Terms, Instructions, Shorthand and Jargon

Technical terms, instructions, descriptions, jargon; the shorthand used to describe the different moves during dances you might meet at a dance.

It is jargon as you won't have met these terms unless you've been dancing and if you are learning they'll seem strange, arbitrary and sometimes confusing.

This list includes terms you'll meet in Webfeet's Annotated Dances. It is not a full list of all the terms you might meet, consider it an introduction and you're likely to find different dance communities have different terms for the same (or similar) moves. Look at The Round's dance elements for more information and a different perspective.


Notes and Queries : The Opposite Sex.
Most English Ceilidh dances are dances for two people, generally as part of a larger set, that means that someone need to ask someone whether they want to dance. They can say yes or no. It does not have to be the man that asks, although traditionally that's the way it has been, it just has to be a mutually agreeable invitation.


Back to Back
Listen out for Back to Back with your partner or ... with your opposite.
Elements : Back to Back
A move where you catch the eye of your partner, dance past them, probably passing right shoulders, step sideways and reverse back to place, making sure you don't hit them on the way back.
It is often said "don't turn round", but if turning helps you to see where to go and to avoid collisions on the way back, then it is sensible to turn.
Back to Backs often come in twos, one passing right shoulders followed by one passing left shoulders
Listen out for Balance and Swing your partner.
Elements : Balance
A balance is a step, shuffle or change of weight, from one foot to the other and back again.
OK, it's more dancey than that but in general you are facing your partner and dance a couple of steps with them before doing something else, where that 'something else' is often a swing.
You might meet the high energy Kick Balance, typical of eCeilidh, or a Contra style balance where you hold both hands with your partner, step in towards them (with a step-two-three) and step away (with a step-two-three). If you've danced Petronella, you'll have met this one.
Being asked...
This is probably common sense stuff...
If you are asked to dance, you can say yes or no. It is perfectly OK to politely decline.
If you want to be asked, it's sensible to be where people can see that you want to be asked, for example standing rather than sitting, on the edge of the dance floor rather than at the back of the room.
If you are uncertain about dancing, look out for events that have a workshop beforehand. These help with confidence and get you warmed up before the main event. Also keep an ear open for any mixers called as you'll get to dance with loads of people and get a feeling for who you might like to dance with later in the evening
If you have been asked and you are happy, don't forget to ask back. Doesn't have to be immediately, but you might find if you never ask back, people stop asking you...
Bottom of the Set
The end of the set furthest away from the band. When you are joining a set, join on at the bottom


California Twirl
Elements : California Twirl
A move where you turn to face back the way you came while magically changing places with your partner.
In gender neutral terms, the person twirling lifts their arm and steps round clockwise to his or her partner's place while the person being twirled does a tighter anticlockwise turn under the arch...
The couple are holding inside hands and lift their arms to make an arch. The man steps round into his partner's place (he's dancing clockwise, half way round, to face the other way). The lady turns anticlockwise, half way round, under the arch and steps into her partner's place, and likewise faces back she came.
Listen out for Cast round ..., Cast out ... or Cast down to the bottom of the set.
Elements : Cast
Notes and Queries : Casts and Turns
A cast is a sweeping turn with movement; if you turn you can be turning on the spot, if you cast you are making a bigger movement, quite likely to go round someone who is in the way. As an example, you might hear:
... Ones, cast round to below the twos
This instruction is for the first couple as individuals. They glance at each other, look up towards the band, dance separately around behind the twos and join in the set below them. The twos will probably be kind and move up the set a little to give them room.
These are Single Casts, where you move as individuals. There are also Double Casts where you move as a couple...
You can also have the twos casting up to above the ones or have a sequence of four casts as in the Geud Man of Ballangigh, where the first couple, the two men, the second couple and the two women each cast and make a clover leaf
Chassé Left or Right
In a ballroom hold, if told to chassé to the left, you both move in the direction of the sharp or pointy end.
A chassé is a gliding, slidy step sideways. You are doing a step sideways, bringing your second foot close to the first, then take another step sideways. You are not turning to face the way you are moving.
With a chassé, the music may be a little slinky and you are likely to be chasséing with someone. If you are Slipping Left or Right, in comparision, you are on your toes, it's twice as fast and probably more bouncy.
Chassés appear in quite a few dances, the Canadian Barn Dance, Circle Hornpipe, Ideal Scottische, Rozsa and the Waterfall Waltz
Circle Left or Right
Elements : Circles
Join hands with the people in your set, or the little circle of four if you are in a Longways set, and dance round left (or right, as appropriate). For how long? The caller will probably say the number of steps, 8 steps is quite common.
It may seem a bit stupid to note that you are going the same way round if you are doing a Circle Left as you are when you do a Right Hand Star. It is true though
You can add a bit of spice by turning to look at the person one side of you and then the other alternately (and they turn to look at you) as you are circling. The trick is that at the end of the circling you should be facing your partner, on the assumption that you'll be dancing something with them, which means start by looking away from them.
A couple means no more than two people dancing together. There'll be instructions for couples, such as the first and second couples in a Longways set or the four couples that make up a Square set.


