English country dance (ECD) is an elegant, accessible and popular form of community social dance enjoyed by people all over the world. In the pages in this section, you'll find some general information on English country dance plus resources for English callers, musicians, and dance organizers.
The essential ingredients for an English dance are: 1) live or recorded music; 2) someone to call and teach the dances and dance figures (that could be you...); 3) dancers (no prior experience necessary); 4) a space large enough for 1, 2, and 3.
Click on the tabs below to read more in your area of interest, whether you are a dancer, caller, musician or organizer. Within each tab are accordian dropdowns to information in that category. Click on the accordian title to open the article; click on it again to close it.
Here are a links to a few articles that provide an introduction to English Country Dance (ECD), including historical information, instruction on the basic figures, and comparisons to other styles of dance.
For a more visual demonstration of English dancing check out the videos dropdown.
- Elements of English Country Dance: Description of the basic dance figures in ECD, written by Hugh Stewart.
- English Country Dance and Its American Cousin: ECD and contra dance share some of the same historical roots. This article by Alan Winston describes those roots and how the two styles have changed over time.
- What Is English Country Dancing?: another discussion of the question, written by Linda Repasky and modified by Alan Winston. Includes links to a range of other ECD-related materials online.
A great number of recordings of English country dance music are available from the CDSS Catalog and from other sources. Here are a few suggestions to get started, which we have chosen to go along with our recommended beginning dances.
- The CDS Boston Centre English Country Dance Collection: Bare Necessities, an internationally-renowned English country dance band, has recorded 15 volumes of dance-length and dance-tempo tracks, featuring a wide selection of ECD repertoire. CDSS has published companion books of dance instructions for several of the CDs. The tunes for several of our recommended dances for beginning callers and dancers can be found on the Boston Centre CDs. We recommend starting with Volume 9: Strong Roots (mostly older historical dances) and Volume 3: Simple Pleasures (mostly easier dances).
- Juice of Barley: this cassette by the Claremont Country Dance Orchestra includes many simple English dances, including a number of our recommended beginning dances.
- By Popular Demand: this cassette by Phil Merrill and Marshall Barron also includes an excellent selection of classic dances, and includes several of our recommended beginning dances.
- The CDSS Online Store features many other recordings of ECD music. Click on the icon for English Dance on the store home page for our current offerings, or get in touch with us if you want a recommendation. If you are looking for a specific tune or dance take a look at this list of ECD recordings in the CDSS catalog sorted by dance name.
The Playford Ball is a very important text both in the history of ECD and for current dancers, musicians, and callers. We recommend it as a good place to start learning about calling for ECD. The Playford Ball (Second Edition, by Kate Van Winkle Keller and Genevieve Shimer, copyright 1994 Country Dance and Song Society) is available in the CDSS online store.
Please see also Playford’s Dancing Master: The Compleat Dance Guide, which contains a complete index of all 18 editions of the first volume of The English Dancing Master. Many thanks to Scott Pfitzinger for this resource.
Below you'll find an introduction to The Playford Ball written by Philadelphia area caller, teacher, and dancer Joanna Reiner. After that we offer some clues about how to find what you need in Playford. Good luck, and have fun!
THE PLAYFORD BALL: AN INTRODUCTION
by Joanna Reiner
Every beginning English dance caller and musician needs a collection of resources to help get them started: dance instructions, music, dance histories, manuals, etc. One of the first books I purchased as a fledgling caller was Kate Van Winkle Keller and Genevieve Shimer's The Playford Ball. In this volume from the 1990s, Keller and Shimer collect in one place the core of the traditional ECD repertoire: dances published by Playford beginning in 1651, interpreted by Cecil Sharp, Pat Shaw and others, and dances still danced and loved throughout the United States today.
Not only does The Playford Ball contain a brief history of John Playford and his English Dancing Master, Cecil Sharp and the English folk revival, and a glossary of formations, figures and steps, it contains 103 dances that you've danced, played, or at least heard of from Fandango to Mad Robin to Sun Assembly to Sellenger's Round. If you've ever done an older dance and wondered where to find the instructions for it, this is the place.
Skim the pages and you'll find not only a wealth of familiar dance names, but fully interpreted instructions, tunes, facsimile of the original manuscript page from Playford (with tune and original instructions), histories, illustrations and nuggets of information on English dancing and its history.
Whether you're starting an ECD group, or just beginning to call or play English dances, The Playford Ball will be an invaluable addition to your library!
FIND WHAT YOU NEED IN PLAYFORD
Here are some of the basic kinds of information you'll find in The Playford Ball:
- The Dances with Music: This is the bulk of the book. Each page contains the instructions (figures) for the dance, written music for the accompanying tune (in modern notation, as well as reproductions of older musical sources), suggestions about tempo, and historical information about the dance and the tune.
- Bibliography: Descriptions of original sources from the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, as well as other works cited in the text.
- Historical Information: the history of English Country Dance, it's interpretation, and re-interpretation; information about John Playford and Cecil Sharp; methodology.
- Formations, Figures, and Steps: Descriptions and diagrams of the various dance formations, the most common dance figures, and steps used in ECD.
These videos show the range of moods and styles in English country dance and in ECD music. Share them with your friends to help them get excited about trying English Country Dance.
The dance "Yellow Stockings" from a Lively English Dance at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, MA, November 16, 2008
A video montage of dances from the Germantown Country Dancers, Philadelphia, PA
The dance "Lull Me Beyond Thee" from the Country Dancers of New York Playford Ball, April 2008.
The dance "Speed the Plough" from the Hotfoot English dance at Springstep in Medford, MA, with music by the English Country Boogie Band and guests.
Here are resources of general interest to anyone who enjoys English Country Dance.
- List of dances on recordings in the CDSS catalog
- English Folk Dance and Song Society: the British equivalent of CDSS. EFDSS provides a great deal of information on their web site about English folk dance and song.
- Colin Hume's web site: Colin Hume offers a tremendous range of useful material on his web site, including a Callers' Workshop, a comparison of the English and American dance scenes (see "Advice to Americans"), history of English folk dance, information on composing dances and tunes, and an archive of all the dances Colin has ever written.
- Scott Higgs and Jenny Beer's Index of 550 English Country Dances, with set formation, meter, and key
- Hugh Stewart's Database of English Country dance repertoire, searchable by dance title, author, publication and recording. Need to find a recording of the music for a given dance? Need to find dances by a certain author? This is the place to look.