Back6+ Couple dances

Dances for 6 or more couples are often really challenging.  You'll be relieved to hear that there are only three by me here, and one of those is easy!

The Cambridge Hexagon        Print this danceTop of page

Format: 6 couples in a hexagon.     Dance: Colin Hume.  Music: 9 x 32 bar reels

Sequence: Break 1, Heads Figure x 3, Break 2, Sides Figure x 3, Break 3.  You have your original partner for all three breaks.

I wrote this one in 2005 for the Cambridge (England) Contra Dance Group — you can read about them at  I started dancing with them (and sometimes playing piano and calling for them) in the winter of 2004 when they often had only six couples.  Then I had an email from Clark Baker, a MWSD Caller who started dancing in 1974 at MIT's Tech Squares, which happens to be in another Cambridge.  He's a computer man (like me), and obviously mentally disturbed, as he found the Challenge Level of Modern Western Square Dancing too simple and started working out how to do all their figures in a hexagon instead of a square!  He goes into great detail at which also includes a video.  I originally wasn't going to repeat everything he covers there and said you needed to read at least the first part to see what he's talking about and how the concept works, but I discovered a well-known caller hadn't done that, so I'll explain a little more here.

It really is a hexagon, not a square with two head couples and four side couples.  There's a couple with their backs to the band, and an opposite couple facing the band, but the other four couples are at angles to the side walls so that every couple has a couple diagonally opposite them.  The couple with their backs to the band are head couples, and then around the hexagon you have sides, heads, sides, heads, sides — so your opposite couple are not the same designation as you!  Just try “Heads forward and back” and see how long the dancers take to react!  As you go forward, your opposite is the nearest head person moving towards you, and of course you're at an angle — it's a hexagon!  Try “Heads do-si-do your opposite”.  Now the same for the sides.

Now try “Heads right and left through”.  This stuff really makes you think about the definition of figures that you've been doing automatically for years.  Right to your opposite and pull by, so you're facing out.  Courtesy turn with your partner, who is not the partner you had a moment ago!  By definition your partner is the man on the lady's left, or the lady on the man's right.  Read Clark's web page for much more than you ever wanted to know about hexagons.

So I decided to write a hexagon dance for the Cambridge Contra Group.  Mine is very simple in comparison to the things he's doing, but it's still more of a workshop dance than something you would try at a Saturday night dance with people not into MWSD.  Clark is talking about doing dances as hexagons while the caller (who I hope can't see them) is calling for normal squares in other parts of the room.  This by contrast is called as a hexagon.  I tried the simple version at Cambridge, and after they had got over the shock of the formation they found it too easy, so I revised it considerably.  I've now called the revised version at Cambridge successfully (I chickened out of the break involving all six ladies chain).  I don't normally walk through breaks, but at my advanced class I compromised by getting people to think through a grand square rather than actually walking it through, and it worked.

A1:Heads right and left through.  Head ladies chain (to the next head man).
A2:Sides cross trail through, round one to the middle of a line of four.  Lines forward and back, and face your corner couple.
B1:Right and left through.  Same ladies chain back.
B2:Pass through, wheel around if necessary, promenade new partner, (quick swing if there's time).
Ladies have moved 2 places Left.
Break 1:
A1:Honour partner, corner.  Heads do-si-do opposite.
A2:Sides do-si-do opposite.  Heads right-hand star.
B1:Allemande left corner, grand chain 6 hands.
B2:Promenade partner.  Swing if there's time.
Break 2:
A1:Head ladies chain; side ladies chain; heads; sides.
A2:(Wait for sides to finish.)  All six ladies chain straight across.
B1:Allemande left corner, allemande right partner, swing corner.
B2:Promenade (original partner).
Break 3:
A1:Circle left.  Circle right.
A2:Sides face: Grand square.
B2:Allemande left corner, swing partner.

And here is the original version, which was considered too easy!

A1:Heads forward and back.  Do-si-do opposite.
A2:Sides same.
B1:Allemande left corner, grand chain 6 hands (to partner).
B2:(Finish the chain).  Promenade.
A1:Heads right and left through.  Sides same.
A2:Head ladies chain (to next head man).  Sides same.
B1:Allemande left corner, grand chain 4 hands.  [Men home]
B2:Do-si-do new partner.  Swing.

Combine Harvester        Print this danceTop of page

Dance: Martin Campbell-Colquhoun, Adelaide, Australia.
Format: Two 4-couple proper longways sets side-by-side, giving a solid 4x4 square.
Music: 4 x 32-bar reels such as “Combine Harvester” by the Wurzels.

