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What does that mean?

Once you know the moves, and what they are called, you can dance practically anything that is called but the language of calling may seem like a foreign language at first, so here are some hints as to what to do in response to what the caller says.  

Rule Number 1, before you move, is to think of yourself as having a ‘place’.  Many moves involve your returning to your place but all the dancers have places and in some dances, where the set is limited as to number (three-couple, four-couple and so on) you may be moving to another place for each turn of the dance, but you will be ‘home’ by the end of the dance.  Places are numbered one, two, three etc from the top, which is where the music is (and usually also the caller).

Rule Number 2, gentlemen nearly always have their ladies on their right, when facing the music, so that in any longways dance (two rows of dancers facing each other) there is what is known as ‘the men’s side’ (the left if all dancers were to face the music) and the ‘ladies’ side’ (the right, if all dancers were to face the music).  Sometimes, however, men dance on the ladies’ side and vice versa (see Proper and Improper below).

For ease of finding a term, they are in alphabetical order below; this is not necessarily (probably won’t be) the order in which you first meet these terms.

Allemande  is a variation of a right or left-hand turn but with hand and forearm upright so that the hands of those doing the turn are palm to palm and vertical and the couple change direction.

Arm right  almost always followed by arm left.  Exactly what it sounds like, linking arms at the elbow and turning once around clockwise (right arm) or anti-clockwise (left arm).

Balance  does not mean stand on one leg with your arms out!  It used to mean a small jump, feet together, and kick with your right foot to the left, diagonally across in front of you, feet-together jump, swing left leg across in front of you to the right.  It is quite possible for two people to do this simultaneously without kicking each other whilst facing each other and close enough to take ballroom hold for a swing, which often follows.  Many people nowadays (is it just that the people with whom we dance are, like us, growing older and conserving energy?) seem to do something more like setting (see below) for a balance.

Cast is ALWAYS outwards so begin by turning AWAY from your partner.  The length will vary, from casting round one person to the whole set, though that will generally happen with five-couple sets at most and in that case, where the ones cast followed by everybody else,  is a manoeuvre that turns the set upside down.  See also Whirligig casts below

Chevrons may vary slightly but basically start by moving forward on the diagonal and then falling back into place (DON’T TURN ROUND!) either straight across or on the other diagonal, so when you have finished you will be either one or two places further down (or up) the set, depending on whether both moves were diagonal or one of them was straight.  The best thing is to make absolutely sure you know where you should be at the end of the manoeuvre during the walk-through and make sure you get there during the dance, never mind what everyone else is doing, though ideally without bumping into too many people.

Circle left (or right):  Take hands with both your neighbours and walk round in a circle back to place.  If there is any doubt the caller will specify ‘circle four’ (i.e. four People) or ‘circle eight’ or whatever.  If it’s a circle dance it is usually everyone in one big circle.

Dos-a-dos (spelt various ways and usually pronounced docey-doe, or called a back-to-back): walk forwards and slightly to the left so as to pass the person opposite you by the right shoulder, take a couple of side steps to your right and return to place backwards, passing the other person left shoulder.  Do NOT turn round!

Double figure of eight is just a two couples walking a figure of eight simultaneously, so that instead of walking round two other people, you are walking round where they would have been if they weren’t also moving.  First couple walk an 8 as usual, crossing over to begin.  Second couple begins with the second half of the 8 i.e. cast to begin and cross to do the other circle.  It’s much easier to do than describe!

Draw poussette: same hold as for an ordinary poussette, partners facing, holding both hands

Figure of eight is just what it sounds like.  Visualise an eight on the floor and walk its course, beginning by crossing over (ladies first) and going between the couple with whom you are dancing, going round two other people, who effectively mark the centre of the top and bottom circles.  (See also half and double fig 8)

First and second corners take their numbering from the men’s places, so first corners are first man and second lady and second corners are second man and first lady.

Flutterwheel  a new-fangled move, done in fours, the ladies doing half a right-hand turn, picking up the man opposite with their left hand (his right, so inside hands) and taking him back to their place so that the ladies finish where they started but with a different partner, the men having changed sides.

Forward and back in a longways dance means the whole line on each side taking four steps towards the other line and returning to place backwards.  Most people don’t make the mistake of trying to turn round, as it would be difficult, with both your hands firmly held by other people.

