Seven Habits of Highly Effective English Country Dancing

by Joyce Crouch

Listen to the music. Find the basic beat and step to each beat. Your goal is to fit your movements to the musical phrases. Each figure is designed to begin and end precisely with a phrase or portion of a phrase. Learn to distinguish between “duple time” (two steps per bar) and “triple time” (three steps per bar); mastering this skill may take time if you have little or no musical experience but it is well worth pursuing.

Dance with other people. This is social, not solo, dancing! Relate to your partner and all others you meet in the set. Have as a goal the giving and receiving of pleasure, partly by dancing as beautifully as you can. As you dance, smile at those you meet. Make friendly “eye contact.” Acknowledge each person’s innate worth, regardless of skill level. Show your pleasure in participating in the dance; share thrilling or amusing moments. Keep playful flirting as an option but remember it is by no means required.

Dance with the whole room. Keep lines straight by keying on the couple at the top of the set. Use peripheral vision and quick glances to fit your movements into the larger whole; enjoy that communal awareness. Stay aware of the space right around you; accomodate other dancers’ movements, especially in crowded conditions. Be alert to help others who are momentarily confused (we’ve all been there!) by polite gesturing, nodding or bright facial expressions, never by pushing.

Maintain elegant carriage. Stand tall and proud, head centered on shoulders, shoulders centered on hips, body weight slightly forward. Use your upper torso to move yourself through the figures purposefully and with a sense of inevitability. Keep arms relaxed at sides, knees flexible. Generally, avoid extra flourishes and affectations (cheerfully ignore those that you observe in others), except in certain dances which simply beg for melodrama!

Connect firmly when taking hands. In turning movements (right and left hand turns, two hand turns, hands across) and circles, share equal tension with others to enhance the splendid effect of centrifugal force. Provide “just enough” resistance, with your arms at a comfortable height and in a flattened “V” shape. No bent wrists, please! The convention in taking hands is for men (or lower number) to offer palms up, women palms down.

Feel serene, buoyant and joyful. Match your mood to the music and the particular dance. Momentarily forget everything else in your life! Cultivate a springy, light dance step. Avoid shuffling (“shushing”); it detracts from the beautiful music.

Take responsibility for the patterns. Listen carefully to the caller’s prompts in the first few rounds, then try to rely less and less on the caller as the dance proceeds. Find the learning methods that work best for you, such as visualizing the geometry, moving your body through space or using musical cues. For glorious, smooth transitions between figures, think ahead and know where you're going next.

©1997, revised 2000 Joyce Crouch; used with permission

Joyce Crouch is an English country dance teacher and musician who developed this handout as an aid and inspiration to members of a beginning English country dance class in South Amherst, Massachusetts. “My purpose,” she says, “was to pass on to the dancers ideas they could start applying right away and continue to explore throughout their dancing lives — ideas that would increase the fun and joy for themselves and for other dancers. The ideas come from my reading, my many teachers over the years and my own observations and beliefs.”

©CDSS News #159, March/April 2001; Reprinted with permission

Contact Joyce at

Call the Dancephone: 212-459-4080
Write to CD*NY at P.O. Box 878, Village Station, New York, N.Y. 10014
Send us an email to subscribe to our email list, ask questions or make suggestions.

Country Dance * New York, Inc., is an affiliate of the Country Dance and Song Society.