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Figures and Steps



Some people think this has to be very energetic, but the normal rant step really isn't that violent; I can do a rant step while talking to a class of dancers.  It's not a step most people pick up the first few times they try it, so tell them to persevere: it can be done.  Start by hopping “Left, left, change (pause), right, right, change (pause)”.  Make sure people can do that before moving on to stage two.  When it seems to be coming naturally, between the two hops on the same foot you just tap the ground gently with your spare foot.  So the rhythm becomes “Hop-tap, hop, change (pause), hop-tap, hop, change (pause)”, and that gives the familiar rhythm of “potato crisps”.  Notice that when stepping on the spot you're not putting your weight on the front foot — it just happens to touch the ground.  Some people make a big thing of crossing the front foot over, but really that's not important.

People are bound to lose the step occasionally while they're learning it, so tell them to drop back to the “hop, hop, change” until they've got the rhythm back and then try it again.  Some teachers advocate practicing this while standing at the bus stop!

The first hop is on the up-beat before the bar-line, so the timing is:


The rant is not a step for covering large distances — for that you want a polka.  The rant is a contained step, with the weight over the body.  There are several traditional English longways dances where the ones lead down the middle with a walk step and come back with a rant step while the twos move in above them.  It shouldn't be necessary for the twos to force the ones off — if they're doing a proper rant step they won't come back as far as they walked down anyway.

For a travelling rant step you do put your weight on the front foot rather than just tapping it, and I certainly don't recommend crossing the front foot over!  I've seen people do it at ceilidhs — dancing a reel of four and no doubt thinking they were very clever — but it looked ludicrous to me.  Madeleine Smith says she always teaches the travelling rant step before the stationary one, possibly to get round this oddity.

As soon as many people take hold of their partner to dance around another couple they switch to a polka.  Now I don't have any justification for my view, but it seems to me that if it's a rant dance you should rant around the other couple rather than polka.  It means you have to get in closer to them, since a rant isn't a distance-covering step, but it certainly can be done.

Changing feet   Top of page

Sometimes you have to change feet.  The first rule is: Be aware that you're going to have to change feet — don't let it creep up on you.  Bring your feet reasonably close, with your weight over both of them.  If you're balanced, you should be able to step off with either foot.

Basically, to change feet you either put in an extra step or leave out a step.  Suppose I'm in a longways set, ranting back up the middle with my partner to second place, and then we're going to take ballroom hold and dance round the other couple.  One of us has to change step; I would expect the man to.  So instead of the final left-right-left, I just do left, right.

As to which foot each person should start on in a dance around, and exactly which direction each couple should move off in — different people will give you different opinions.  There is no one right way; English dancing isn't so standardised.  Provided the man knows what he's going to do, and leads decisively, his partner will be happy to follow him.

Polka   Top of page

I would describe a polka as the same as a skip-change but slower and possibly with more up-and-down movement.  As with a skip-change, the spring on the up-beat is very important.  It's also similar to a rant, but a rant is a small controlled step not designed to cover great distances; with a polka you can really move!  Usually danced with a partner, in ballroom hold, rotating clockwise as you go.

Pas de bas   Top of page

This is like a skip-change but without the push on the up-beat, so it's a much flatter step and you don't travel so far.  It's much more common in Scottish (where it's called a “pas de basque”) and is often used for a two-hand turn, whereas a single-hand turn would normally use a skip-change step.  The easiest way to think of it is as a setting step — see “Pins and Needles” which starts with setting and then uses a pas de bas for the dance round.

Schottische   Top of page

Opinions vary about what a Schottische step is, and whether a tune is a Hornpipe or Schottische (or indeed a Strathspey)!  My understanding of the difference between a Schottische and a Hornpipe used to be that you dance a Schottische to a 1-2-3-hop and a Hornpipe to a step-hop, and that “Phillebelula All The Way” — the standard tune for Nottingham Swing — is a Schottische, not a hornpipe.  But you can do either step to either rhythm, so that may not help you much.  I've had musicians who agree with me and others who say it's the other way round.  In fact the standard Schottische step in International circles is 1-2-3-hop, 1-2-3-hop, step-hop, step-hop, step-hop, step-hop, which neatly combines my two categories.

