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Contras - whether proper or improper, duple, triple or beckett, walked, galloped or waltzed.

Alcuin's Contra
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 2 - Village 16)

Bodice and Doublet
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 1 - Summer 14)

Catapult Contra
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 2 - Country 14) 

Cinderella's Waltz Contra
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 2 -  Village 8)

Contra Quintain
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 2 - Town 8)

Cozy Contra
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 1 - Summer 2)

Greetings at the Crossroads
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 1 - Summer 4)

His Majesty's Maggot
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 2 - Country 5)

My Lady's Minuet
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 2 - Town 14)

Reconciliation Reel
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 1 - Winter 12)

Rings and Swings
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 1 - Winter 2)

Take Eyes
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 1 - Autumn 2)

The Shepherd's Trials
(extracted from Lost Dances of Earthly Delights, Volume 1 - Winter 10)

 Round with Comers Court 10.

Deck the Halls

Form a Becket formation contra set of as many couples as will, partners side-by-side, holding hs in long line. Start either foot. Prepare for brisk walking and setting steps. Finish sequence with couples having progressed one place acw around the set. Dance the 16-bar walking sequence as many times as will (4 times will exhaust the verses, but these can then be repeated).

Deck the halls with boughs of holly. A1  Forward with 4 steps raising joined hs to touch opposites hs.
Fa la la la la, la la la la                          With hs held high and wide, set right and left.
'Tis the season to be jolly.              A2   Retire with 4 steps, lowering arms but holding hs in line.
Fa la la la la, la la la la                           Set right and left.
Don we now our gay apparel.          B     Those who can change r.h. with own gender on r.diagonal.
Fa la la la la, la la la la                           All change l.h. across set with opposite gender person.
Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol.             Those who can change r.h. to change on r.diagonal.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.                          L.h. to change across and finish side-by-side with partner facing new opposite.

The text is a very free translation of Nos Galan, a Welsh dance-carol or canu penillion traditionally sung at New Year's Eve. The tune spread more widely in the 18thcentury and was used in a violin and piano duet by Mozart. It turned into a traditional English Christmas song as part of the Victorian re-invention of Christmas in the late 19thcentury - a phenomenon also experienced in the America of that time. The first English version appeared in The Franklin Square Song Collection edited by J.P.McCaskey in 1881. There have been many subsequent versions- and I've here added on a Latin verse by Stanford Miller.

It is not known what steps were danced to the original Welsh carol - only that it was in a circle around a harp, probably involved dancers contributing verses and the harp responding with the chorus. Dancers might have had to drop out when invention failed and nonsense syllables such as Fa-la-la-la-la might have substituted for a harp in the absence of a harpist. I have taken the liberty of devising a dance in an English formation not often used these days but once common - a longways set where instead of having partner opposite you in the other line of set, your partner is beside you (called the 'Beckett' formation in modern-day Amercian contra dancing). To avoid confusion in the chaining part of the dance I suggest dancers not let go of their r.h. after the change on the diagonal till they have taken l.hs across the set, and not release their l.h. after the pull across the set till they have again taken r.h. on the diagonal. Couples progress somewhat magically acw around the set, so those who were on the right hand end of one line will, after once through the dance, be on the left hand end of the opposite line facing back towards original side. If 4 couples in small set (2 couples on each side) then by the time 4 verses are sung (would need to include the Latin one) all would be back in starting place. The dance can, however, be enjoyed by many more couples for much longer by just repeating verses. You can even dance it with a very big group of beginners, avoiding confusion at the ends of the column by bending the coloumn so the bottom joins the top in what becomes 2 concentric but facing circles with everyone dancing all the time.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Form longways duple minor sets of as many as will facing partner. Start r.f.. Prepare for walking step throughout. Finish sequence with 1s having progressed as a couple one place down set and 2s one place up set. Dance the 20-bar jig-walking sequence as many times as will.

