English Country Dance Santa Cruz

English Country Dance Basics

English country dances are “set dances,” meaning that rather than two partners dancing only with each other (as in ballroom dance), the partners form “sets” of various numbers and configurations, and couples in the set interact with each other. Some dances are for just two couples, while others are for as many as want to join. Some are configured in lines, some in circles, and some in squares.

Wherever the musicians stand is considered the top of the hall. The couple closest to them is the “top couple.” In a square configuration, this would make the couple opposite them the “bottom couple,” and the others “side couples."

 A caller calls out which moves to perform. While dances often have moves that are unique to them, there is a standard repertoire of moves that show up in many dances. Here are some of the most common.


Set and Turn

Here’s a basic move that shows up in many, many English country dances. Take one step to the right, then two in place, then one step to the left, then two in place, then walk four steps in a small clockwise circle.

Sometimes the call will be merely to “set,” which is just the first half of this move. Sometimes the call will be merely to “turn single,” which is the second half of this move. Usually, the two happen together.


Starting on your right foot, change places with your partner, then walk back on the same path to return home. (When coming back to your home position, you would traditionally begin that part of the move with your left foot, but some modern dancers use their right.) Note that you’re not walking a circular path. Instead, you come back on the same “track” you took to swap places.


The actual call for this move will be “Arm right” or “Arm left,” but you’ll usually do them both: first arm right, then arm left. If the caller simply says “Arming,” then this means to do them both. The move itself is very simple: Hook elbows with your partner and walk once around, then return home.