Double Cast
Listen for First couple: Double Cast left...
A cast is a sweeping turn; a Double Cast is where you hold two hands with your partner and make the sweeping turn as a couple. The more usual cast is done individually.
Double Casts take up quite a bit of space on the dance floor, so be prepared to squeeze and adjust to fit through any narrow gaps...
You are likely to have met a double cast in the Cornish Six Hand Reel
In the dance context Look down, is jargon, and means look down the set and not at your feet...
The direction away from the band; up is towards the band, down is away from it.
If you have an instruction to dance a move and end up below another couple, you are ending up one place further away from the band, quite likely with that other couple moving up towards the band


Each time through the dance
English Social Dances can be described as patterns of moves danced (generally) to a set amount of music. This is commonly 32 bars but there are dances that use 16, 40, 48 or 64 bars.
The 'generally' is there as sometimes you dance for 'as long as it takes'. If you need more music, you keep dancing. These dances are called unphrased, examples Sir Roger De Coverley, the Stoke Golding Country Dance, Drops of Brandy and the Orcadian Strip the Willow
Most often, the dances will be put together from moves that take 8 bars, so in a 32 bar dance there'll be 4 "things to do". Once you've done the 4, you repeat them. Each time you repeat them is One time through the dance.
One of the tricks you pick up when starting to dance is to hear the phrasing of the music and know when to get ready for the next move... If you are a musician, this is easy, if not, it can require some learning.
Eye Contact
It can be that eye contact, in some dances and some environments, can drift into mock flirtation. This is where the "If you are not comfortable with it, you don't have to do it" fits in...
If you've asked someone to dance, you look at them while dancing, no? Well, not necessarily. There is nothing saying you must look into your partner's eyes, if you are not comfortable with it, don't do it. It is, however, communication, it can help and can make the dance more fun.
  • If you are learning, your partner is likely giving you hints about which direction to go and when to go. Can be a hand gesture, a tilt of the head, a glance of the eye. These are helpful things...
  • If you are dancing with someone who is learning, remember to give those hints and just a very little in advance of the move...
The fun bit is if you are looking at someone, you'll see whether they are enjoying the dance. If someone sees that you are enjoying the dance, they'll enjoy dancing with you more...


