partner Swing

The partner swing is an essential part of a modern Contra Dance or Square Dance. A dance without a swing is greeted with dismay in our local contra group.

But the swing did not exist in Playford's day, nor in the early Regency period.

I assume the swing is a simplified offshoot of the waltz, a waltz without steps as it were. As far as I know people did not stand in what is now called "Ballroom Position" before the waltz, I'm sure that would have been quite shocking (as indeed the waltz was).

But when did the swing evolve?

Well, it is NOT in Wilson's list of country dance figures from 1808. And as I mentioned earlier there's nothing like it in Playford.

The Regency Dance site says that a dance from 1807 called The Russian Ambassador's Waltz was the first country dance where couples waltz briefly as part of the dance.

There was a style of quadrilles called "Waltz Quadrilles" where waltzing was treated as a figure of the quadrille, Chivers describes Les Valse Quadrilles as early as 1821 in "The Dancer's Guide".

The Complete Ball-Room Hand-Book, Elias Howe, Boston, 1858 includes a category called "Waltz Contra Dances" (page 97) where waltzing is an integral part of the dance, but the waltzing usually seems to involve going somewhere rather than the stationary partner swing.

Cinderrela Waltz
Form as for common Contra dance First lady and second gentleman balance and turn First gentleman and second lady balance and turn two couples waltz down the centre and back right and left four.

Wilson's list does define "Swing Corners" (page 33), this is not a "Swing" in the modern sense, just a turn. Swing is oten used in the sense of a hand turn, David Wall's The Russian Dance from 1775 is the earliest example I've found so far.

Hillgrove, in The scholars' companion and ball-room vade mecum, New York, 1857, also uses uses "swing" to mean a hand turn in his descriptions of Contra Dances (page 78):

First couple give the right hand, and swing once and a half round;

Howe, in The Complete Ball-Room Hand-Book, Boston, 1858, uses "swing" in a number of senses:

He does not define his terms, and uses the word "swing" in so many senses it can be hard to understand exactly what is meant, there are a few cases where he doesn't provide any context, and the word might have it's modern meaning. In the last case above, the dance is Arkansas Traveller and 60 years later Burchenal's version of that dance does have a partner swing, so perhaps Howe intends the modern meaning..

The term "swing" was still being used in the sense of a hand turn in Cowboy Dances, Lloyd Shaw, 1948 (page 50) when he discusses teaching allemande left to square dancers:

The caller will explain that the complete call is usually given in some such form as:

Allemande left with your left hand,
Then right hand partner and right and left grand,

but that until they get more used to the call and the idea he will use a simpler form which goes:

Swing your left hand lady with your left hand,
Then right hand partner and right and left grand,

And even today Square Dance uses "Swing through" to describe a series of pull-bies.

The first clear record I have of "swing" in the modern sense comes from Cecil Sharp's The Country Dance Book, part 1, 1909 where it is used in every single one of the dances in that work. He defines it as:

Partners meet, engage in waltz fashion, and dance round in a small circle between the lines of the General Set. At the beginning of the last bar they disengage, return to places, and bow to each other.

The step varies with the rhythm of the music, and may take any one of the three following forms: (1) The waltz step: (2) the polka step or a modification of it: (3) step and hop on alternate fee.

Country dancers sometimes, though very rarely, substitute for the Swing the more conventional Set or Set-to-partners, a figure which is familiar to all quadrille dancers. This was the invariable custom in the ball-room where the Swing, as described above, was quite unknown.

There was, however, a figure known to fashionable dancers as the Swing, but this was performed in quite another manner: Partners met, joined right hands, turned slowly round from right to left and returned to places.

Elizabeth Burchenal in American Country Dances, 1918, defines Partner Swing (and Balance and Swing) on page xii.

The most usual way of executing the "Balance and Swing" to-day, is for partners to meet, take "ordinary dance position" (the usual way of holding partner for waltzing), and swing around vigorously with the buzz-step. Originally the "Balance" was executed before the swing, but for some reason this has been almost universally abandoned, so that the expression "Balance and Swing" now means nothing more that "Swing Partners".

If you look up Burchenal's dances in Howe you will find that many of the places where she has a "Balance and Swing" Howe has a simple "Balance" (Circassian Circle, The Merry Haymakers, etc.). Burchenal defines five different ways to "Balance" and perhaps this flexibility allowed it to become a swing?