A1:On each corner (ones with twos, threes with fours), Right-hand star.  Left-hand star.
A2:Middle four right-hand star and left-hand star while outside eight circle right and left (slip-step).
B1:Face neighbour in fours: Symmetrical reels of four, ones and threes leading down to start.
B2:(Both) Ones lead to the bottom (skip) while the others arch and move up one place — at the bottom left-hand ones arch and right-hand ones go under to swap sets, and all swing when you get to your new place.
 Repeat 3 more times with new ones each time.

Martin spent two years in Somerset in the late 1960's and always liked the song “Combine Harvester” by the Wurzels — which you can hear at  The dance is in the English ceilidh style and should be danced skipping gaily, apart from the circle which is a slip step.  Martin actually calls it to the Wurzels' recording, and says, “When everyone is back to place at the end (four times through) — i.e. same row in the other half of the set, men take out your keys, grab your partner and head for the door — to use up the last bit of music of Combine Harvester. (about 10 seconds).”

It won Best New Dance in a competition run by the Traditional Social Dance Association of Victoria and was first published by them.

Dorset Twelve-Hand Reel        Dorset Four-Hand Reel: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Created by the Jovial Beggars Display Team from Essex.

Format:  6 Couples in 3 parallel sets as for Dorset Four-Hand Reel: ladies back to back in the middle facing their partners.
Music:  Own tunes in CDM5 (4 x 32 bar reels plus one extra B).

Figure 1:
A1&2:Reel of four, passing partner right shoulder, all the way and another ¾, finishing on the other side of the set with the men facing in the middle and the ladies behind their partner.
B1:Men step to each other, and turn round on the last bar or two.
B2:All step to partner.  On the last four bars the men in the middle and left sets (from the caller's viewpoint) move slightly sideways and the ladies adjust so that these two sets are in a star formation — two interlocking columns of four people.
Figure 2:
 As before but giving hands in the reel, so the right-hand set are dancing normally and the others are doing half left-hand stars in middle.  Finish the reels with the ladies in the middle — they step to each other (while the men clap) and then turn to step to partner.  On the last four bars change the orientation so that the left-hand set is straight and the other two sets are in star formation.
Figure 3:
 Left-hand set as normal (dance with a skip-change step, no hands), the others half left meander (star without hands) in the middle, finishing with the men in the middle.  Finish the stepping in triple star formation.
Figure 4:
 Dance the reels with hands, making a triple left-hand star in middle.
Extra B:Final swing — finish facing out and bow to the audience.

The final figure is really impressive if it works, but you must know who your partner and opposite are and you must dance to the music and do it with conviction — it's a situation where being early is as bad as being late.  I remember when The Jovial Beggars had several new members practising this dance, and it just wasn't working.  Eventually Walt Tingle said, “All right, let's have six couples who know the dance”, and we demonstrated it to them.  For another dance from the Jovial Beggars' “adapted traditional” repertoire, see Nottingham Swing Sicilian.  See also the page on Display Dance.

I've called this at an “Advanced English” session at Pinewoods, and it worked — and we demonstrated it to the rest of the camp in the displays at the end of the week.

Dutch Crossing        Dutch Crossing: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page   Recordings

Dance: Ernst van Brakel.  Music: Colin Hume.  Published 1990.

Format: 8 couples in a set — A line of two couples facing another line of two couples, behind which are two more lines of couples facing each other.

A1:Opposites cross giving right hand; pull by partner with left hand.  Half a reel of four, the people in the middle of the line of four passing right shoulders to start.
B1:Circle right half-way with the opposite couple; fall back with partner (lady is on man's left).  Set coming forward; turn single back again.
A2:Opposites cross giving left hand; pull by partner with right hand.  Half a reel of four, the people in the middle of the line of four passing left shoulders to start.
B2:Circle left half-way with the opposite couple; fall back with partner (lady is on man's right).  Set coming forward; turn single back again.
C1/2:“The Dutch Crossing”:  The four men and the four ladies who are on the diagonals dance reels of four simultaneously, while the remaining eight dance a grand chain.
  Note: This figure starts with right-hand stars half-way on the corners.  The next move is a left-hand star half-way in the middle of the entire set, the people in the grand chain pull by with the left hand, and the people on the four corners set on the spot.  This same movement occurs four times — on the second and fourth time the right-hand stars are all men or all ladies.
D1:Two-hand turn partner.  Back-to-back partner.
D2:Circle left with opposite couple (the same every time) five places.  Back-to-back opposite — stay facing.