So my answer — unless you're teaching International — is “Don't worry about it”.  In “Clopton Bridge” John Chapman specifies a step-hop for most of the dance but a 1-2-3-hop for the stars.  In practical terms, a 1-2-3-hop allows you to travel a greater distance, and is less jarring if you happen to have a bad back or feet!  So as a caller you can specify what you want, but don't worry if some people ignore you.

Double Lead Through        Double Lead Through: Music in PDF, MIDI and ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Source: English traditional
Format: Longways duple
Music: own tune (32 bar rant)

A1:Lead neighbour forward three steps and bow to partner on the third; fall back.  That again.
A2:Ones lead down three steps, turn individually; lead back.  Twos lead up three steps, turn individually; lead back.
B1:All step to partner.
B2:Dance around the other couple 1½.

Click to play videoThe tune is actually from a 19th century operetta: “La fille de Madame Angot” by the French composer Charles Lecocq — and if you don't believe me, just click the image on the right to see and hear it performed.  “English traditional” is a difficult term to define!

I find this the best dance to start with when teaching a rant step.  There are no complicated figures, and you get 8 bars of ranting on the spot followed by 8 bars of travelling rant so people should be ready for the travelling part.

My prompt at the start (in time with the music) is: “Forward two and bow…” otherwise they may want to bow on the fourth beat rather than the third.  The music should tell them, but you never know!  Make sure the ones don't take too long for their lead down, or the twos will be cheated out of their turn.  I'm not a fan of singing the instructions to dances (except in American Squares), but some people would use:

Down the middle, down the middle.  Back the other way.
Up the middle, back you go, and everybody step to partner.

At the end of the stepping (bars 7 and 8) people need to move in to their partner so that they're in a ballroom hold ready to dance around — and see the notes on Changing feet above.  Some bands slow the music down a little in those last two bars, then up to tempo for the dance around.  I try to get the dancers to stick with the rant step rather than switching to a polka — with limited success.  And in all the dances which finish with a dance around, you need to disengage from your partner and fall back (still stepping) so that you're in position to start the next turn of the dance.

Morpeth Rant        Morpeth Rant: Music in PDF, MIDI and ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Source: English traditional
Format: Longways duple
Music: Own tune (32 bar rant)

A1:First man right-hand turn second lady, keep hold and give left to the second man's left hand to form a wave of three with the twos on the ends facing down.  First lady dance down through the nearer arch, round your partner, up through the other arch, all finishing in original places (and all danced to a rant step).
A2:Right-hand star, turn out to the left.  Left-hand star.  (walked)
B1:Ones lead down right hand in right (walk step), without changing sides, turn the lady under.  Take a cross-hand hold and come back with a rant step, the twos moving in and up to finish above them.
B2:All take a ballroom hold and dance once around the other couple (rant step).

Another classic, though sadly out of favour with an ageing dance population.  This needs to be danced with guts if it's going to be danced at all!  It's not 4 bars (4 rant steps) for a slow right-hand turn; it's just two bars of travelling rant step to get into the wave (giving plenty of weight and going for it), then two bars for three people to step in the wave.  Make sure they make good tall arches, and point out that if their elbows are almost touching, the height of the arch is the height of their elbows, not of their hands.  Even so, some first women will still crawl through the arches, so try and stamp that out too.  The stars are normally walked, and you turn out to your left (very positively) to be there on the beat with the left-hand star; some people take the full 8 steps for the first star before thinking about turning out.  Some people clap twice while turning out, and that's fine so long as they get it in time with the music and still manage to do the move!

When you say “turn the lady under”, some men will do a Box the Gnat which means they will have changed sides with their partner, so stress that you stay on your own side.  Some men will turn the lady the wrong way: she's supposed to turn to her left.  And see the notes on Changing feet above, though if they've only just learnt the rant step this may be too much to take in.

Some people will use a cross-hand hold for the dance around — I assume that's the way they were taught it.  That's a matter between partners, and I wouldn't comment on it so long as they get there in time.