In summary

The word swing was not used (or very rarely) in the modern sense in the 1850s on either side of the Atlantic, but was used that way around 1910 on both sides. Swinging was an integral part of the English Country Dance tradition that Cecil Sharp found still extant, but after his revival that figure seems to have died away. It is almost never used in modern ECDs, though waltzing does occasionally get a look in. The Contra and Square Dance traditions of the US have continued to count swinging as an integral part of their repertory.

Mary McNab Dart in Contra Dance Choreography, a Reflection of Social Change, 1995, has an interesting discussion of how the swing continued to grow in popularity between 1950 and 1990.


Prior to about 1800 all the dance books I have looked at have both a tune and a figure for every dance. After about 1800, people start describing figures with comments equivalent to "This dance requires a tune with 4 eight bar strains". This led to a mix and match attitude seen in Contra Dance, and (to a lesser extent) in Scottish Country Dancing today.

For example, in A Pocket Companion to the French and English Country Dancing, 1821, page 24, Chivers writes:

Although the names of the Tunes are affixed to each Figure; yet the Figures may be danced to any Tune containing the same number of parts; viz; for a FOUR PART FIGURE you may select a Four part tune, a Three part tune with D. C. or a Two repeated

I believe Sharp was aware of this tradition (and not of the earlier one) when he assigned different tunes to dances than the ones Playford specified when he published his interpretations.

In Rickey Holden's The Contra Dance Book, 1956 says:

One of the outstanding features of contras is that practically all of them are fitted exactly to the music so that the complete dance sequence lasts 64 beats — 32 measures — one AABB. Most contras have several tunes associated with them and can be danced to any music of the correct phrasing,


Thomas Wilson in The Art of Dancing, London, 1850, uses the term "to call the dance", but he uses it in the sense of "to choose the dance" rather than to speak out each figure before it is danced.

Set 1... call the first Dance

I think called dances are an American invention. The first references I have found may be in Hillgrove, The Scholar's Companion and Ball-Room Vade Mecum, New York, 1857. He does use the term in Wilson's sense, but he also says, on page 38:

The leader may, for the first time in this figure, call "All Promenade," in order to fill out the music, or else call "Right and left all round".

Elias Howe is a little clearer than this in Ballroom Handbook, Boston, 1858, page 16:

The prompter or caller should, however, be elevated enough to be able to see all parts of the ball-room.

He goes on, on page 17-18, to describe how cotillions should be called (using the modern meaning of the word, and not Wilson's).

In learning to call, the pupil should select a set of Cotillions having easy and simple music, as he will learn much more readily that if it was difficult. The figures should also be easy. The music and figures of each number should be committed to memory, and both played and called aloud in a room alone; one number should be thoroughly learned before going to the next. There seems to be a general fault with most callers, owing in a great measure to negligence in the beginning, and that combined to carelessness, causes the player to call out of time with his music, which is very unpleasant to the dancers, as it keeps them all the while before or behind the time. The place for calling is generally about One measure ahead of the music where the figure is to commence.

De Garmo in The Prompter, New York, 1868, expects there to be a prompter for the dance (page 20):

Prompters often call figures in the "Sociable" to suit their fancy.

In American Country-dances, vol. 1 by Elizabeth Burchenal (New York/Boston), 1918 page vii:

These Dances are more successful when "called." It has been the custom for the violinist to "call" the figures he plays, and this is quite a difficult art.

On the other hand when Cecil Sharp visited the US and published his Country Dance Book, part 5 in 1918 he feels that he needs to tell his English audience what a "caller" was. I get the distinct impression that it was not something the English did at that point. From page 19:


It is customary for one of the company, not necessarily one of the dancers, to "call" the dance as it proceeds, that is, to name the figures and describe them, movement by movement, and thus to do for the dancers what the prompter at the opera does for the singers. Normally the "caller" recites certain prescribed verbal phrases, a mixture of prose and doggerel rhyme that in the course of time has become stereotyped...

In his article on dance steps, Colin Hume suggests that calling became popular in England: after the Second World War, Douglas Kennedy changed the focus from teachers to callers... Douglas Kennedy was in charge of the EFDS so his suggestions carried great weight.