Figure of Eight
Can be danced by one person or two; the people dancing it can start dancing up towards the band or down; you can be proper or improper.
Listen for First Man, figure of eight through the twos or First Lady, figure of eight down through the twos
There's you and another couple. They will be standing more or less still. You will be dancing round one, round the other and back to place. You can imagine your path as a big figure of eight.
This isn't a hey, where all three people are moving, it's just one person weaving round the others.
... First Man, figure of eight through the twos:
  • The first man dances diagonally down through the gap between the twos and turns left...
  • Dances round behind the second lady, dances through the gap again, round the back of the second man and back to place.
Note that if the set is improper, the ones will have swapped places. This means that the first man is starting on the other side of the set and would head diagonally across to dance round behind the second man.
... First Lady, figure of eight through the twos:
  • The first lady crosses diagonally through the gap between the twos, turns right behind the second man and dances the figure of eight
Listen for Ones, figure of eight down through the twos or Twos, figure of eight up through the ones
... Ones, figure of eight through the twos:
Both can dance at the same time; so it is not just you dancing a figure of eight but you and your partner. The ones head individually down between the twos, crossing over, and individually dance a figure of eight round them back to place. The twos don't move (or move enough to give the ones room to dance between or behind them):
  • The first lady heads diagonally between the second couple and turns right to go around the second man
  • The first man, with a faint pause to allow his partner to get safely through the gap, also heads diagonally through the gap and turns left behind the second lady.
  • Each person follows a figure of eight pattern. They individually go round the backs of the twos, cross back through the gap (not hitting each other), round the other person and back to place.
You'll have met the ones, figure of eight through the twos followed by twos, figure of eight up through the ones in an improper set in the Holmfirth Reel
First Couple
If you've joined a Longways Set and after the Hands Four found yourself closer to the band in your little circles of four people, you are a first couple.
It will be your group of four for Duple Minor dances, the common Longways dances, however there are also Triple Minor dances where you work in groups of six.
You dance in your little group of four but at some point, you'll move one place away from the band and start dancing with another couple. That is a progression; you are still a first couple but dancing with a new second couple.
You carry on doing this until you reach the end of the set, in which case you wait and watch while everyone else dances and then join the dance again as a second couple.
If you are in a square rather than a longways set, the first couple is the one with their backs to the band.
Four Changes of a Circular Hey
Listen out for the Four Changes call, but might also be described in dance notations as Right and Left Four or Right and Left Quite Round
Elements : Hey
This is like the Grand Chain you meet in square sets, but just for four people rather than eight
Imagine a square on the floor, you'll be dancing each side, starting with your partner. Feel free to imagine a chair sitting in the middle of the square and that you'll be dancing round it:
  • Your partner is opposite you, across the set...
    Take their right hand and pull past to get to the other side of the set..
  • You give your left hand to the next person...
    Make sure you catch their eye, it's quite possible, even quite likely that they'll be wanting to face the wrong way.
    Pull past this person...
  • You'll see your partner again across the set...
    Give them your right hand and pull past...
  • You'll see the other person...
    Make sure you catch their eye again, give them your left hand and pull past.
A Circular Hey would be done without giving hands, a Right and Left Four or Right and Left Quite Round would be danced with hands, like you dance a Grand Chain.
You'll be doing four moves, along four sides of a square, which should get you back where you started.
You'll meet this in Portsmouth, Petronella and the Sloe Schottiche


Gallop down...
Listen out for Top couple, Gallop down and back, Dance down and back or Swing down to the bottom of the set
Normally an instruction for the top couple: Gallop down the set, turn and come back. This can be done in a Ballroom Hold or holding both hands and galloping sideways. There is a risk that you gallop for too long and too far and cannot get back in time.
As the instruction is for the top couple, they can decide the style, speed and risk of the gallop.
... Dance down
A gentler variation involves taking your partner's inside hand and dance rather than gallop down. Swing your joined hands back so you start facing your partner, then swing your joined hands forward and face away from your partner, swing back to face them again and swing away again. All while dancing down the set.
Apparently this is the Butterfly in the Cha Cha Cha.
The 'hidden advantage' of this variation is that you are naturally turning away from your partner at the end and you can turn individually all the way round, grab your partner's, new, inside hand and start the same back up the set.
Gender Free Dancing
Means you don't worry about which "role" you dance. Traditionally, dances were described for "men" and "women" and if you were male you danced on the "mens" side and if you were female you danced on the "ladies" side.
The thumbnail description being: Sex is where you are, not who you are.
It's common now to consider people dancing the "men's roles" and "ladies roles" and it not matter if two men were dancing together, two ladies or two people mixing up the roles.
Gender Free Calling
Attempts to say what to do without mentioning "men" or "women", typically by saying what the person on the left or the person on the right should do, but also by calling dances that can be done without too much emphasis on which role does what.
The Inclusion site (now on the Wayback Machine) had a useful list of events where Gender Free Calling is particularly appropriate (alas not archived) and a list of techniques to use when wanting to call Gender Free.
Give two hands to...
Listen for Give two hands to your partner.
You'll hear this in gentler, more stately, dances. There's not much time for this call in the middle of a wild gallop...
A rather polite way of saying face your partner and take their hands in yours, there'll be a move following where you'll be moving together. Typically and traditionally, the "man" holds his hands palm up and the "lady" rests her hands on his.
Giving Weight
A reminder that you are not dancing alone, that when are turning with your partner, or the person opposite you in a star, you help pull them round and they help pull you round. You give a little weight, it's just a little tension in your arm; it should help you and them keep balance.
Grand Chain
Elements : Grand Chain
You are in a Square Set and you dance round the circle giving right and left hands to the people coming the other way. You will meet your partner half way round and you'll meet them again when you are back where you started:

You start facing your partner and the edict is Don't Turn Round:

If you started going clockwise, continue going clockwise. If you started going anticlockwise, continue going anticlockwise.

Even when hopelessly lost and uncertain; Don't Turn Round.

