New to English Country Dance?

If you are unfamiliar with English country dance but feel you may be interested in giving it a ‘whirl,’ below you will find some helpful questions and answers.  The most important answer is “Yes!”  Please do come and join us for one of our Thursday evening sessions (see the Dance Schedule tab for dates).  We are confident you will enjoy it — and want to return! 

What is English Country Dance?

English Country Dance (ECD) is a form of social folk dancing.  Though it has its roots firmly in history – being enjoyed from the 1500’s and up through the centuries – it has evolved and grown from that time into a thriving, active – and tremendously fun – activity.  And the best part is–everyone can do it!

ECD had its origins in Renaissance England (the Minuet, for example) and remained popular into the 19th century in Europe and America.  If you have seen film adaptations of Jane Austen novels, for example Pride and Prejudice or Emma, then you have seen forms of English country dance performed.  This kind of dancing was revived in the early 20th century in Britain and the United States, and thrives today in community dance groups across these countries.  The Country Dancers of Westchester (CDW) is one of these groups; links to some others may be found under the “Links We Like” tab on the menu above.  There are also links available there for more detailed references on the dance, and its history and evolution.

What is a typical dance evening like?

CDW features live musicians at every dance – either our excellent house band, Serendipity, or a guest band.  We have three resident teachers and occasional guest teachers, one of whom leads each dance.  Some of the dances you will learn are historical – dating back to the dancing masters of 17th and 18th century England – and some are contemporary.  All English Country Dancing is done with a partner, but you need not come with one.  Our custom is to change partners for each new dance.  It is perfectly acceptable for women to ask men to dance, or for two people of the same gender to dance together.  Do join in, and know that the experienced dancers are glad to dance with you, happy to share their enjoyment and enthusiasm with new dancers.  Our typical dances are about three hours, with a refreshment break in the middle and from ten to twelve different dances on each program that vary from week to week.  But though the dances and accompanying music are different, the various figures that comprise them are not – it is in the way figures are chosen and combined to specific music that makes each dance unique.

Patterns of the dance:

You will dance with your partner, but also with all the other dancers as you move through the patterns of the dance. Almost always, at the end of each round, you will have progressed along the line of dance either up toward the music or away from it, depending on your particular position in the set, and the pattern will begin again. When you reach either the top of the line or the bottom, you will wait out one round (sometimes two) of the dance and then begin to progress in the opposite direction from the one you moved before.

Tunes and Timing:

The beautiful and varied music is one of the greatest pleasures of English Country Dance, with each individual dance usually set to its own tune. We match our steps to the beat of the music, and learn to dance to the musical phrase. If we fall behind or forget a figure, we don’t try to catch up, but begin the next movement in time with the music and the other dancers.

Will I know what to do?

We start with a “walk-through” of each dance.  If you don’t understand an instruction at this time, ask the teacher – others may benefit from the answer, too.  During the dance itself, the teacher guides the dancers through the required movements by announcing each new move just before it is to be performed.  Experienced dancers will also give you cues by their body language, so it is important to keep looking at your fellow dancers, especially your partner.  Eye contact is characteristic of English Country Dance.  Cues can also come from other dancers’ hands and arms.  When we turn another dancer with one or both hands we use enough mutual resistance to achieve a balanced tension, so that the turn feels satisfying and is well timed – but another benefit is that in releasing you, an experienced dancer can also “lead you” into your next figure.

The most important thing to remember is to relax and enjoy the dance!  Everyone goofs some of the time, and all of us were beginners once.  Just smile and go on with the dance and you will soon find you have achieved it.  And most importantly, come back again! Each time you return you will become more familiar with the figures and patterns and the dances – and we will look forward to seeing you!

Do I have to come with a partner?

Absolutely not!  It is wonderful if you come accompanied, but our custom is to change partners for each dance regardless.  If you come on your own, you will have no want of willing partners!

Do I have to dance every dance?

You are free to participate in as many or as few of the dances as you feel comfortable doing.  (Unlike the balls of Jane Austen’s time, if you choose to sit one out, you are perfectly welcome to join in again for a later dance!)

What should I wear?

Come dressed in comfortable clothing, and know that it can become warm in the room with activity.  Shoes should be soft-soled so as to protect the wood floor of our venue; but again comfort is key.

When should I start?

Now!  Our dance season runs from mid-September through mid-May each year.  Start planning now by reviewing our upcoming Dance Schedule and marking your calendars to join us!

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