The dance is repeated from these new positions.  You will still be involved with the same opposite couple, but the half reels of four will now be danced with another couple.  Moreover, those who danced the diagonal reels of four in the first turn will now be dancing the grand chain and vice versa.

Four times through the dance should bring you home.

Click to play videoClick the image on the right to see an amazing animation, created by Ariel Barton, of 16 origami cranes doing the dance!  Just don't rely on it — there are a few design quirks!

Ernst van Brakel, Chairman of the NVS (Dutch Folk-Dance Society) when this book was published, has been a teacher of both English and Scottish country dances for many years.  He has contributed several dances to the NVS booklet “Triple Dutch”.  He uses the recording of “The Merry Lads of Ayr” (RSCDS Book 1) for the dance.

Dance Copyright © Ernst van Brakel, 1990.

Sting in the Tail        Under and Over: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page   Recordings

Dance: Colin Hume, 1992.        Music: 7 x Jacob Hall's Jig (Under and Over) *

Format: 6 couples in a double 3-couple longways set, Men on the insideFigure:

A1:On the right diagonal, side right shoulder to right.  Set moving forwards; turn single to place.
A2:On the left diagonal, side left shoulder to left.  Set moving forwards; turn single to place.
B1:Face partner: reels of four across the set.
B2:Lead partner forward a double and back (inside hands, so that the tops of the 3-couple sets are at opposite ends — the left-hand set lead down and the right-hand set lead up).  Tops cast to middle place, middles lead through them and wheel round to the left to finish at the bottom of the other set, bottoms lead up to the top.

Repeat the figure five more times, to finish in original positions.


A1:Side right with partner.  Set; turn single.
A2:Side left with partner.  Set; turn single.
B1:Reels of four across the set.
B2:Lead partner forward a double and back.  Set to partner; step right and honour partner.

I've discovered that outside England the phrase “Sting in the tail” is unknown.  It comes from the wasp (yellow jacket) which literally has its sting in its tail, and is applied to an explanation where the problem is only mentioned right at the end.  In this dance the “sting in the tail” is the last four bars of the figure when there are three different things happening at once.

Suggestion: Walk the figure through once, then walk the progression through twice more from these new positions.  All promenade half-way round the set to original positions, and off you go.  You shouldn't need to walk the finale through.

* The dance first appeared in my book New Dances for Old, Volume 1 (published in 1992) which contains dances set to existing recorded Playford tunes.  I had chosen “Under and Over”, the tune used by Cecil Sharp for the dance “Jacob Hall's Jig”, and the recording by Orange and Blue is seven times through so I designed the dance accordingly.  Then in 2003 at the Camping and Caravanning Club's Easter Meet I was told, “We like your dance Sting in the Tail — we do it a lot — but we don't use your tune”.  “What?!” I thought.  And then we danced it to two tunes from the Walt Disney film “The Jungle Book”: “Bear Necessities” and “I wanna be like you”.  I was immediately convinced, and now use these tunes — three times through the first, three times through the second, and back to the first for the finale.  I can't give them here because they're copyright, but if you can get hold of the music I highly recommend them.

Susan's Celebration        Susan's Celebration: Music in PDF/MIDI/MP3/ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Dance and Music: Colin Hume, 2008.  The tune is in 3-time.

Format: 6 couples longways

A1:In fours, right-hand star (6 steps); left-hand star.  Single-file anti-clockwise half-way round the whole set, finishing opposite partner (12 steps).
A2:In the same fours, left-hand star; right-hand star.  Single-file clockwise half-way round the whole set, finishing home.
B:Lines forward 3 steps and back; cross over right shoulder with partner and turn right to face.  All that again.
C:Ones lead elegantly to the bottom, the others admiring them while moving up one place (12 steps).  All two-hand turn partner (6 steps); step right and honour partner.

The happy couple at Gretna Green Registry OfficeFor Susan Murrow on her wedding to Ed St. Germain, April 2008.  They came over from upstate New York, got married at Gretna Green on the Friday and were back in Bournemouth with Susan's family on the Saturday preparing the hall for the dance. Apart from Ed and Susan and two other dancers, the rest were family and friends who were willing to try more complicated things but knew nothing about them.  We just about got through the dance, and I revised it afterwards to make the A movements less rushed.  For musicians we had Andrew Purkiss on button accordion and Polly Cross on flute.  I said to Andrew, “I've written a bass line, but I don't expect you to play it on an accordion”.  To my amazement he did — every note!  It turns out his background is classical accordion, where you're expected to play a tune with each hand.

