Two Favorite English Country Dances

For NaBloPoMo Day 6, I wrote a Flashback Friday about Pinewoods and English country dancing, because I was trying to prepare for the dance I went to this afternoon. I was scheduled to call two dances, and I was concerned about them because I felt a little unprepared (it’s been a crazy week of blogging!). But they both went off without a hitch… since a hitch was not one of the figures in either dance. Har har har! 🙂

It helps that most everyone there today were experienced dancers, and many of them were familiar with the dances. They’re also not terribly difficult dances. I called Black Nag, a dance for three couple sets that was the first dance I ever performed at Pinewoods, when I was 8 years old. I hated it for a long time after that, but I’ve grown to appreciate it since then. I also called Mad Robin, a really fun longways dance (meaning, as many couples as want to in a long set, leaders on one side, followers on the other).

Here’s how the dances typically work: once the dancers have lined up in a set, you separate into groups within the long lines; usually in groups of four, called duple minor, but sometimes in groups of six, called triple minor. Then everyone walks through the figures of the dance, which should end up with you switching places with the person next to you. That’s called the progression. Then you repeat the dance over and over again until the music stops. (Well, until the caller tells you all to stop). That means that the couple at the top of the set progresses all the way to the bottom, then they wait out a turn, and then come back in to progress back up to the top.

Today’s dance was a really good time, and we did a lot of great dances. All the callers at the Open Mic did really well, and we didn’t have any major collisions or problems. Two of my favorite dances tonight were Key to the Cellar, a modern dance from 2004 by Jenny Beers (who I know from Pinewoods), and Hambleton’s Round O, a John Playford dance from 1710. They’re very similar dances: they’re both triple minor (groups of six dancers within the longways set); they both use terrific tunes in 3/2 time signature, so counted in threes (but not a waltz); they both include heys (a type of figure-eight pattern); and in both of them, the active couples never stop moving. That’s an ideal for good dances, and good dancers: you never want to stop moving. You float in and out of all the figures, evenly flowing and constantly moving from one to the next, all the way down the line until you reach the bottom of the set. It’s the most fun evar.

I thought for NaBloPoMo today, I’d share these two dances with you on video. These dances are so much more fun to do than to watch—trust me—so I encourage you to find some dancing near you and give it a shot, but in the meantime, you can watch them here.

I didn’t film the dances today, but I did film Culver City ECD (the group I danced with today) doing Key to the Cellar back in September. You can see Alex and me in the left-hand set, though not dancing with each other. Alex is wearing a black T-shirt with a design, and I’m wearing a navy flowered dress.


I don’t have a recording of Hambleton’s Round O from Culver City ECD, so I’m posting one here from Germantown Country Dancers in Philadelphia. My friends Sam and Sandy Rotenberg are in the group, and in the video, and their daughter Tanya (who I don’t see in this video) was my roommate at Pinewoods the first summer I spent there on crew.

I hope you enjoy these two dances, and consider trying to find some English country dances near to you participate in.

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