Country Dance / Contredanse / Contra Dance

In 1651 Playford's subtitle is "Plaine and eaſie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance." Playford used the term "Country Dance" to describe his dances.

Decades later when the style migrated to France it became "Contredanse". (See The Playford Assembly, Christian, 2015, page vii for a description of this migration)

Decades after that the term migrated back and became "Contra Dance".

There are a number of other words/phrases that have made multiple crossings of the English Channel getting more mangled each time, "Riding Coat / Redingotte / Redingote" is another.

Elias Howe says in Ballroom Handbook, Boston, 1858, page 23:

The term "Country Dance," is the one invariably used in all books on dancing that have been published in England during the last three centuries, while all works issued in France within the same period, employ the term Country Dance, or in French, "Contre Danse." As the authority is equally good in both cases, either term is therefore correct.

Indeed the New English Contra Dances of 1858 are just standard triple minor dances such as you might see in a Regency Ballroom.

Hillgrove, The Scholar's Companion and Ball-Room Vade Mecum, New York, 1857 makes a distinction between Country and Contra dances. Country dances are explained at greater length while each Contra dance is described in a single short paragraph. It isn't clear to me what the distinction is though. The Country Dances start (I think) on page 66: La Tempete, Spanish Dance, Sicilian Circle, Rustic Reel, Virginia Reel, Pop Goes the Weasel, Swedish Dance, and Circassian Circle. Contra Dances are listed on page 78, and he gives three: Money Musk, Chorus Jig, and The Waterman. Possibly he views the Contra dances as being from New England, and Country Dances from Europe (though Money Musk and Chorus Jig both originated in England).

The End of Country Dancing

Country Dancing was a primary style of dancing in the UK until after the Napoleonic Wars. The soldiers brought back some continental styles, the Quadrille and the Waltz. One needs to draw a distinction between "waltz" as a style of music, and "waltz" as a style of dance. The music was accepted before close proximity dancing was. There are several dances from the 1790s which use waltz music (Miss Barrett's Waltz).

At first the Waltz dance was considered far too risqué to be danced in moral society — but by 1817 even the staid Almack's Assembly was accepting Waltzes (See The Regency Waltz)

Over the next 30 years these two styles drove out the old country dances.

The last popular country dance to come out of England (that I know of) was Pop Goes the Weasel in 1852.

De Garmo in The Prompter, New York, 1868, page 44 says:

...there are given in this book, the Spanish Dance, Sicilian Circle, and Sir Roger De Coverley or Virginia Reel—Dances that are not considered fashionable, yet are more or less done all over the country and may be taken as the bases of various local and fashionably obsolete Country or Contra Dances.

The Revival of Country Dancing

Cecil Sharp traveled around England in ~1909 collecting such country dances as were then still danced in out of the way villages, from these he published The Country Dance Book, part 1 which contained 16 dances.

(Sharp claimed that he had to struggle to find any Country Dances still extant and had to go to the most out of the way places to dig them up, yet a dance book published in Leeds in about 1900 contained descriptions of five of them.)

Immediately after that he turned to figuring out Playford's dances, and published 4 more books on them.

Sharp makes it clear that he much prefers the early Playford dances to the then current country dances, or to regency dances or even to late Playford dances. He only interpreted Playford dances.

He also founded The English Folk Dance Society in 1911 to encourage people to dance these dances.

Oddly the EFDS only promoted old dances. When Maggot Pie (the first book of new country dances in a century or so) was published, it included a foreward by Kennedy, the director of the EFDS explaining why the dances in it should not be danced at EFDS gatherings.

New England Contra Dancing

Country dancing persisted in New England long after it was dying in London, or even New York. Howe (Boston, 1858 & 1862) published more than 100 contra/country dances, while Hillgrove (New York, 1857) published about 12, of which 9 appear to be from Europe, and 3 from New England (and the native dances get short shift in Hillgrove's book, they are described only briefly).

In some ways Howe's dances are very like those of the Regency period. A lot of them progress with the sequence: "Down the centre and up, cast off, right and left", and if you look at Johnson's Two hundred Country Dances, vol.8 (1756) you will find exactly the same sequence used for many of his dances (for instance Tea for Two).