This is a traditional dance, and traditions vary in different parts of the country.  Some people dance it with the twos following the ones down, the twos arching and the ones coming up through the arch, and therefore the final dance around needs to be 1½ times to progress.  I'm not saying that's wrong, and you may prefer to call it that way.  Whichever way you call it, just tell any objectors that there's more than one way to do the dance and this is the way we're doing it tonight.  Don't say it aggressively, but be positive; you don't want half the set doing it one way and the other half the other way.  Never dismiss another version of a dance unless you're sure yours is correct, and even then do it politely!

Soldiers' Joy        Soldiers' Joy: Music in PDF, MIDI and ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Source: English traditional
Format: Longways duple
Music: Own tune (32 bar rant)

A1:Ones cast out, go well down the outside.  Turn and come back, finishing behind the twos; twos about turn to the right to face them on the last 4 beats.
A2:Reel of four (passing neighbour right shoulder) and one extra change for the ones to meet.
B1:Ones lead down right hand in right (walk).  Turn and rant back with a cross-hand hold; twos move in and up above them.
B2:Ballroom hold: dance once around this couple (rant step).

Another classic traditional dance from the North-East of England.  The second half is the same as Morpeth Rant, but this is a more difficult dance.  Make sure the ones go well down the outside rather than a tentative shuffle.  They can afford to go down a full four rant steps and then turn, because they don't have so far to come back.  It's better if the twos about turn to their right because then they can flow into the reel of four.  This is done to a rant step and is very busy, so it's not a dance for those who are still doubtful about the step (or about a reel of four).  People need to keep it very tight, with a minimal loop at the end and straight back in, and it really is nine changes so that the ones can meet for their lead down while the twos get out of their way.  Done by a set of good dancers, it's magic!

Roxburgh Castle        Roxburgh Castle: Music in PDF, MIDI and ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Source: English traditional
Format: Longways duple
Music: Own tune (32 bar rant)

A1:Turn single to the right while moving one place round to right (one rant step to travel, one to turn); same.  Same; same.
A2:Right-hand star.  Left-hand star.  (walked)
B1:Ones lead down right hand in right (walk).  Turn and rant back with a cross-hand hold; twos move in and up above them.
B2:Ballroom hold: dance once around this couple (rant step).

Roxburgh is in Scotland, about 65 miles from Newcastle which is in North-East England

Apart from A1 it's the same as “Morpeth Rant”.  I describe this move as “tracing the turrets” of the castle.  It's similar to the American version of Petronella except that you move and then step rather than the other way round.  You need to be positive in the travelling turn single; if you just start by moving out to your right rather than rotating you probably won't be in position for the stepping on the spot.

Other rant dances include “Wiltshire Six Hand Reel”, “Goathland Square Eight” (though some would say that's a polka), “Durham Reel”, “The Rifleman” (the first dance in Becket formation), and of course many people use rant stepping in the stationary bits of “Dorset Four-Hand Reel”.

Polka Away        Print this danceTop of page

Format: Couple facing couple, anywhere
Music: 32 bar polkas

A1:Circle left.  Circle right.
A2:Balance and swing partner.
B1:Right-arm turn partner twice.  Left-arm turn opposite twice.
B2:Polka away with this one, and find another couple.

I don't know where I picked this one up, but it's a nice simple dance which gives people practise at polkaing with a new partner each time.  I would definitely use a kick-balance here.

Yorkshire Square Eight        White Cockade: Music in PDF, MIDI and ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Source: English traditional
Format: Square
Music: 4 x 32 bar polkas

A1:Heads lead forward and back.  Ballroom hold: polka across to the other couple's place, rotating clockwise as you go.
A2:Sides the same.
B1/2:Heads the same to get home.  Sides the same.
A3:Heads to the right: right-hand star. Left-hand star.
A4:In those same fours, ladies' chain over and back.
B3/4:Heads to the left: same.
A5:Ladies go in four steps; as they fall back, men go in, turn left.  Swing corner.
B5-8:Same three more times.