  • Face your partner, give them your right hand...
  • Pull past and you'll see the next person heading towards you, give them your left hand and gently pull past...
  • If all has gone well, you'll be on the opposite side of the set and you'll see your partner heading towards you, give them your right hand and pull past...
  • You'll see the next person heading towards you, give them your left hand and pull past...
  • You should be heading back to place and see your partner heading towards you, get ready for a swing...
If you've danced Joe Taylor's Hornpipe or the 48 bar version of the New Mrs Arrowsmith, you'll have met the Grand Chain


Hands Four
Listen out for Hands Four from the Top
You'll hear this as you get into line for a Longways Set. It's a request to 'get organised' and work out whether you are a First Couple or a Second Couple. Starting at the top of the set, you join hands in little rings of four people until everyone in the long set has worked out where they are.
This means that if you are joing onto a Longways Set, it's polite to the people there to join on at the bottom as this means they don't sort out their circles of four again.
Head Couples
In a square set, the head couples are the couples facing towards and facing away from the band. The other couples are side couples
Head Couples Cross, Side Couples Cross
Sometimes Heads Cross, Sides Cross
This happens in a Square Set and there's a full, high speed, version and a gentler alternative. The full version has both the heads and the sides doing interlocking Right and Left Throughs across and back:
if you want the gentler alternative, it is quite possible for just the head couples to dance their Right and Left Throughs and the side couples duck out of the mellée.
  • Head couples dance across the set - pulling gently past with their right hands, giving their partner their left hands and swapping places.
  • Side couples do the same, dance across the set, pulling past with their right hands and swapping places with their partner.
  • Head couples dance back, pulling past with their left and swapping places to get back to where they started.
  • Side couples do the same, dance back and swap places.
It can be snappy; you have to cross in time with the music and trust that the gap will be there (and in general, it will be). You'll meet this in Joe Taylor's Hornpipe and, the same pattern but with arching, in La Russe.
Hey or Reel of Three
Elements : Hey
Notes and Queries : Straight Hey for Three
A Hey is a weaving in and out movement - with the idea that:
  • You are dancing with your line of men, or your line of women, or just your line of three people...
  • You are dancing up and down your set... (normally)
  • You don't want to hit anybody...
  • You have to get back to where you started...
and you have a set of rules:
  • Everybody moves. It is not one person dancing round the others...
  • You pass the people coming towards you with alternate shoulders...
  • You are each drawing a big 'figure eight' on the floor.
  • When you are at the top of the set you do a broad turn the right and pass the person coming towards your right shoulders...
  • When you are at the bottom of the set you do a broad turn the left and pass the person coming towards your left shoulders...
You'll meet this move in the three couple dance, the Staffordshire Knot, and also in the longways Portsmouth


Listen out for First Couples Improper
Notes and Queries : Longways Improper.
If you are in a Longways set, have your little circles of four sorted out and know who the first couple and the second couple are, then the two people of the first couple should swap places.
Webfeet has two Improper dances annotated, Holmfirth Reel and the Sloe Schottische. If you've danced anything in Sicilian formation, you'll realise that these turn out naturally Improper without having to worry about anything.
Inside Hands
As in Take inside hands
If you are dancing side by side as a couple and you hold one hand with your partner, you are Holding Inside Hands.
Inside here means closer to your partner while Outside means further away from your partner. You may hear instructions such as Start with the Outside Foot, where you take a step with the foot furthest away from your partner.


Jets and Sharks
Think of West Side Story
Alternative way of calling without using the terms "men" or "women", you can get up to dance and decide to be a Jet or a Shark. Different callers use different labels such as Jets and Rubies, Larks and Ravens / Robins, or, if you can remember where you started, The Original Left and Right.


Kick Balance
Elements : Balance
Quite likely high energy, you jump, land on both feet and then kick one foot out across the other. Jump again and kick the other foot across. Normally there are four 'jumps and kicks' to fit the music.
Imagine you are jumping both feet into a puddle and want to make a splash, then kicking your right leg across your left. You are in front of your partner and facing them so if you both do this right leg first you won't be kicking each other (Rule Number One of Kick Balances). Jump a second time and kick your left leg across your right. As you do these kicks you can be leaving the ground or just lifting yourself slightly, depending on the state of your legs and the music.
See the description in Millenium All Stars.