But there are differences too. The hey had almost entirely vanished from Howe's dances. Actually it had vanished, but he included a few dances from Wilson's A Companion to the Ballroom, London, 1816 and these English dances used heys.

The partner swing (and neighbor swing) probably occur in Howe (he used swing in so many different ways it is hard to be sure).

"Right and Left" turned into "Right and Left 4" which involves no hand clasps and one person backing up every other change.

Howe expected his dances to be called, and provides instructions to callers.

And, perhaps most innovative: Howe mentions that people can all start dancing at once rather than waiting for the top couple to reach them.

Contra dancing continued... but it seems to have faded into the background. Burchenal in American Country Dances, 1918 implies in her preface that when she wrote there were still people who contra-danced:

For my knowledge of these dances I am indebted to friends too numerous to mention in different parts of New England, and in particular to Mr. Kimball ("Uncle Steve"), who has played the violin for country dances for over forty years, Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus Durgin, Mr. and Mrs. N. M. Holden, Mr. and Mrs. Harry McKeen, Mr. Joe Farnham, and many other friends.

She did not provide any new dances, but then she was making a book of "folk" dances, which, at the time, would preclude publishing new ones.

The first contra dance with a devisor that I know of was Ralph Page's Happy Valley Reel produced in 1936.

Ralph Page was instrumental in bring contra dances out of rural New England to Boston and then through-out the US and the world.

In The Contra Dance Book, Holden, 1956, there is a burst of diversity in contra dance formation with lots of devisors producing new dances. However most of the dances still do not match my idea of a modern contra dance. They were mostly proper, mostly triple minor, no double progression, very little interaction outside the minor set, no "Long Lines Forward and Back" figures, no heys, and a lot of "Cast off"s.

It wasn't until 1983 with Zesty Contras that most of the dances were improper, and even then there were still a lot of triple minors. In fact there was a great diversity of triple minors, proper, and improper, and one with the 2s improper, also single, double and triple progression dances.

But in the CDSS 75th anniversary GEMS publication in 1993, there were no more triple minors, and the dance mix looks very much like what I dance in Santa Barbara 30 years later.

Scottish Country Dancing

If you look at nineteenth century dance manuals they are basically the same whether printed in London or Edinburgh. Indeed the Lowes (Edinburgh, 1831) plagarize Chivers (London, 1821) in their description of Les Ecossoises. Admittedly Country Dance was just one type of the dance styles described in these manuals, but why look for differences there when there are none elsewhere?

When did Scottish Country Dancing evolve out of Country Dancing?

It is my contention that during the 17 and 18 hundreds the two were essentially the same. If a distinction were made it had more to do with the origin of the music that the figure. In US Contra Dancing appears to have been a gradual evolution of style from the Regency Country dance to the modern Contra, but Scottish seems to have made a great saltation in 1924 when the first (R)SCDS book was published.

Playford described "Country Dances" with no nation attached to the style. Even The Geud Man of Ballangigh (1696) which is set to "A New Scotch Jigg" does not become a Scottish dance...

Both Walsh and Johnson (in London) published collections of "Caledonian Country Dances" around 1750, though it is not clear to me how these differed from ordinary Country Dances which they also published.

The first dances I know of that were definitely from Scotland are those in The Register of Dances at Castle Menzies, 1749. Although the titles of the dances are definitely Scottish, the descriptions read like any other Country Dance.

In Wilson's A Companion to the Ball Room, London, 1816, each Country Dance has a little note attached to it as: Irish, Very Old Scotch, English. I believe that Wilson devised his own figures so these notes must refer to the tune.

In Smyth's A Pocket Companion for Young Ladies and Gentlemen, Edingurgh, 1830, the Country Dances and subdivided into three sections: "English Country Dance", "Scotch Country Dance", and "Irish Country Dance".

The same distinctions exist in Lowes' Ball-Conductor and Assembly Guide, Edinburgh, ~1831, however both Petronella and The Nut are classified as "English" while I think of them as Scottish (Petronella was devised by Nathaniel Gow of Edinburgh after all). I suspect that the Lowes had no clear idea of how English and Scottish Country Dances differ. So I assume the two styles were one then.