If the dancers are inexperienced, it's worth telling them that they only make stars with two different couples — the couples on either side of them — and it's worth noticing who they are with before setting off on the first single file.

Tic-Tac-Toe        Print this danceTop of page

Dance: Brian Padgett.   Music: 3 x 64-bar jigs.
Published: 1992

Format: 6 couples longways, Top three couples improper

A1:Top couple give two hands and gallop down the middle while bottom couple gallop up (outside the ones, but inside the other four couples).  gallop back with the new top couple giving hands.
A2:Ends cast out into stars: 3 men right-hand star, 3 ladies left-hand star: the first time round touch your partner's hand (actives leading) and the second time round cross over with your partner into the other star (actives leading, the lady always going in front of the man) — immediately look out for your opposite.
B1:The first time round touch your opposite's hand and the second time round cross over with your opposite into the other star — go once around before looking for your partner.
B2:Same as A2: the first time round touch your partner's hand and the second time round cross into the other star and immediately look out for your opposite.
C1:Touch your opposite's hand, the second time cross into original star and immediately lead your partner home: you have travelled round all four stars and are heading towards your original place.
C2:Ends cast, the others follow, ends meet opposite and lead in to form a circle of arches, then the others lead in under the side arch with your opposite and out under an end arch with your partner, finishing in the order 2, 3, 1, 6, 4, 5.
D1:Face in pairs (the original ends are already facing in the middle), couples with their backs to the band arch: dip and dive half-way to turn the set upside-down, changing hands when you reach an end.
D2:Balance and swing partner, finishing where you started the swing (so that next time you will be going the other way round in the four stars).

Progressed position: 5, 4, 6, 1, 3, 2.  Repeat the dance twice more to finish with the whole set upside down. An encore might even get everyone home!

First published in English Dance and Song, Autumn 1992; the following notes were written at that time.  Brian Padgett was then the leader of The Teesside Travellers, an excellent youth display team from the North-East. He brought most of the team to my Folk Camp in Hexham the previous year, and we all had a great time together — in 1992 he ran a Folk Camp and I was one of the crowd.  This is a “doubled-up” version of Roger Whynot's T.A.G. which Roger tried as a three-couple and as a triple minor before publishing it as a four-couple.  Brian's extension is not easy, but it's great fun.  He specifies “lively jigs”, which is fine for a young display team who know the dance well, but I would definitely ask the band for “steady jigs”.  If you decide to do it without walking every turn through, I suggest you at least walk through C2 otherwise experience suggests that the ends will not be confident enough to lead the casting and form a circle.

The Teesside Travellers were formed in 1978 as the Billingham Festival Dancers, but wanted to branch out to other events.  The kids thought up the new name, and it's certainly appropriate — they've performed at most of the big English Folk Festivals including the Albert Hall, Sidmouth, Broadstairs, Eastbourne, Peterborough and Billingham, and abroad in Belgium, France, Spain, Majorca and the USA.  There are now two teams: the Juniors from 8 to 12 and the Seniors from 13 upwards.  Many of the original members have left to go to university, becoming dancers, band musicians and callers all over the country.  Brian sometimes finds it difficult to keep the numbers up; he goes round the local schools teaching folk dancing and trying to recruit new members.  There are currently sixteen Juniors and twenty Seniors (if they all turn up), and I can vouch for them being a lively bunch — excellent dancers and very proud of their North-Eastern traditions, so don't play your rants at a sedate “Southern” speed when they're around!  In addition to running the Travellers, Brian is Squire of Stockton Morris Men and a regular caller with The Waggoners, led by Jack Kean.  Tic-Tac-Toe evolved as the kids tried it out and suggested changes, so Brian thinks of it as something of a combined effort.

Anyway, on with the dance.  The crucial thing is to know who your opposite is and be able to recognise them is a crisis.  Your opposite is of the opposite sex: ones with sixes, twos with fives and threes with fours, the same person in all three turns of the dance.  If your dancers have never met T.A.G. before, it might be wise to start them off with that.  And the best of luck!

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On Saturday, April 16, 2016, Sue Last from Brightlingsea, Essex wrote:
This has to be the most useful site ever - wish I had found it when I first set out to learn to call English to add to my Scottish abilities! I'll be coming back often, Thank you - Sue