English Playford Style Dance Moves

John Playford collected dances and published them in several editions of ‘The English Dancing Master’ from 1650 to 1728. There were other published collections too e.g. Thompson.

Early editions had 2, 3 and 4 couple set dances. Gradually longways duple and triple minor dances dominated as seen at events in the assembly rooms of Jane Austin’s time.

The dances usually have their own tune and a characteristic move is ‘set and turn single’. Modern dances are still being written in this style

Set and turn single – This is a courtesy move to introduce you to a dancer. Set by stepping to the right and left (sometimes moving forward). The stepping pattern is right left right pause, left right left pause. Then turn single by turning alone usually to the right using four steps to ‘walk around a dustbin lid’.

Siding (Cecil Sharp) Facing partner throughout, take 4 steps forward passing partner by left shoulder, and 4 steps back passing right shoulder. So it’s like a half a left hand turn followed by half a right hand turn without holding hands.  (It can also be called curly, banana or swirl siding).

Siding (Pat Shaw) – Walk 4 small steps forward to be right shoulder to right shoulder with partner, reverse to place. It may be repeated left shoulder. (Into line siding)

Arming –Usually with your partner, link right arms at the elbow and go once around each other and then fall back to place. Repeat with the left arm.

Gypsy – Facing partner (or whoever instructed) circle round each other, keeping eye contact but no hand contact, until back to where started.

Honour – Face partner (or whoever instructed) take a small step to the right and give a little bow or curtsey. Often followed by step left and honour.

Cross and cast – A couple face across the set, dance across the set passing right shoulders and go down the outside of the set one place (the next couple move up a little to let them in).  

Pousette – A way for two couples to change places. Hold two hands with partner, and with one of each couple pushing, (man or lady as instructed) move forwards four steps slightly on the diagonal and reverse (pull) four steps into the other couple’s place. ( ‘push pull pousette’ )

Draw Pousette – As above but instead of pushing and pulling, one of each couple is instructed to draw or pull their partner in a half circle to change places with the other couple and end with partners on the opposite side of the set from which they started.


Figure of eight – One couple stands still whilst the other couple dance a figure of eight path around them. With the lady in the lead, go between the standing couple then round the person on the other side of the set, between them again and around the other stationary person to finish in starting place.

Half figure eight – This starts the same but end in your partner’s place after dancing round one stationary person.

Double figure of eight –Figure of eight danced by two couples at the same time around each other. It starts with one couple crossing (up or down as instructed) through the other couple as the other couple casts into their vacated place and then follows their figure of eight track until all are back in starting places.

Gates (gateposts) - typically in a longways set a working couple leads up round another couple (the posts) and back to where they started. The posts hold nearer hand with the working couple to help them round.

Heys (also known as reels) – umpteen variations!

Straight Heys – Usually done with three or four dancers who weave in and out along a straight line until they get back to place.

Grimstock Hey – In a 3 couple set, the men’s line and the ladies’ line do straight heys starting with the top couple leading in through the middle couple, (men passing right shoulders first while the ladies pass left shoulder first. It is also called a symmetrical or mirror-image hey.

Morris Hey - This is the exact opposite of a Grimstock Hey. The tops cast out to meet in the middle and lead down as the bottom couple cast up. The middles follow the tops.

Cross Hey – As far as the bottom two couples are concerned this is the same as a Grimstock Hey, but the top couple start by giving right hands and crossing over as they go down through the twos so that they go between the bottom two dancers of the opposite sex.

Circular Heys – These can be done easily in a large circle, weaving past two or more people as instructed (with or without hands). They also often occur in a longways set. The call might be 3 changes of a circular hey or shortened to 3 changes. In your group of four, weave past 3 people, starting by passing your partner right crossing the set, pass neighbour left up and down the set, and your partner right again across the set.



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