Gates Couples take inside hands and one rotates backwards on the spot, like a hinge, while the other walks a circle forwards round them, like a gate.  The instruction will tell you who is the hinge and who the gate - if it is “1s gate the 2s up”, then the 1s are the hinge and the 2s the gate (also see later for “up”).

Get a grip (not a recognised instruction!)  If you are holding hands with some one of the same sex you can work out how to do it each time on the spot, except that in certain cases, such as a dance like The Guid Man of Balanguich, the person being walked round will wait, expecting the walker to pick their hand up from below as they pass (that will make sense when you dance The Guid Man).  Otherwise a gentleman always supports the lady.  So he will put his hand out, palm up and the lady will place her hand upon it, or the lady will hold her hand out palm down and the gentleman will provide support from below.  No grabbing the lady from above as if she were a child and he a parent, please!

Grand chain Start by taking handshake hold with the person next to you (sometimes opposite – the caller will specify which) and pass by, left hand to the next, then right and left alternately until you reach your destination – usually either back to place or half way round the set.

Grimstock Hey is a figure of eight but the two lines of three are co-ordinated.  Basically it bulges in the middle, ends go in.  The easiest way to ensure this is if each couple takes inside hands as they turn back into the eight at the ends, separating, after having passed between the approaching middle couple (who will be ‘bulging’) as they continue, to allow the end couple approaching them to go between them.  Again, this is a lot easier to do than to describe.

Gypsy One of the most embarrassing moves there is, according to the official description, which is to walk a small circle round your partner, both moving, gazing into each other’s’ eyes the while.  Best done with your eyes fixed on your partner’s ear lobe.  Much less embarrassing with someone you don’t know particularly well and less likely to cause the urge to giggle when doing it with someone you do know.

Gypsy meltdown:  Walk a gypsy and as you complete your circle, take ballroom hold, or something like it, and move into a swing.

Half figure eight is exactly what it says: walk half a figure of eight, imagined on the floor, round one other person.  You will end up on the other side of the dance, effectively having changed places with your partner, but having gone a long way round to use up the music.  

Hands four (actually ‘take hands four’ but often the ‘take’ is omitted.  In a longways dance, the dancers take hands in rings of four, starting from the top.  The couples in these groups then number off as ones and twos, and will keep those numbers, the ones working their way down the set, dancing with a new second couple at each turn of the dance, the twos working their way up with a succession of new first couples, until they reach the ends, where they take a turn out before coming back in as the other couple (second if they were first, first if they were second).  Often first couples are improper (see Ones improper below)

Hey is actually just a figure of eight with everybody moving, usually walked in threes.  Visualise an eight on the ground and walk along it.  If the others in your trio are experienced dancers they will weave round you without your having to think about avoiding them until you have got the hang of it and have time to think.

Honour your partner means bow or curtsey.  To some extent, it’s up to you how you do this.  

The easiest way to curtsey is to put your right foot behind your left, both feet turned out, and bend the knees, keeping your back straight and more or less upright.  If you want something to do with your hands, you can hold your skirt out, if wearing a suitable skirt.  Trickier if you’re in trousers.  To bow, again, right foot behind left, at right angles to each other, both turned out and bend from the waist.  What you do with your arms is up to you, but it looks better if you don’t just allow them swing forward as you bend, as if they have been nailed on loosely enough to allow them to move under the influence of gravity.  In some dances you may be asked to Honour the Presence which means take inside hands with your partner, face up and honour, in practice, the band and caller,

Ladies chain  Start with couple facing couple, ladies give right hands as they pass each other and give left to the left hand of the man opposite, right hand on hip, palm outwards, so that the man can take it as he puts his right arm round her waist and swings her round anti-clockwise to face back into the set and repeat the manoeuvre back to place.  

Ones improper.  This instruction often follows ‘Hands four’ (see above) and means that the men dance on the ladies’ side and vice versa.  (For which side is which see intro or Proper and improper below.)  It is vital to remember, when you reach the end and come back after a turn out, to change sides because if you have come down as a first couple improper, you will be going back up as a second couple proper and vice versa.  