God rest you merry, gentlemen,   A1      Long lines go forward
Let nothing you dismay,                        and back.

Remember Christ our Savior        A2     With 8 steps circle left below (1s with 2s), finishing pulling corner/neighbour into ballroom hold.
Was born on Christmas day,

To save us all from Satan's pow'r  B     Swing neighbour, finish W on right of M facing down, sliding out into holding hs.
When we were gone astray:              
O tidings of comfort and joy          C      With 4 steps down the hall 4-in-line, then with 4 steps turn as a couple, W under M's r.h.,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.                 With 4 steps return back up in a line-of-4 then with 4 steps 1s dropping inside hs and wheel back into contrary lines.

In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge hears this carol being sung outside his door and, shunning all that's cheerful, threatens to hit the singer with a ruler if he does not desist immediately. It is indeed a merry number for a tune in a minor key. There are, however, no 'merry gentlemen' in the song. A comma can be very important. The verse does not exhort 'merry Gentlemen' to rest, but rather reassures ('rest merry') the shepherds (verse 5) who are frightened by the sudden appearance of an angel. There are many versions, including parodies. The one here printed is from William Sandys' 1833 Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, though omitting, as is common, Sandys' second verse (not essential to the story). The lyrics probably go back to those sung by the municipal watchmen in Old England, the waits. The tune to which the carol was originally sung is unknown but today it is nearly always sung to one known as the 'London tune', first printed in 1846 and given its present form in Bramley and Stainer's Christmas Carols, New and Old, 1871. This tune to which the carol is sung today had already seen service carrying many other carols and songs in England and North America, and has been traced back to a ballad on the London earthquake of 1580 - and even earlier to a continental European origin.

The dance is in a common 18thcentury form, a longways duple improper - the staple formation of modern New England contra dancing. If you slide smoothly from the swing into holding hands four-in-line you can enjoy an uplifting sense of fellowship as you march down the hall singing the chorus.

N.B. For an easier version, stay in waist-shoulder hold with your neighour as you march down, wheel 1/2; about as a couple, and return in the same hold, only sliding into holding hands when back in long lines on the side. For a slightly more challenging version at the end instead of just facing across after returning back up have the 1s in the centre be assisted by the 2s on the outside into a mirror hand caste up and the long way around into progressed position in line.

In Dulci Jubilo


Form a double circle of as many couples as will, M on inside, W outside, facing along l.o.d. holding inside hs. Start l.f.. Prepare for doubles and singles, always starting on alternate feet. Finish sequence with M having progressed 2 places along the l.o.d. and W 2 places against the l.o.d.. Dance the 16-bar walking sequence as many times as will.


In dulci jubilo


Starting l.f. double forward (l,r,l,together).

Let us our homage show:


Starting r.f. double back and face partner (r,l,r,together).

Our hearts delight in pleasure


Greet partner with singles left and right.

Lies in praesepio;


L.f. double on l.diagonal pass partner r.sh and turn over l.sh.

And like a bright star shineth


Facing new opposite, greet with singles right and left.

Matris in gremio


With r.f. double on r.diagonal pass opp. l.sh. and turn about over r.sh

Alpha es et O!


Take 2h and cw turn new partner with l.f. double.

Alpha es et O!

With r.f. double turn same acw back to original side.


This carol, in its original 1400 Leipzig manuscript form, was a mixture of Latin and medieval German (technically known as the macaronic style) and was said to have been taught by angels to German mystic Heinrich Suso, who then joined them in a dance of worship. English versions started appearing as early as the 16th century. One made in 1837 by Robert Lucas de Pearsall, an English lawyer, musician and amateur archaeologist, who converted to Catholicism and spent the last 30 years of his life in Germany, goes as follows:


Good Christian men, rejoice / With heart and soul and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say; / Jesus Christ is born today!
Ox and ass before him bow, / The is in the manger now;
Christ is born today! Christ is born today!

