A breakneck dance with people cannoning diagonally across the set, interleaving one handed, two handed turns, back to backs ...

The annotated Roger de Coverley

Three couple set...

Some notations have a 4, 5 or 6 couple set... each to their own :-)

A three couple set means that you 'feel the width' rather than dance up and down a long set... a shorter set also means that you spend more time dancing rather than watching first and second corners enjoying themselves (and in this dance, the first and second corners do do a lot of enjoying themselves).

If you are standing watching people dance, take a step back, keep the set wide and give the active couples a little room.

The first part of the dance is full of things for the first corners and second corners to do alternately, so the sections are addressed alternately ... The first corners are the top man and the bottom lady, the second corners are the top lady and the bottom man. In the first parts of the dance you do not spend much time dancing with your partner...

The dance:First corners, right hand turn ...

  • This is the top man and the bottom lady...
  • It's a fairly quick right hand turn (you need to get out of the way of the second corner who will be coming in to do the same). The fun bit is that instead of going back to your place and waiting for the next figure, you don't stop and make a big cast round through your place to and head back to the centre while the ....

... Second corners right hand turn

  • ... and the top lady and bottom man.
  • You'll be waiting for the first corners to get out the way but you'll really want to be heading towards each other before they're properly out the way. Don't run into them but trust them to move. It's a little risky, but.... Remember that you will also have to be out the way fairly quickly as the first couple will be heading back in again.

First corners left hand turn - Second corners left hand turn

  • There'll be a pattern emerging, First corners head back into the middle of the set and turn with your left hand ... get out the way and the second corners will come in...
  • You'll make those quick turns quicker if you hold you arm fairly tense, you are helping your partner round, they are helping you round. You both want to turn quickly and enjoy the slow cast round again.

First corners two hand turn - Second corners two hand turn

  • Again.... with a large cast. If you've space, you'll sweep into the middle and give a two hand turn

First corners back to back - Second corners back to back

  • Back to Back, hmmm... and there's no helpful arm to stop you speeding past. Safer not to consider the 'back to back' as really meaning you go past, step sideways and reverse out without hitting anyone. You are allowed to turn and watch as you go past, put as spin in if the music says and get out the middle facing forwards :-)

First Couple Strip the Willow to the Bottom and ...

  • Now back to maybe familiar territory, a Strip the Willow
  • Look to see what line you are on, and then a more careful look at the line opposite, you'll be dancing with each one of these in turn. Or rather, dancing with your partner, with the first of the line, with your partner, with the second and so on...
  • Hold on to the mantra; right arm to your partner, left along the line and what you are doing is giving your right arm to your partner, turning them until you see the person of the opposite sex and give your left arm to them.
  • (If you are on the sides waiting for the man or woman to come out of their turn and give you their left arm, stick your left arm out unambiguously and catch them. They'll probably appreciate it).

... dance to the top of the set

  • You've stripped with everybody in the line, you're going to go back up the set, the rest of the set are going to be waiting for you...

All face up, first couple continue with their dance up the set and cast out, all follow.

  • ... you come out the top of the set, cast out down the outside, everybody who was waiting will follow you.

First couple meet with an arch, all pass through ...

  • ... and when you get to the bottom you'll meet up with your partner, they'll be people following each of you. Stick your arms up and make an arch with your partner and wait for the rest of the set to dance underneath.
  • Then, no time to relax for the lady, the music continues and you'll need to be heading into the First Corners Right Hand Turn

9/8 Music

As far as I remember this dance has a driving quality that comes with a slip jig, it's fast so a 'running step' works.

... The person of the opposite sex?

As with all dances, It's not possible to take instructions to dance with the 'person of the opposite sex' too literally, most often you'll find people dancing in couples but there's no doubt you'll meet two women dancing together, two men, or a couple with the roles switched over.

Yes, this is more confusing, and it makes the writing down of dances more difficult, but this is what the 'more careful look at the line opposite' is there for. You'll get callers explaining this as 'Sex is not what you are it's where you are...'

Now, if it is you are the couple dancing different roles, expect to have to give more help to confused looking people heading towards you....

Variations: There's more than one way of doing it....

If there's a motto for English Ceilidh, Folk Dance, Barn Dance etc it's there's more than one way of doing it... and more than one name for it when you are doing it....

In short, there's no right way, there will be regional variations, there will be different versions depending on who is calling the dance, what the band is and what tunes the band are playing. Long may this remain so...

... But when is it a Sir Roger and when is it a Virginia Reel?

Compare Sir Roger de Coverley to the Virginia Reel (and in a page scan from the Library of Congress 'American Memory' collection, 1867). There's not a lot of difference...

What might you meet in practice?

  • You can meet a dance with a right hand, left hand, both hand turn and a back to back, but all with your partner and you'll find that called a Virginia Reel
  • You can meet either version in a simplified form without the strip the willow, just a cast (see also below)

Sir Roger de Coverley is however done unphrased to a slip jig (you have six steps to get there and back again), Virginia Reel is done to reels, 4/4 time (or a jig, reel and march)

The OSB variation

A tune by the Old Swan Band, with has a single 'C Music', leads to an more non-stop version. The right hand turn, left hand turn, two hand and back to back. Then straight into a cast from the top, arch at the bottom, all through to place and straight into the right hand turn again. You'll find this in Coulon's Handbook of 1873. Start at page 67

Thanks to Dave Hunt for this...

More information: Origins...

There's a detailed history of the dance given in the Library of Dance

The dance goes back to Playford and the 'Dancing Master' (1685) in name

The 'American Memory' collection in the Library of Congress has some scanned sources:

The Haymakers

There's a writeup in James Scott Skinner's The People's Ballroom Guide of 1905 (with a long set) which gives it the name The Haymakers in Scotland and a glorious description:

  • ... but it little danced nowadays, being long and tedious

It also appears in the Irish Ceili repertoire under this name. (Watch out though, there is more than one dance called Haymakers or Haymaker's Jig)

Christmas Carol

Sir Roger de Coverley also makes an entrance in the Dicken's Christmas Carol, 1843, (available as a Gutenberg etext)

...... when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind. The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him.) struck up Sir Roger de Coverley.' Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.
But if they had been twice as many -- ah, four times -- old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that's not high praise, tell me higher, and I'll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig's calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn't have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig cut -- cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.

James Prescott has written down the process of reconstructing this and making it danceable. The terms have changed over the years and it's reasonable to assume the 'thread the needle' is not the modern version

See also...


... and if you are looking for info about the Cotillion, Coverley and Mazurka WW1 'Dance' class minesweepers (webfeet cache)