Ladies Chain
Also listen out for Chain Across or Ravens Chain.
Elements : Ladies Chain
This is a move for two couples facing each other, the "man" is on the left, the "lady" on the right of the couple. When called as the Ladies' Chain it is the two "ladies" that do most of the movement
The move can be done with either sex standing of the left or right of the couple, it's the person on the right of each couple that gives their right hand to the person diagonally opposite and pulls past.
  • The two ladies each other give their right hands and dance past each other, they hold out their left hands to the opposite man ...
  • ... Who takes their left hand, leads them round half a turn left (turning anticlockwise) so that they are facing back into the set.
As above the move means that the ladies have changed position. The movement just flows on and you repeat the movement to get back to where you started.... (the second half of the Ladies' Chain)
  • The two ladies each other give their right hands and dance past each other, they hold out their left hands to their partner ...
  • ... Who takes their left hand, leads them round half a turn so that they are facing back into the set where they started
See the description in The Rifleman.
Left/Right Confusion
BBC: Why some people can't tell left from right.
If you hesistate in a dance when someone calls Left or Right, you are no so unusual. Similarly if you see someone pause when they hear the call, they might be working out if their reactions were actually correct. Left/Right Confusion is a thing and can affect one in six people. That means, in a set of six people, you are likely to meet one person who has a greater or lesser amount of trouble.
You can help with non-visual cues, catching people's eyes if you are going to dance with them. indicating directions (as long as you remember them) in advance of the call, being clear which way you are going and pointing out which way they to go.
Longways sets
Listen out for the call, Longways sets for as many as will
Notes and Queries : Longways.
There'll be a call for Longways Sets and people will ask each other to dance and head up onto the dance floor...
You walk up and join the two lines forming, the people on the left are going to be dancing the 'men's role, they may not all be men but that does not matter; the people on the right, the 'ladies', with the same proviso applying.
The setup with the "men" on one side and the "ladies" on the other is known as Proper. There are dances where the first couples change places with their partners and these are known as Improper
The longways means these two long lines down the room. You don't need a specific number of couples just 'a reasonable number'. You are going to be dancing with everyone, if there are too many couples you probably won't actually dance with everyone, too few you might end up dancing with them more then once.


This a move where some of the Gender Free instructions can get cumbersome...
Listen out for: The Original Lefts put their Right hands in for a Right Hand star.
A millwheel starts off like a right hand star...
  • Men put their right arms in and start a right hand star, halfway round they reach out with their left arms and pick up their opposite woman by putting an arm round her waist. They keep going and finish the star.
  • The men leave the woman they collected, put their left hands in and start a left hand star, they'll meet their partner halfway round, reach out and pick her up with an arm round her waist and bring her back to place.
See the description in Joe Taylors Hornpipe.
A dance where you change partners during the dance.
Normally, when you ask someone to dance, you will be dancing with them for the duration of the dance. In a mixer, you'll have asked someone to dance but you only dance with them one time through the music. There'll be a moment when you move on to your next partner and do the dance again. It is a good way of getting to know people...
Mixers include the Canadian Barn Dance, the Circle Hornpipe and La Chapelloise
Morris Step
A description of a Left-Right-Left-Hop (or Right-Left-Right-Hop) dance step. It's called a Morris Step as its the basic step for a number of Cotswold Morris traditions


The ones are the two individuals that make up a first couple. Often the caller will give instructions for the couples but it can also be that he or she says that the ones do something.
The Opposite Sex
Anybody can ask anybody to dance, it doesn't have to be that a "man" has to ask a "lady". In some events, you'll find that this is traditional, in others there'll be two ladies dancing together, two men dancing together or two people just messing around (see Gender Free dancing)
What this means is that if you shouldn't get fazed if you find yourself heading towards someone you expect to be of the opposite sex and they turn out not to be. It also means if it is you dancing the "other role", be aware that someone might look confused as they head towards you.
Listen out for calls like Back to Back with your Partner, Back to Back with your Opposite
This is a shorthand description for the person you are facing. It's normally used when couple are facing couple, something that would be a little circle of four if you were holding hands. You are side by side with your partner and, if you look across the set, that person is your opposite.
In traditional, man on the left, woman on the right arrangements, your opposite will be the opposite sex and the person diagonally across from you is the same sex.
The Other Left or Right
A bit of humour or an attempt to defuse embarrassment of sticking the wrong hand into a star or heading in the wrong direction in response to a call. Left/Right Confusion happens.
The Original Left and Original Right
Also listen out for The Person on the Left or Right. The original may not be explicitly stated.
If you hear the call and wonder Left of What? or Right of Who?, it is Left or Right of the couple.
Also listen out for labels such as Jets and Sharks.
Labels for the person on the left or right of the couple when they got up to dance.
You'll hear these descriptions at Gender Free events, where there are no assumptions that the "man" will be dancing on the left and the "woman" on the right.
People dancing the "men's role" would listen out for calls to the Original Lefts, for example: The Original Lefts put their Right Hands in for a Right Hand Star...
Over the Right Shoulder and Over the Left
Complicated ways of saying which way to turn. You don't hear this in eCeilidh events, more in English County Dance, but if you do run into this description, think that it is saying, you are turning on your own, look over your right or left shoulder and turn that way. Decoding this: Turn over the Right Shoulder is means turning clockwise, Over the Left means anticlockwise


