The annotated Nottingham Swing

The English Ceilidh dance (as described in the Community Dances Manual, book IV) goes something like this, with assorted notes and comments... The CDM says this dance is from Titchmarsh, was one of several variants known in Northamptonshire and was collected by Sibyl Clark

Here the bold shows the words 'as published' in the CDM, the notes and annotations hopefully make things easier.

Form: Longways Duple Proper

  • Longways means that you are in couples, facing your partner in a long line stretching away from the band. Or rather, not one long line but two lines with all the men on one side facing all the women on the other. If you look 'up' the set to see if the band's still there, the man have the ladies on their right (or read that also as the ladies have the men on their left)
  • Duple means that you have to think in terms of pairs of couples. Typically you work out which other couple you are dancing with by taking 'Hands Four' down the set. This makes sure the couples know which direction they are going. The two couples do different things during the dance, as normal the couple closest to the band are conventionally called the 'first couple' and the other's the 'second couple'.
  • Proper means that in this case all the men really are on one side of the set and all the ladies are on the other. The alternative is Improper where the caller shouts out that the first couple change places (Holmfirth Reel is a Longways 'Improper' dance).

The dance is progressive even if the description doesn't say so, longways dances are normally progressive I suppose and the 'duple' also implies this. Progressive means that you find you move up or down the set, each time through the dance you have swapped places with the couple you were dancing with. It also means that you have a surprise when you get to the end of the set.

The A and B below mean the parts of the music. It's a 16 bar hornpipe. It all depends on the music but your feet will most likely end up doing a step-hop. It can get quite relaxed and lollopy

A Music
Bars 1 to 4 ...
: 1st man and 2nd girl link right arms and swing round with a step-hop (as in "Drops of Brandy")

  • This bit will probably be called as first corners swing. Maybe the best way to link right arms is to cup the other person's elbow with your palm, they'll thank you if you don't grab hold their arm with your thumb. You are likely to leave bruises.
  • What happens if you are at the end of the set? You don't have anyone to dance with but don't panic. Wait and watch the rest of the set, there'll be someone coming to join you
  • Four bars of step-hop means a step hop, step hop, step hop, step hop, step hop. You might go round twice but you end up back to place

It's probably best not to get confused by the reference to Drops of Brandy, yes, you are doing a right arm turn but the music, stepping etc will be quite different.

... Bars 5-8: 2nd man and 1st girl do the same.

  • No reason, of course, why the two who danced first should stop stepping.... just make sure you are back out of the way of the second corner.

B Music
Bars 1 to 4 ...
: 1st couple join inside hands and dance two steps down the middle, turn inwards to face up and cast round the 2nd couple (progression)

  • Don't remember seeing it danced this way nowadays.... The movement is the same but the first couple takes both hands with each other and chassé down (that means 'dance sideways') the set, between the second couple and back again. The feet will be doing a one-and-a-two-hop and back with a one-and-a-two-hop
  • The second couple won't want to be left out and standing still. There is time, space and music for them to be dancing up the outside of the set while the first couple are dancing down. They do need to get back in time as the first couple will be expecting to see them there....
  • On the way back up the set the first couple carry on, they part and turn round the back of the twos, the first man will be going left round the second man and the first lady will be going right around the second lady (this is the cast). The idea is that the first and second couples change places, with the first couple one place further away from the band and second having moved one place closer to the band.

... Bars 5-8: Swing Partners (step-hop)

  • Now time to swing you partner, still with a step-hop. The whole dance can be a continuous step-hop. Stopping breaks the flow...
  • Watch out that with everybody swinging you're unlikely to get much space to dance in, a long narrow step-hop swing can work if the music allows.

Don't Panic: If you are at the end of the set...

If you've got to the end of the set and are ready to swing - and nobody is there?

Don't panic, there will be one time through the dance where you'll be watching and someone will join you. You will see the four people next to you in the set doing the first corner swing, second corner swing, chassé and cast. When everybody swings, you can swing too..

And you continue, but with a bit of magic, if you had been a 'first couple' dancing down the set, you will start dancing as a 'second couple'.

Vice versa, the couple who had reached the top of the set, having danced as a second couple all the way up now starts dancing as a 'first couple' and dancing down.

More information: Origins...

The dance originally appeared in the Seven Midland Dances by Sibyl Clark in 1955, which referenced notes by Miss Silvia Thursfield from the 1930's Introduction page of Seven Midland Dances. The introduction includes:

  • The "Nottingham Swing" started the hunt for local dances in Northants. It was an argument between dancers from Benefield, Oundle and Titchmarsh as the "right way to do it" that made me and the local dancers realize that there was still a very live tradition of country dancing in Northants. The version included here is from Mr. Donald Spendlove, and is, he says, the "way it has always been done," at least in Titchmarch, in his lifetime!

See the Folkopedia entry which describes an earlier form and a shedload of references in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library

and variations...

John Sweeney has scanned the early English Dance and Song magazines that include Hugh Rippon's Putney Bridge variation (1970).


See also...