Poussette as its name suggests, involves pushing, starting with the men.  Face your partner and take both hands, then go where the caller tells you to, the man walking forwards, the lady walking backwards ot start, then changing direction to reach the place you are heading for.  DO NOT TURN ROUND except for a draw poussette (see above)  

Promenade: The hold will depend on what you have just done.  If the lady has her hand on

the man’s shoulder and he has his arm round her waist after a swing or if you have just done a ladies’ chain (as in Devil’s Dream) there is no need to change it, otherwise cross-hand hold in front of you as you walk forward, side by side.

Proper and improper:  Dancing ‘proper’ means that the man will have his partner on his right when they are facing the music.  For some dances some couples are required to be ‘improper’ i.e. the man has his lady on his left (see Ones improper above)

Reel an alternative name for a hey (see above)

Right and left through is done in fours.  Take right hands with the first person, handshake hold, right to right, and pass on, taking left hand with the next person, then right, then left.  As you go, walk round a square, so that you are facing a different direction with each ‘handshake’.  The caller will tell you which direction to start in (can be across the set or on the side).  

Right-hand turn very often followed by a left-hand turn.  Almost a hand-shake grip but at shoulder level.  The same hold (and height) as for a star and balance your weight in the same way against your partner.

Set is what a group of people dancing together is called and can be a specific number of couples, longways (for as many as will), square, circle etc.

Set as a move consists of going righty-right, lefty-left, moving sideways with just a change of weight, not a step that covers any ground (right-left-right, left-right-left).  Usually set right and left, but the caller will say if it’s set left and right.  Be prepared for experienced (and therefore often older) dancers who are used to doing right, left to forget if it is supposed to be left, right!  Sometimes you will be asked to set moving forwards or backwards, but otherwise stay where you are, moving only slightly to the left and right (or right and left)

Siding comes in various guises.

Cecil Sharp siding consists of walking four steps forward past your partner, passing left shoulder.  Start on the right foot, to turn and come back four steps, turning towards your partner (if you have started on the wrong foot you will find yourself  twisting your legs together as you try to turn or having to change feet).  As an added refinement you can walk 1,2,3 and change (R,L,Righty-right, with just a change of  weight on to your left foot as you turn).  Come back starting with the left foot and turn to face your original direction again or as directed by the caller.

Curly siding means walking past your partner, still passing left shoulder, then walking a loop to the right back to opposite place, taking eight steps in all.

Into line siding consists of walking forward four steps until you are level with your partner and side by side, left shoulder to left shoulder, in the centre of the set, then back four steps to return to place; NO TURNING ROUND.

Slip step is a sideways step, such as children use for ring o’ ring o’ roses.  Generally favoured for ‘circle left (or right)’ at barn dances and the like when all dancers are in one big circle and given the instruction ‘circle left’ but more often walked sedately by experienced dancers (their age not infrequently being a factor!)  Also occurs in Nonesuch, where it is de rigueur for all.

Star will be either a right-hand star or a left-hand star.  Take hands with the person diagonally opposite you in your group of four and walk round until you are back to place.  Ideally you should lean slightly against the person whose hand you are holding so you need a good enough grip on your opposite to make this possible (see right-hand turn above)

Swing Mostly, with mixed couples, something approximating to ballroom hold, put your right foot in the centre of the circle you are about to describe with your partner and pivot round it, using your left foot to propel you.  Sometimes dancers take a cross-hand hold but this is mostly when two ladies are dancing together or for small children, barn dances and non-dancers.  (You are about to graduate to dancer status!)

Take hands four often abbreviated to ‘hands four’ – see above.

Two changes (or Three changes) of a right and left through (see above), though the caller will not always bother to finish the sentence.

Up is always towards the music.  Down is therefore away from the music!

Up a double and back is actually four steps, usually holding inside hands with your partner,

take four steps towards the music, which is usually where the caller is, and four steps backwards to place.  DON’T turn round!  The fourth step is actually just a bringing together of the feet, not a pace.  A single is just two steps (again with the second step being just a bringing together of the feet)

Which foot should I use?  In general start off on your outside foot, so that will be left for men, right for ladies.

Whirligig casts: Done in groups of four.  Two will cast (see above) and the other two follow, so that all end up in original places, having described a small circle.