I have tried looking at nineteenth century publications printed in Scottland for some of the distinctive features found in modern SCD. The dance descriptions only go into detail when things are different, so figuring out what was usual is difficult.

But the Lowes' description of Petronella starts with First couple chassé round to the right which does not sound much like the modern pas-de-basque step used for that figure.

Wilcock in Ball-Room Guide; A Manual of Dancing, Glasgow, ~1868, page 66, describes the start of The Guaracha, an improper dance, clearly as a triple minor, rather than a 3 couple dance in a 4 couple set.

So it looks to me as if country dance spread all through the British Isles, and was basically the same everywhere and then in middle of the 19th century it died out.

After Cecil Sharp revived it in England, the Girl Guides (US equivalent: Girl Scouts) started dancing Playford dances. The RSCDS history page says that the leader of the Scottish branch of the Girl Guides, Mrs Ysobel Stewart, felt that they should be dancing Scottish Dances, rather than English ones. So she made a list of dances she had known "all her life". These would therefore be more like the Regency dances than the Playford ones which Sharp preferred.

Mrs. Stewart, and Jean Milligan published a book of 12 dances, now known as RSCDS Book 1 in 1924.

That book attributes most of its dances to an earlier book called The Ballroom, 1827 (no author nor publisher given). As yet, I have been unable to find this work.

The odd thing about it is that of the 12 dances in that book, 7 have titles that were published in London between 1790 and 1822.

As I've said before, two dances that share the same name probably share the same tune, but may not share the same figure. The figures of the two Wilson dances are different from the Scottish figures, but The Triumph and the Circassian Circle share the same figure as well as the tune.

Now-a-days, the transfer goes both ways. There's an English dance The Dunsmuir Waltz which is based on John Drewry's The Dunsmuir Strathspey.

Square, Cotillions, Quadrilles and Squares again

In 1651 Playford published 3 dances which he labeled as "Square", and 9 more which were four couple dances in round. Hide Park is labeled "A Square Dance for eight", while Newcastle is labeled "A Round Dance for eight". (I'm not sure what the distinction was).

All of these were multi-part dances, many using the "Up-a-double/Siding/Arming" introductions, none was a mixer.

Playford's last four couple square or round dance was published in the fourth edition of his Dancing Master in 1670.


Cotillions, also called contredanse française, originated in France some time early in the 1700s. They were dances for four couples in a square formation. Basically a cotillion consisted of a repeated figure and several "change"s, with a different "change" danced before each repetition of the figure. Playford's "Up-a-double/Siding/Arming" would be considered three "change"s, for example. They were not mixers. I currently have one example of a cotillion, The Ridicule.

In 1767 Ignatius Sancho (an African born ex-slave) published Minuets, Cotillons & Country Dances, which is the first English publication I know of containing Cotillions.


The quadrille is another 4 couple square dance that originated in France, this time in the mid-1700s. It reached England in about 1815.

The quadrille consisted of 5 parts, or "sets", each "set" being a short country dance in its own right. Often the "set" would be danced first by the head couples, and then by the side couples.

In early quadrilles, for example in The Plain Quadrille, each set was actually a two couple dance — so the heads would dance while the sides rested, and then the sides danced while the heads rested.

This meant you really only needed two couples for the a quadrille, so sometimes you would find two facing couples, but it also meant you could have a square with two head couples and two side couples, or a rectangle with two head couples and a single side couple.

Since each set of a quadrille was an independant dance, there was a mix and match approach where an original quadrille would spawn families of quadrilles each of which would substitute a different sub-dance for one of the sets of the original.

The quadrilles introduced a number of figures which have been become part of modern square dancing, the ladies' chain and grand square, and modified "rights and lefts" so it became both "right and left through" and "grand right and left".

Again these were not mixers.

American Square Dance

The first record I have of something approximating a modern square dance is Cecil Sharp's description of the Kentucky Running Set in The Country Dance Book, Part 5, London/New York, 1918. He proposes that this is a form of dancing which predates Playford, but I do not find his arguments convincing.

New Dances

The English Folk Dance Society, founded by Cecil Sharp, only danced "folk" dances, or at least, dances that had a long history. New dances with a modern devisor were ruled out. The first booklet of new Country Dances after the revival was Maggot Pie by Marjorie Heffer and William Porter, Cambridge, 1932, it contains a rather remarkable foreward by Douglas Kennedy (then director of the EFDS) explaining why these dances should not be danced in a EFDS setting.