Good Christian men, rejoice, / With heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss, / Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has op'ed the heav'nly door / And man is blessed evermore.
- Chorus -

Good Christian men, rejoice, / With heart and soul and voice;
Now ye need not fear the grave; / Jesus Christ is born to save.
Calls you one and calls you all, / To gain his everlasting hall.
- Chorus -


In this dance, to match the provenance of this carol, we have late 16th century almain footwork (varying combinations of single and double steps alternating starting foot) - as in the English Inns of Court dances. The figures in each dance sequence offer an opportunity to make a double progression. To reduce the risk of confusion in the double progression, the dance leader might point out before the dancing starts that the M will be progressing continually along the l.o.d. and W against the l.o.d. and might invite everyone to look to their left and wave at their future partners.


It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (3/4 tune)


Form as many couples-facing-couples as will, either in a Sicilian circle or randomly around the floor. Start l.f. Prepare for travelling waltz steps. Finish sequence having progressed as a couple on to face a new couple. Dance the 32-bar waltz sequence as many times as will.


It came upon the midnight clear,


With 4 waltz steps r.h. star with opposite couple.

That glorious song of old,


With 4 waltz steps r.sh. gypsy opposite, take 2h open hold.

From angels bending near the earth


M raises l.arm, turns W cw over her r.sh., M lowers his r.arm behind her back and they wheel once about.

To touch their harps of gold:


M, letting go with r.h., goes under her r.arm to swap places then, with W going to right under M's raised l.h., swap back.

'Peace on the earth, good will to men,


Holding hs in circle balance in and out then W r.h. chain across set

From heaven's all-gracious King!'


With 4 waltz step turn opposite l.h. once around till M facing in

The world in solemn stillness lay


M r.h. chain across to partner, turning her l.h., joining r.hs over l.

To hear the angels sing.


In skater's hold wheel or promenade to face new opposite.


This hymn was penned in the late 1840s by Edmund Hamilton Sears, a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, reportedly at the request of his friend, W. P. Lunt, a minister in Quincy, Massachusetts. It was first sung at the 1849 Sunday School Christmas celebration and was published in Boston's Christian Register in 1850. It first appeared in Britain in 1870 when Edward Bickersteth included it in his Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer, rewording the 5 th verse to remove the 'unbiblical' 'humanist' reference to a coming 'age of gold'. In the U.S. the carol is usually sung to the tune give above. This tune was written for the organ in 1850 by Richard Storrs Willis, then rearranged as a hymn by Uzziah Christopher Burnap. In Britain the carol is more commonly sung to a version of a traditional air, given on the next page.


This longer-than-average-carol is of a very common dance-tune length and structure - 32 bars, A1&2 then B1&2. Accordingly it supports well this full-figured country style waltz sequence (and indeed this sequence could be done to many other waltzes commonly used for dancing). If danced with a large number of dancers in a Sicilian circle formation  (that is, couple facing one couple, with backs to another couple, all around the room) and if you only sing the 5 standard verses to the carol, don't expect to progress all the way around back to where you began the dance - just enjoy the dance with your partner and five different opposite couples and then, if you wish, call for the carol and dance again. It is also worth noting that if danced as a Sicilian circle, the distance to promenade on to face a new opposite couple at the end of the sequence may not be very far, so in this situation you may simply wheeling on spot (M back, W forward). If danced as random couples on the floor (and such a mode adds a fun dimension to any dance program), the distance to promenade on may be considerable, so loose no time taking skater's hold with partner, straight away be on the look out for potential opposites, and if there is no free opposite readily apparent head towards the centre of the dance floor (this will increase your chances of meeting another free couple).


Jesus Born in Beth'ny


Form a closed Beckett formation contra set with lines of couples facing across a contra set and with a couple at each end of the set. Start sequence with either foot. Prepare for walking. Finish sequence with same partner having progressed 1 couples' place acw around set. There will be a new couple at the ends of the set, and all the other couples will be facing new opposites (having skipped one possible opposite couple- ie, a double progression). Dance the 32 bar reel sequence as many times as will.