I understand these were originally two separate dances and someone from EFDSS joined them together.  The tune I've given is “White Cockade” which is often used for the dance, though it's not the “name” tune like “Morpeth Rant” or “Soldiers' Joy”.  Many bands switch to a second tune for the second half of the dance, so I've added “Astley's Ride” as well.  Roger Wilkins of The Falconers says:

This is the ideal change tune: up to D from G, and a more driving and I think uplifting tune than the original, which therefore brings more life into the dancers.

Some ladies seem to be so wedded to the “everything must flow” modern approach that they try to keep hold after the left-hand star and start the ladies' chain with left hands, which causes complete chaos, so you may need to say “Ladies, change hands: Ladies' chain”.  You may need to say “Square the set” after B4.  Some people take a ballroom hold and polka round the set instead of promenading, and why not?!  This is not some sacred text handed down from above.

Pioneer Polka Quadrille        Mount Gabriel Reel: Music in PDF, MIDI and ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Author: Ted Sannella
Format: Square
Music: Own tune (4 x 48 bar polkas or polka-ish reels) contra/dances/ted_sannella/ pioneer_polka_quadrille.html

Ted suggested “Mount Gabriel Reel” so that's the tune I've given, but others would work just as well.

Mount Gabriel Reel        Mount Gabriel Reel: Music in PDF, MIDI and ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Author: Ted Sannella / Colin Hume, 2012
Format: Square
Music: 4 x Mount Gabriel Reel

A1:Heads polka round the inside, all the way, then the men put the ladies back to back and stand back from them.
A2:Sides the same, polkaing through the gaps so all the ladies finish in the middle facing out.
B1:Men single file to the right all the way, the give left hand to partner, right to the next.
B2:Balance forward and back in this circular wave; left-hand turn partner half-way.  Balance the wave again; right-hand turn the next (new partner) half-way.
C1:Balance the wave a third time and swing new partner.
C2:Promenade to the man's place.

I used to call a session of dances at the Stafford Music Day where the musicians were split into four groups and one group in turn played while I tried to persuade people from the other three groups to dance.  In 2012 the tune allocated to one group was “Mount Gabriel Reel” which Ted Sannella suggested for his dance “Pioneer Polka Quadrille” mentioned above.  It's a great dance, but I knew I wouldn't get inexperienced dancers through the second half of it, so I rewrote it with an easier second half and called it “Mount Gabriel Reel”.

Other polka dances include “Polka Quadrille” if you really like polkaing, “Danish Double Quadrille”, “Goathland Square Eight” and “Demon's Rant”.  “Swedish Masquerade” has both a waltz and a polka.

Pins and Needles        Hexham Races: Music in PDF, MIDI and ABC formatPrint this danceTop of page

Source: English traditional
Format: Longways duple
Music: 32 bar jigs

A1:Ones right-hand turn half-way, keep hold, give left to opposite sex in a wave; all set right and left.  Left-hand turn neighbour half-way, twos link up; all set right and left.
A2:Left-hand turn half-way with neighbour again; all set.  Ones right-hand turn half-way, keep hold, face each other and set.
B1:Without letting go, ones lead down, without changing sides the man turn the lady under and take a cross-hand hold.  Come back setting Right, Left, Right, Left to finish below the twos; twos move in (preferably also with a setting step).
B2:Ballroom hold: dance once round the other couple with a pas de bas step.

Moving into the wave at the start is the hardest part to explain — the second man has to face down and move up backwards — so after I've got them there I say “Now you know where you're going, let's go back and do that again, in just four steps”.  It's no longer a problem.

Usually people ignore everyone when they set, in which case I say, “That was terrible.  Go back and do it again, and as you set to the right the ones smile at your partner, and as you set to the left you all smile at your neighbour. Go!  Now left-hand turn your neighbour half-way — and you smile to the right, and smile to the left”.  It's not that they're unwilling to do it; they just never thought of it, maybe too busy taking in the instructions and acting on them.  Every so often when I'm calling I say, “Don't forget, this is social dancing — you're dancing with people, not cogs in a big machine”.  And to be honest, I'm not very good at smiling myself!

Make sure when the men turn the ladies under they don't change sides — it's not a Box the Gnat.

The only other English dances I know which use pas de bas are “Blareham Reel” by John Smart from the booklet “Seven Essex Dances” and “The Royal Albert” from CDM7.

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