Are you aware of your partner as you dance? Or could it just be a sack of potatoes on the end of your arm? And the other people in the set — do you realise you're all dancing together socially? When you dance a reel of three (hey), do you look at the other people you pass — or are they just moving objects that you have to navigate round? It annoys me when it's “First corners set and turn single, and a two-hand turn” and the woman stares at the floor the whole time, or over my shoulder. I might say “Smile at me” — and then perhaps she does, but sometimes she's really taken aback, as if a waxwork at Madame Tussaud's had suddenly tapped her on the shoulder, and I can feel her thinking: “What a nerve — who does he think he is? He's not the caller — he can't tell me what to do!” Even when I am the caller and tell people to smile at each other, some of them quite obviously resent it. Smiling changes it from a mechanical activity into an interaction with other human beings — and a lot of advanced dancers don't want that. I remember the leader of a “Playford” Club saying something about socialising, and one woman remarking in disgust: “I don't come here to socialise — I come here to dance!”
Scottish dancers are much better at smiling and looking at each other: they're aware of the other five members of the set. Watch them doing rights and lefts. And when the working couple separate and dance reels of three with the other two couples, not only do they look at people in their own reel, they're also aware of their own partner, and may touch hands as they pass.
Look at your partner. Look diagonally right, and left. Now look at your neighbour. Does this embarrass you? Why? Perhaps it's not a very British thing to do — but you're not standing in a bus queue; you're dancing together. On the other hand, beware the fixed Playford grin: that can be awful too.
There's also the question of when to move up. Suppose the sequence is “ones cross and cast and half figure eight up”, or “ones set and cast and half figure eight up”. I see these as separate movements, so I almost always prefer the twos to move up as the ones cast and then stand still as the ones do their half figure eight. Otherwise it's not really a half figure eight, because you're starting it from the threes' position and finishing it in the twos' position. In Holborn March for instance I would say “Ones set. Ones cast and twos lead up. Ones two-hand turn.” And the final move: “Ones cross, go below the twos who lead up. Ones half figure eight up.”
One exception is Delia, where I get the twos to move up the first time but the threes to stay still the second time — simply so that there's a space between the twos and threes for the ones to use.
Some people like to delay the move up so that they can then immediately move into the next figure rather than start-stop — and they've obviously been taught to do so and will do so regardless of the caller! I understand the principle, but that's not how I see things, and it loses sight of the fact that the other couple is moving to accommodate the ones, not so that they can take the limelight. I feel the same way about the twos spinning as they move up — no, that's not what moving up is about!
Nicholas Dukes published “A Concise & Easy Method of Learning the Figuring Part of Country Dances…” in the early 1750's and has this to say:
When you cast of below a Couple they are to move up to your place, likewise the same if you Cast up above a Couple they are to move down to your place and so the same in Crossing over or figuring in or in any other part where you move down or up, the other Couple is to shift as the Case requires.
Regardless of all this, if the caller specifically tells the twos when to move up you should do it that way whether you agree with it or not. Otherwise you get a longways set where some of the twos move up at one point and some at the other point, and that's totally unsatisfactory.