Jesus born in Beth'ny,
Jesus born in Beth'ny


All go forward and back with 8 steps.

Jesus born in Beth'ny
And in a manger lay


Dsd opposite across the line of the set with 8 steps.

- Repeat above -


R.hs across with opposites 3/4; of way, from about 1/2; around starting to look up or down the column and reach out with l.h.



Lhs across with couple above or below and once around.

In a manger lay,
In a manger lay


R.sh. dsd the same opposite as you dsd before but this time up-and-down the line of the set.

Jesus born in Beth'ny
And in a manger lay


Take 4 hs and circle once around.

- Repeat above -


M swings same opposite W in a ballroom hold on M's side of set, opening out with W on M's r.h. side facing across set.



W chain across to partner, who sweeps them into a courtesy turn (preferably in waist-shoulder hold) and progresses them one couples place acw around the set.


This carol was included by John Jacob Niles, collector of  'I wonder as I wander', in Ten Christmas Carols from the Southern Appalacian Mountains, 1932.  Though often sung in an AB format, it is commonly played instrumentally AABB - for example by the Baltimore Consort on their A Bright Star Day CD, where the tune is called 'A Christmas Jig'. For this dance the AABB structure is needed. Singers can either  repeat every verse or leave the repeat to the instruments.


This jazzy tune is matched with an American style contra dance in the Beckett formation of couples standing beside their partner on one side or another of a column. In each sequence there are effectively three meetings with the same opposite (a holy trinity allusion?). The first is doing a do-si-do across the set, the second is doing the do-si-do up-and-down the set and the third is doing the swing. Accordingly, if dancers take note of their opposite on their first encounter and keep simply returning to them, the dance will flow easily. The dance can be done to any 64 beat walking tune, and if being danced in a non-Christmas context might take the name 'Triple Tryst' in honour of the 3 assignations you manage with each successive opposite.


Variant: It is possible to do this same dance in two large concentric but facing circles, partner beside you in the same circle facing another couple in the other circle. In this formation there is no need to have anyone resting on the ends, and, at the end of the sequence you wheel on only as far is necessary to face off with the next couple in the contrary circle.


Joy to the World

Form an improper duple minor contra set or a Sicilian circle of as many couples-facing-couples as will. Start either foot. Prepare for both stately slow steps and brisk walking steps. Finish sequence having progressed as a couple one place in original direction ready to start sequence with new opposite couple (if in contra formation, when a couple 'pops' out the end of set they rest one turn before dancing back in other direction). Dance the 20-bar walking sequence as many times as will.


Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!


Give r.hs across and with 8 slow steps star nearly once around with opposites, W letting opposite M (1M 2W, 2M 1W) catch them up into high promenade hold.

Let ev'ry heart
prepare him room,


With 8 normal steps couples head up or down (1M promenades 2W down set while 2M promenades 1W up) .

And heaven and nature sing!
And heaven and nature sing!


Staying on own side switch direction and with 8 normal steps promenade other way back.

And heaven and heaven
and nature sing!


L.hs across with original opposites to star with 8 normal steps nearly once around, then turn out to face original direction to give r.h. up or down to new opposite.


This hymn was written by Isaac Watts, born into an Independent (ie Congregational Church family) in 1674. It is said that at the age of 15 he complained to his father that church hymns were boring and meaningless and, challenged by his father to do better, Watts wrote a new hymn every week for the next two years. By the end of his life he had written more than 600 and is remembered today as 'the father of English hymnody'. As with many of Watts' hymns, this one from 1719 is a Christianised version of a Psalm - in this case Psalm 98, 'The Psalms of David'. The verses were not set to music until nearly 100 years later, when, in the 1830s, the American composer and music educator Lowell Mason put them to a tune he ascribed to 'George Frederick Handel'. Watts and Handel had indeed known each other when they lived in London. For the next 100 years people believed the tune to be Handel's, it certainly having echoes of the Messiah choruses, but it is now thought to be Mason's own Handelian-influenced composition. The tune is named after the city of Antioch, Syria, where believers were, according to Acts 11:26, first called 'Christians'.


