Figures and Steps
Some people may be on the beat, but it's more like “carrying the shopping home from Sainsbury's” than dancing. In the old days ladies and gentlemen were taught deportment, and dancing too; you can't imagine one of Jane Austen's heroes or heroines plodding around. These days people feel awkward standing up straight and moving with a bit of spring and grace in their step, which is a real pity.
Try getting them to put their toe down first rather than their heel. They may find this unnatural at first, but anything that you do often enough becomes natural.
One thing that distinguishes the Dance Walk from an ordinary walk is the rise and fall at the end of a phrase. I mentioned it in “Up a double and back”: three steps and a close, and as your feet come together do a little rise and fall — but nothing exaggerated or affected. You can do it whenever you come to a full close — at the end of a two-hand turn, for instance. It rounds the movement off; it's like a full stop at the end of a sentence. Some people think that in a good dance you should never stop moving — you just flow from one position to the next — but that's not how they thought of it in the 17th or 18th centuries. They used steps then, and in Regency Dance they finished most moves with a Jetté Assemblé which is a very definite jump landing with feet together. I'm not suggesting you teach that, but you might mention it.
Beware of learing English dances from YouTube videos. These are mainly American dancers, and you will get the impression that if people ever dance they use a single skip. Not in England, we don't! And some YouTube videos are awful, and some are just plain wrong. You are also likely to see Cecil Sharp siding, and no hands in four changes of a circular hey, since that's what Cecil Sharp decreed, whereas in England you're more likely to see into-line siding and four changes with hands.
The one time I do use a single skip is when the dance is in triple time, for instance The Physical Snob in Session 4. Yes, a skip-change will fit the beat of the music, but it won't fit the bars of the music, because “right-2-3, left-2-3” is two bars of reel or jig time (which have two beats to the bar) but triple time has three beats to the bar, so it would be: “Bar 1: right-2-3, left. Bar 2: 2-3-, right-2-3”. I struggle to demonstrate a skip-change against a triple-time tune, but I can see that a lot of people don't know what I'm talking about and will still use a skip-change step.
If you just say “swing”, a lot of people will assume you mean a ballroom hold, which I don't think works for a hornpipe. I tend to say “cross-hand swing” because that's quick to say, but then I explain that what I really mean is a right forearm hold (which they've already used if they're dancing “Nottingham Swing” for instance) and then left hands joined above or below. Don't let people do right forearm and left forearm — that just ties them in knots. And make sure they don't dig their thumb in — that's painful.
A dance which really needs a skip-change step! See the instructions here.
|A1:||Twos face up: ones, twos and threes right-shoulder reel.|
|A2:||Ones stand still, threes stay facing down, twos cast left shoulder: right-shoulder reels of three at the bottom.|
|B1:||At each end, right-hand star. Set in lines; give right hand to partner and cross over.|
|B2:||Ones and twos take inside hand with neighbour and set; ones cast, twos lead up. Half double figure eight (twos cast, ones cross moving up etc).|
|C1:||Ones and threes the same.|
|C2:||Ones and fours the same.|
Any Scottish dance to a jig or reel will involve a skip-change step, and there are lots of good Scottish dances that English dancers never hear of. This one needs a good clear walkthrough and precise calling, but it works really well when people have got it.
For the music I'm suggesting “Hexham Quadrille”, which isn't quite Scottish though Hexham is almost in Scotland. Scottish dance musicians have what John Kirkpatrick calls “medley mania” — they feel they have to change tune for each turn of the dance. I don't know any historical precedent for this, and I'm quite happy to play the same tune all four times! Possibly Scottish bands need four tunes because the MC doesn't tell them when to stop and most Scottish dances are done 8 times through. If you have four tunes you can play 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3, 4, 1 which means you start and end with the original tune.
A Scottish dance from session 3 is “Maxwell's Rant”, and here's another easy one — they're both actually English.Original instructions on page 5.
|A1:||Ones set; cast to second place; twos move up. Right-hand star with the threes.|
|A2:||Ones set; cast back to the top; twos move down. Left-hand with the twos.|
|B1:||Ones lead down, twos move up the outside and follow them: down between the threes, cast up the outside to original places, then ones cast into second place as the twos lead up into top place.|
|B2:||Ones and twos, four changes of rights and lefts.|
The title may refer to a sedan chair, but not a motor car in 1772!
The classic English traditional (now described as “ceilidh-style”) step-hop dance.
A modern classic. John Chapman lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Clopton Bridge is one of the main bridges over the river Avon in the centre of the city.
Another step-hop dance which goes down well with both experienced dancers and newcomers.