Means no more than the person you are dancing with, you have asked them to dance, they've said yes... It means no more than that, it's not the person you came to dance with.
In a mixer, expect to change your partner during the dance.
Pointy End
Listen for things like Two chassé steps to the Pointy End
Imagine yourself in a Ballroom Hold. The "man" has is right arm round the "woman", providing support. He is holding his left hand out at a distance from him and the lady is resting her right hand in his left. Now imagine all this being described without using the words "man" and "woman", you have a Pointy or Sharp End and a Blunt End and these appear in instructions about which direction to go...
Listen for calls like Poussette, first man push. The caller should say which direction people should go.
Elements : Poussette
A Poussette is a gentle push, a slight step sideways to get into a new place, and a pull. You are holding both hands with your partner and the idea is, with a shuffle backwards and forwards, to change places with the other couple.
The question is who pulls and who pushes?
In a longways "the lady" in the first couple and "the man" in the second couple step back, drawing their partners out of the set. The first couple take a step sideways down the set and the second couple step sideways up the set to change places and the other person pulls his or her partner gently back into their new place.
Some collision avoidance may be required. There'll be two people reversing and not looking backwards over their shoulders. They should be watching their partner, their partner's job is to look worried if there's likely to be a collision.
The move is easier to remember if the dance is improper, for both couples "the lady" steps back, drawing her partner across the set. The two take the step sideways and "the man" then pulls his partner gently back into their new place.
The two couples have swapped places, the first couples will have moved down the set and be looking for a new couple to dance with, the second couples will have moved up.
Notes and Queries : Progression
Progression is the description of moving up or down a set and dancing with different couples
As a 'thought experiment', instead of looking at the couple facing you, look over their shoulders, you will see another couple looking back up to you. They'll be a little way away. Walk past the couple you are facing, you'll find the others heading towards you and you are in a small circle of four again. You have progressed. Do it again and you'll find another couple to dance with, again and another...
You can be dancing in a Longways and move up or down the set but you can also progress round the room if you dance a Sicilian Circle.
What happens if you have reached the end of the Longways Set and there's no-one there to dance with? 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 doing the dance and then the next first couple will be heading towards you looking worried (quite likely as you are not looking at them)...
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.
... and if you are dancing a Longways Improper dance, more magic will be required and you should change places with your partner.
Vice versa, the couple who had reached the top of the set, having danced as a second couple all the way up, waits and watches one time through the dance and starts dancing down as a first couple.
Listen for Promenade back to place
Elements : Promenade
Often a "get back home" move that you do dancing side by side with your partner, holding right hand in right hand, left hand in left. You are facing "forward" rather than towards each other and dance back to, well, wherever the caller told you to go.
You'll have met this in the Circassian Circle. A common sequence of moves is a circle left and promenade back that happens in Square Sets. You will have met this in La Russe


