A Tutorial on English Country Dancing (w/ Pictures)

“Next to good-breeding,” said [Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773)], “is genteel manners and carriage,” and the best method to acquire these is through a knowledge of dance.  “Now to acquire a graceful air, you must attend to your dancing; no one can either sit, stand, or walk well, unless he dances well.”  Source: Joseph E. Marks III, American Learns to Dance: A Historical Study of Dance Education in American Before 1900 (New York: Exposition Press, 1957), pp. 47-48.

But, you may ask, what sort of dancing could Lord Chesterfield be referring to?  Allow NIAHD’s Pre-Collegiate students to demonstrate:

Step 1: Find yourself a partner.  Dances of the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-centuries were designed to facilitate communication, so having a dance partner is key.

Step 2: Form two lines.  With your partner standing directly across for you, form two straight lines with all of the other couples on the floor.  In the case of circle dances, couples stand next to each other and create a large circle with 4 or 5 other couples.

Step 3: Join hands.  English country dancing is not just about dancing with a single partner, it is constructed in such a way that partners twist and turn around other couples.  For the novice learners, joining hands with your partner and your neighbor helps you see who will be dancing in their your little circle for the first round of choreography.

Step 4: Listen for the music and follow your partner’s lead.  A dance leader provides step by step instruction, but the novice dancer can rely on their experienced partners and fellow dancers to lead them through the intricate steps.

Step 5: Twirl till your heart’s content.  Ladies in fancy dresses is a must at any ball.  And a fancy dress is best displayed when it is twirling around the dance floor.  Plus, twirling is fun for girls and guys.

Step 6: Don’t forget to clap.  Much of the choreography in English country dances involves clapping.  Whether clapping your own hands or your partner’s, clap loud and proud, and for goodness sake, make sure you are clapping in time with the music.

Step 7: Just keep dancing.  Stepped left when you should have stepped right?  Don’t worry.  You’ll get it right next time.  Did a Figure 8 when you should have done a dos-à-dos?  Laugh it off and just keep going.  Everyone makes mistakes.  A word of caution though: Collisions may occur.

Step 8: Finally, add a little flare and enjoy it!  While there is an undercurrent of formality and propriety that steers the choreography of English country dancing, you must never forget that it is also meant to give you joy.  Once you’ve figured out the pattern, add some flare to show your having a swell time.  Skip around the circle instead of walking.  Hop from your left foot to your right foot instead of just stepping side to side.  And if you’ve got an accessory, like a hat or a scarf, bring it to life.

That’s all there is too it.  Now get out on the dance floor and have a ball!

Published in: on July 30, 2014 at 4:15 pm Comments (0)