English Country Dance (or ECD) is a participatory
art form, welcoming to novices and experienced dancers alike. It
generally requires no complicated footwork, and you don’t need to
arrive with a partner to dance. An experienced leader guides
participants through each of the evening’s dances, until dancers
are comfortable moving through the patterns up to tempo. We dance
to lush live music, played on acoustic instruments.
ECD is choreographed community dancing, with repertoire
ranging from court dances of the 1650s through dances composed this
year. If you’ve seen any of the Jane Austen movies, you’ve glimpsed
some kinds of ECD. But, after centuries of development, ECD is hard
to categorize. English dances can vary from elegant to energetic,
from playful to solemn, and from stately to boisterous. Most
English country dances have a single, unique tune to which they are
danced; the mood and phrasing of that tune mirrors the physical
action of the choreography.
Our regular dance evenings usually consist of 14 to 16 dances,
and it’s customary to have a new partner for each dance. At the
start of each dance, participants invite one another to be
partners. (Anyone can invite anyone else to dance, regardless of
gender or experience.) Though English dances are written in many
formations, most begin with two couples facing each other, in a
long line of couples. Under the dance leader’s direction, these
couples perform a series of movements together, and then “progress”
to face a different couple, with whom they repeat the specified
movements in another “round” of the dance. Through repeated
progressions, dancers interact not only with their partner of the
moment, but with the entire dancing community!
Most figures in ECD are not physically taxing (though in some
dances you can skip enthusiastically, if you like). We have a
beginner’s session from 7:00 to 7:30 to acquaint newcomers and less
experienced dancers with the basic terminology and movements of
ECD. Although dances are done with a partner, and with other
dancers, most patterns are performed with little physical contact,
and no one “leads” or “follows.” Because ballroom position is
rarely used in ECD, holding hands – in rings or lines – is often
the only point of contact during a dance. But there is considerable
communication in ways other than touch: through eye contact, or the
tilt of a head, or a sweep of the arm.
The choreographed patterns, which are unique to each dance and
are taught by the dance leader, present an enjoyable challenge for
many of us. As dancers repeat a dance’s patterns, through many
rounds of the dance, the geometry of their movements forms a kind
of living kaleidoscope, satisfying to watch but even more pleasing
to be part of.
Those of us who love ECD find it deeply satisfying on many fronts.
It provides us with an artistic outlet, pleasurable exercise, a
warm social community, mental stimulation, and transcendant
aesthetic experiences. We invite you to join us!