Does it need more than this?
Treat the people you are dancing with as equals; people who are there because they like dancing.
Right and Left Through
Elements : Right and Left Through
You'd normally meet this in longways dances, where you and your partner dance across the set and then change places with each other.
It also appears, in a doubled-up form, in Joe Taylor's Hornpipe, where the head couples do it across the set, the sides do it across the set, the heads do it back and the sides do it back. Also described as Head Couples Cross, Side Couples Cross.
Similarly in La Russe, where the same happens but with one of the crossing couples making an arch for the other to duck underneath.
Right and Left Quite Round or Right and Left Four
A Right and Left Quite Round or Right and Left Four are with hands, while (strictly) a Circular Hey is without.
Confusingly similar calls to the Right and Left Through but these are other names for Four Changes of a Circular Hey.
If you've danced Portsmouth, Petronella and the Sloe Schottiche, you'll have met this.
Right and Left Hand Star
Listen for Right or Left Hand Star, or Right hand Star and Back with the Left.
Elements : Stars
For a Right Hand Star hold your right arms up into the middle of the set, you can hold them there or grasp the hand of the person opposite so you can give a bit of weight. Dance round clockwise.
Left Hand Star is the opposite, you hold your left arm out and dance anticlockwise.
As a variation: You may see flash stuff with people dancing a Right Hand Star, turning anticlockwise and bringing their somehow still joined left hands up to dance back with a Left Hand Star. It can be done like this:
  • If your partner is following you in the Right Hand Star, hold your left hand behind your back.
  • If you are following your partner and they put their left hand behind their back, grab it with your left hand.
  • Keeping hold with those left hands, both turn anticlockwise at the end of the Right Hand Star. You need to make sure that you lift those left hands high enough as you turn so that it's possible to dance underneath them.
  • Put the still-joined-left-hands into the centre of the new Left Hand Star.
  • Make it look like magic
You can do this in many dances that include a Right Hand Star and back with a Left (such as Clopton Bridge)
Right and Left Hand Swing
A one handed swing, giving weight, going round for as long as the music gives you. It can be smooth and you feel the centifugal force or can be a little more Rock and Roll. A Right or Left Hand Turn can be reserved or even stately, a Swing less so.
Right and Left Hand Turn
Elements : Turn
You give 'whoever' your right (or left) hand and, with a bit of tension in your arm, walk or dance round them until you get back to place.
In stately dances, where the move is called an Allemand Right or Allemand Left, make more of the eye contact and less of the Rock and Roll. In eCeilidh, you are giving weight, to the extent that you are slightly pulling, slightly supporting the person you are dancing with.


Second Couple
If you've joined a Longways Set and after the Hands Four found yourself further away from the band in your little circles of four people, you are a second couple.
You will start of dancing in your little group of four but at some point, you'll move one place up towards the band. You'll move up the set while the first couple move down. You carry on doing this until you reach the top of the set, in which case you wait and watch while everyone else dances and then join the dance again as a first couple.
Listen out for Longways Sets, Three Couple, Four Couple Sets, Square Sets etc.
Alternatively Set to the right or Set to the left
Can mean a couple of things, the group of people needed for a particular dance or the advancing towards and acknowledging your partner move that often comes in a Set and Turn Single.
A Set can be a Set to the Right or a Set to the Left depending on whether you start moving right and coming closer moving back left, or the other way round.
Set and Turn Single
Elements : Set and Turn Single
You step gently towards each other, looking into the other person's eyes. There's a fraction of a moment of stillness and you then turn away quickly and back to place. The feet are doing a little more than a step forward and turn back, you'll find yourself stepping a little to the right and then to the left.
You can set in either direction, to the right or left. it is more common to step right first, which feels strange if you've danced Bal Folk and bourréed on the left foot. However in some dances, there are two set and turns giving extra excitement as you can set to the right first and set left the second time.
With each step you are 'changing weight', you are stepping to the right, putting the left foot down and putting a little weight on it, then putting the weight back on the right. Then a larger step towards your partner, forward and to the left (and putting some weight on the right and then the left). Then that moment of stillness and the turn to the right (clockwise) back into place. The "turn single" is quick and you have contrast between the slow advance towards each other and the quick pulling away.
This move goes back a long way, you'll find it in Playford dances such as the Guidmann of Ballangigh
Sicilian Circle
Listen out for Couple facing Couple in a Sicilian Circle. You may also hear announcements for a Circassian Circle, this is a distinct dance, and not to be confused...
You find a partner and you head onto the dance floor and you'll see people gathering around the edge. What you want is to find another couple and join in.
As people shuffle into place you'll see a big circle appearing, with couples facing couples around it. There will be couples facing clockwise round the circle and couples facing anticlockwise. If you don't have a couple to face, wave your arms and look to see if there is another couple in a similar situation - you need to get together. Remember which way you are facing, you are going to keep on going that direction.
Callers are quite likely to label the couples 'first' and 'second' couples, depending on the way round the room they are facing.
You are going to start the dance in a little group of four with your 'facing' couple but at some time you will pass by them and dance with the next. It's like a Longways Improper without all the fuss about what to do at the ends.
Examples of Sicilians done at eCeilidh events are the wild Old Swan Gallop and the somewhat more gentle Waterfall Waltz
Side Couples
In a square set, the side couples are the second and fourth couple, the two facing across the facing across the room The other pair of couples are head couples
Listen for Slip to the left or Slip to the right
Slip means you step sideways without turning to face the way you are going.
It's fast and bouncy. If you are in a small circle and told to slip left, you'll be scooting round while facing into the middle.
Square Sets
The way couples are numbered differs with different dance styles, for English Social Dance, the couples are numbered anticlockwise round the set
Some dances need four couples arranged in a square. Everyone will be facing towards the centre of 'the square' and the couples will be given numbers, first, second, third and fourth couple, with the first couple having their backs to the band, the second on their right and so on.
There'll also be head couples and side couples
Webfeet has four squares annotated Joe Taylor's Hornpipe, the New Mrs Arrowsmith, La Russe and Strip the Willow Square...
Step Hop
Notes and Queries : Step Hop
An energetic style of stepping, where the music gives you a strong one-and-a-two-and ... beat and you can dance with a step onto one foot, a slight hop, a step onto the other and a slight hop. If you have a reggae rhythm in your mind, your feet will be doing a step hop
Strip the Willow
Elements : Strip the Willow
Notes and Queries : Strip the Willow
A movement where you are at the top of a set and you start with turning your partner, then turn someone on the side of the set, then your partner again, then another person on the side of the set. It can get frenetic. There is however a mantra you can repeat to yourself:
... Right arm to your Partner, Left along the line
Before you start, look to see what line you are on, then have a more careful look at the line opposite, you will be dancing with each one of these people in turn.
The line opposite is likely, depending on the event, to be the opposite sex.
Follow the mantra 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 giving them your left arm and they'll turn you, give your partner your right arm and so on.
If you are on the sides waiting for the man or woman to come out of their right hand turn, clearly and unambiguously stick your left arm out and catch their left. They'll probably appreciate it.
You'll find the move in quite a few dances, Stoke Golding Country Dance, the Orcadian Strip the Willow, Foula Reel and the Willow Tree. If you dance Drops of Brandy, you'll find a variation where the women strip (and the men dance down the middle of the set), the men strip (and the women dance up the middle of the set) then both strip down the set
Strip the Willow Square
This is both the name of a dance and the name of the potentially confusing move in that dance ...
Elements : Swing
This move is just for you and your partner and one where you'll be close to each other. You are going to be spinning clockwise as a couple, you will be connected with each other and wanting to keep your balance. There are several styles possible and you are likely to meet most of them:
  • It's quite possible to go for a ballroom hold. It's quite likely that that is what you'll end up doing if you don't decide to do something else.
  • It's possible for both to hold out their right arms, catch each other round the waist (and leave the left arm free). A good style if you're doing a morris step or a step hop.
  • If you want to go properly fast, hold each other's left hand and then each put their right arms round the other person's waist.
You may also see swings where people hold themselves at arms length. A cross hand swing you might remember from school playgrounds or one where each person has their right arm behind the other person's neck and holds on to their left hand. Take care with these, they are not good choices for crowded dance floors
What you do with your feet depends on the music. For energetic jigs or reels, you'll want to go fast. Imagine you are on a scooter, you keep your right feet close to each other and 'scoot round fast' with your left foot. This is the Buzz Step. Have power in that left foot, that's what pushes you round.
If you find yourself running round each other and yet not going very fast, remind yourself, keep your right foot in the middle, pivot round on it and see if you can lean out a little
The classic where everybody gets to do a long, fast swing La Russe.


