Turning of the Hour album cover

Pandemic Panaceas

One Couple English Country Dances

By Don Bell

The COVID-19 pandemic robbed us of the pleasure of dancing together in large groups. We retreated to our homes, moped about, and then tried valiantly to replicate the usual dance experience by coming together for Zoom dancing. Those who have put together these dances deserve our sincere thanks. For many people, Zoom dances helped them maintain contact with their dance community and provided an enjoyable form of physical exercise.

But for me, Zoom dancing hasn’t been deeply satisfying and may have even led to feelings of sadness. To me, the format reinforces the fact that we are dancing alone and reminds us of all that we are missing in a “normal” dance event. The loneliness is amplified when we barely catch sight of each other in little digital squares or reach out to take the hand of a “ghost.” The pleasure of physically interacting with many other dancers is missing.

Rather than pretending to dance in a group of several dancers, it seemed to me it would be more fun to just accept the situation and start doing dances designed expressly for one couple. (This doesn’t solve the problem for the singles among us, but it’s easier to imagine one other person than three or five other folks.) So I have been experimenting with adapting longwise dances into one couple dances. The dances that seem to work best are easy ones (e.g., “Alice”) that are simple and only involve two couples. Complex dances require too much imagination, especially for dancers unfamiliar with the dance. I’ve also developed two new one couple dances, “The Hands of Time” to the tune “Turning of the Hour” by Rachel Bell (tune and instructions included here) and “Melodious Blacksmith” to a tune by Handel.

Many people have space limitations at home. Even doing a one couple dance can be a challenge. To deal with this, I have attempted to design dances that can be done in a small space (a 6 by 6 foot square). I have, for instance, limited “lead” movements (up/down or out the side) to fit the 6 by 6 foot square and have chosen draw poussettes over regular poussettes since they require a bit less space.

Then, to maximize dancing pleasure, I have chosen dances set to especially inspiring recordings of beautiful tunes. While we are missing the pleasure of dancing together in a big group, we can still enjoy moving gracefully to these tunes.

Of course, one couple dances are no substitute for the joys of dancing with a full house of skilled and fun-loving dancers. Still, they can provide a way to stay connected to the pleasure of dancing until it is safe to return to in-person dance events. And in a post-COVID world, these relatively simple dances can serve as an accessible introduction to English country dance for beginners and also offer more dancing opportunities to those living in regions with few dance events.

Who knows? These dances may survive even after this difficult period in our lives has passed and provide a pleasant at-home alternative.

Videos of my one couple dances are available on my YouTube channel.

The Hands of Time By Don & Diane Bell, 2021

Tune: “Turning of the Hour,” by Rachel Bell
(recorded on the Alchemy album of the same name)

Turning of the Hour sheet music

Waltz steps throughout.


Four changes of rights and lefts with partner, both ending proper, one place down the hall


Cross by the right shoulder (2 waltz steps), curving up the outside to partner’s starting place (2 waltz steps)

Right-shoulder round once


(Face down, take inside hands) Moving down the set one place, swing inside arms forward/back in time to the music

Cloverleaf turn single away from partner

Change hands, repeat arm swinging figure back up the hall

Cloverleaf turn single


Right-hand turn once round

Right-hand balance forward & back

Box the gnat (returning to home place)


To dance with the Alchemy recording, wait for the eight beat intro to finish before starting the dance.

In A1, a very tight shoelace-like figure. You can just wing this figure or you can be a little more precise with the lady tracing a slight diagonal pattern and the gent going straight across into the lady’s place.

In A2, take a generous amount of space during the right shoulder round. End in partner’s starting place.

In B1, during the inside arm swinging, turn slightly away from partner on forward swing and then slightly toward partner on backward swing.

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