One musical "maggot" is an insinuating enough creature, but a whole pie of them makes a terribly tempting and delectable disk. While recommending this dish to Country Dancers, I have to admit that certain qualms of official conscience have been assuaged by the thought that the proof of every pudding—and every pie—lies ultimately in the eating. For here we have, in fact, a pie fresh from the oven, not yet put to that proof. All the dances and several of the tunes are brand new, and must start life protected neither by the seal of tradition nor by a schedule of ancient monuments. Whether they are to be absorbed into the national repertoire, time and usage alone can determine, but there seems no reason to suppose that two ingenious people, steeped in the atmosphere of Country Dancing in the 20th century, should be any less successful than were My Lady Winwood and Mr. Beveridge in the 17th century—if indeed these were the inventors of the "maggots" connected with their names, which is very doubtful.

In a sense it may be said that even if these modern maggots are Country Dances, they are not Folk Dances; but in the same sense the same thing might be said of many of our old favourites. In any case these maggots have their analogue in the Elizabethan madrigals and ballets, and deserve the encouragement of every English Dancer, although they cannot be officially sponsored by the E. F. D. S. Who knows what may be their ultimate fate? Some may die after a short existence. Others may live to be collected, having survived the testing process of time and usage as every traditional dance has had to do in the past. But their origin and character have been clearly defined by the authors, and my part in the conspiracy is only to encourage you to put your thumb into the pie.


I have found few other English dances devised in 1930s, or 40s, and only a few in the 50s. I'm not sure when the EFDSS changed its mind about new dances.

Colin Hume pointed out to me that in 1937 EFDS sponsored "An evening of 'Invented' Dances.", but we don't know if people were encouraged to dance "invented" dances outside that evening.

In Scottish, the answer is well documented. The Scottish regiment which was the rearguard at Dunkirk was captured by the Germans and then danced in captivity. They even devised a dance: The Reel of the 51st Division during this period. The dance description was sent home to fiancées but was intercepted by German censors who were convinced its cryptic notations were some sort of code. Eventually a letter reached the UK and the dance became so popular that it had to be included in the next SCDS book, #13.

As I mentioned earlier the first new Contra Dance I'm aware of was Ralph Page's Happy Valley Reel in 1936, but my data are sketchy.


~1500sDargason / Sedanny devised. Maybe

~1600Sellengers Round, Trenchmore. Halfe Hannikin. The Night Peece, and Putney Ferry devised.
early Up a double/Siding/Arming dances. Maybe.
1621-1649Lovelace (Patticke) Manuscript written
Includes Up a double/Siding/Arming dances, duple minor dances, circle dances, and odd shapes.
1651The Engliſh Dancing Maſter published by John Playford in London.
Includes Up a double/Siding/Arming dances, duple minor dances, circle dances, and odd shapes. Includes an improper dance.
1651-1660Charles II lives in exile in France, perhaps taking Country Dancing with him to the French Court.
1652The Dancing Maſter, 2nd edition published
Includes first triple minor
1657The Dancing Maſter, 3nd edition published
Includes the last dances with two facing couples, and the last 3 couple longways.
1670The Dancing Maſter, 4nd edition published
Includes last Up a double/Siding/Arming dances (except for Fairy Queen in 1726)
Includes the last square and circle dances (until cotillions and quadrilles).
Includes the last four couple longways dances.
1685Louis XIV (of France) sends a dancing master to England to find out about Country Dancing. See: The Playford Assembly, Graham Christian, Easthampton, Ma. 2015
1690The Dancing Maſter, 8th edition published
Henry Playford (John Playford's son) takes over
First use of the words "improper" and "proper"
1699Country Dances: Being a Composition Entirely New devised by Thomas Bray
First known devisor
Includes improper dances, and multi-part dances