Thread the Needle
Notes and Queries : Thread the Needle.
You'll meet this move in Bottom's Up.
Top of the Set
The end of the set closest to the band
Top Couple
In some dances you might be changing places in the set, listen for the call the original tops.
The couple at the top of the set, the end closest to the band. Quite often it is the top couple that leads the moves in a set dance and as the dance progresses, each couple has their time at the 'top' of the set.
In comparision to the ones, the twos are the two people that make up a second couple. It's quite likely that the ones will be told to do something and the twos something else.
Callers can gives instructions to one or the other couple, in which case they are likely to be dancing as a couple, or as the ones or twos, in which case the move is more likely described for the individuals


In the dance context Look up, is jargon, and means look up the set rather than up at the sky or ceiling...
The direction towards the band; up is towards the band, down is away from it.
If you have an instruction to dance a move and end up above another couple, you are ending up a little closer to the band, quite likely with that other couple, still next to you but having moved away from it.


Working Couple
You'll sometimes hear this in dances, when the caller has got one couple to do things and wants to keep on telling them things to do. It is often (not not always) the top couple. For example in the three couple Staffordshire Knot, it is the middle couple that seems to be busy.


Often used as a description for more lively or more energetic. You'll find dances advertised as Zesty Contras and Zesty Playford implying a somewhat more-than-normal level of energy.
See Zesty on Thesaurus.com
The usage goes back to Larry Jennings's 1983 book Zesty Contras