~1705John Walsh starts publishing his annual collections of Country Dances. Twenty four New Country Dances for the year ????
1706Recüeil de contredances mises en chorégraphie, d'une maniére si aisée, que toutes personnes peuvent facilement les apprendre published, Paris by Raoul-Auger Feuillet
Early French collection of contredanses and introduction to a visual system for describing dance
1709The Dancing Maſter, 14th edition published
John Young, son-in-law to Henry Playford, takes over
1710For the Furthur Improvement of Dancing translation in English by John Essex of Feuillet's work, with some original country dances.
1710Nathaniel Kynaston is listed as the devisor of the dances Walsh publishes in his Twenty four New Country Dances for the year 1710
1710Last use of "Kiss" (Salute) as a figure in Kynaston's Would you have a Young Virgin.
1718Walsh publishes The Compleat Country Dancing-Master
1726The 3rd volume of The Dancing Master is published
Last improper dances until 1821.
1728The final edition of The Dancing Master is published
1767Ignatius Sancho published Minuets, Cotillons & Country Dances,
First example of Cotillions in England
1777The last example of a "Turn Single" in Thompson's The Spaniard.
Interpreters have inserted turn singles into later dances, but this is the last dance (I know of) where it is in the original.
1788-1789George III incapacitated, Prince of Wales gains some powers.

1808Thomas Wilson publishes An Analysis of Country Dancing in London.
First version I've found of Sir Roger de Coverley/Virginia Reel.
1811-1820Official Regency era
In 1810 George III was incapacitated again and parliament recognized the Prince of Wales as regent. George III died in 1820, and the Prince became George IV.
~1814Waltzing at State Balls in London to celebrate the (first) defeat of Napoleon - indicating some acceptance of the waltz.
~1815Lady Jersey is said to have introduced the quadrille to Almack's Assembly
1821Chivers publishes The Dancers's Guide in London.
Includes improper dances, three-face-three dances and Mescolanzes format (four face four)
1822Chivers publishes The Modern Dancing Master
Includes the first version of the sicilian circle format that I'm aware of.
1858Elias Howe publishes The Complete Ball-Room Hand-Book, Boston
A collection of New England Contra Dances, which at that time were standard duple and triple minor longways dances. A few were improper. A few contained waltzing as part of the dance, possibly the first dance(s) with a partner swing.
At this point the "hey" and "figure eight" seem to have been lost from the Contra tradition.
1862Elias Howe publishes American Dancing Master, and Ball-room Prompter

1909Cecil Sharp collects extant country dances from around England and publishes Country Dance Book, Part 1.
1911-1922Cecil Sharp interpreted Playford dances and published 4 further parts of his Country Dance Book.
1918Cecil Sharp travels to the US and describes The Running Set an early example of Appalachian Square Dance, and publishes his investigations in the fifth part of The Country Dance Book.
1918Elizabeth Burchenal publishes American Country-dances, Boston/New York.
The work is marked "Volume 1". If there be a second volume, I haven't uncovered it yet.
1924(R)SCDS Book 1 published
1929Douglas & Helen Kennedy publish The Country Dance Book, New Series
More interpretations of old dances.
1932Marjorie Heffer and William Porter publish Maggot Pie in Cambridge.
First book of new country dances for seventy years or so. First Up-a-double/Siding/Arming dances since Playford's day.
1936Ralph Page devises Happy Valley Reel.
First new contra dance (for which I have a date and devisor).
1945(R)SCDS Book 13 published
Includes first modern Scottish Country Dance (The Reel of the 51st Division)
~1956Pat Shaw starts devising dances and producing his interpretations of Playford in Another Look at Playford
He devised Monica's Delight in 1931 and Freda's Fancy in 1949 earlier but these seem isolated dances.
1956The Contra Dance Book by Rickey Holden published.
Second improper triple minor.
1957Becket Reel devised.
First double progression dance. First Becket dance.
~1957Fried de Metz Herman starts devising dances
1983Zesty Contras published
The "hey" and "figure eight" reappear in the Contra tradition.
Lots of double progression duple minor dances.
A few double progression triple minor dances.
A few triple progression triple minor dances.
Last triple minors in contra dances.

CAVEAT: I often say that a dance is the first dance with such and such properties, or the last. This is a short-hand for "This is the first dance I have found so far". I have not looked at every dance published in England in the last ~300 years, but I have looked at enough to have an approximate feel for timing.


Indeces of Scans of Original Sources

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Creative Commons License My work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Most of the dances have more restrictive licensing, see my notes on copyright, the individual dance pages should mention when some rights are waived.