To match the triumphant feel of the opening line of each of this carol's verses, beginning the dance sequence each time with a very stately, half-pace 8 step star. Just as the carol then swings into a quicker mode for the remainder of each verse, so does the dance. For novice dancers it may be best to do this dance in Sicilian circle formation so that dancers don't have to change roles at end of a contra set and the 'original direction' in which dancers are facing at the beginning of the dance is the same for every sequence.


Masters in this Hall


Form an improper longways duple minor contra set for as many couples as will, 1M and 2W facing up, 1W and 2M down. Start either foot. Prepare for brisk walking steps. Finish sequence having progressed one place up or down set in original direction. Dance as either 32 or (omitting A2 part) 24-bar jig as many times as will.


Masters in this hall
Hear ye news today,


1M chase 2W cw down round 2M, 1W continuing round 1W to M's place, 1M cutting between 2M and 1W to 2W's place.

Brought from over seas
And ever you I pray.


2W chase 1M cw round 2M, 1M continuing round 1W home, 2W cutting between 2M and 1W to original place.

- Repeat verse -(optional)


Taking r.hs across all set right and left then star cw 1/2; way.



Without relinquishing r.hs across, repeat setting and 1/2; star cw to arrive home.

Noel, Noel, Noel
Noel sing we clear!


2M chase 1W cw up round 1M, 1W continues round 2W to 2M's place, 2M cutting between 1M and 2W to 1W's place.

Holpen all the folk on earth
Born the Son of God so dear!


1W chase 2M cw round 1M, 2M continues round 2W home, 1W cutting between 1M and 2W to original place.

Noel, Noel,
Noel sing we loud


Taking r.hs across all set right then left then star 1/2; way.

God to day hath poor folk raised and cast a-down the proud.


Taking r.hs with partner, set right and left then 1/2; r.h. turn so 1M and 2W end up facing  down and 2M and 1W up.


The tune for this carol has a long association with dance. It was originally French and included in Raoul-Augur Feuillet's 1703 Recueil de contredanse along with a longways proper dance, 'La Matelotte', which Feuillet had himself written to go with the tune. In 1710 John Essex published a translation of this work, For the Further Improvement of Dancing, in which the dance is given as 'The Female Saylor'. It is unclear, however, whether the tune entered English folk tradition at that point, or whether it was reintroduced latter - possibly by a certain Edmund Sedding who is said to have obtained it in the mid-19th century from a French organist. Whatever the case, sometime around 1860 William Morris put his carol 'Master in this Hall' to the tune. A hundred years later Pat Shaw had a look at Feuillet's dance as it appeared in John Essex's book and published a version in his 1965 Six Simple Country Dances.


The dance offered here is different from both Feuillet's original dance and Pat Shaw's revision. The longways improper formation was chosen to give all the men an opportunity to act as 'Masters in this Hall' towards each woman they meet, until the tables are turned on them. The dance is simple if dancers remember that all the action is clockwise, that the man always starts the chasing, that whoever is doing the chasing takes the short cut, and that the right hand needs to come up towards each double chase ready for the balance and star (if doing the full 32-bar version). Indeed, although the tune itself is intrinsically and historically 32 bars, if dancing to choristers singing the 24-bar version (with no repeats of the verse), then you can shorten the dance by omitting the balance and star figure in A2. If the chasing in A1 and B1 looks to challenging, then it can be replaced with a simple 16 step chase all the way around to home.


Merry Christmas


Form a Sicilian circle of as many couples as will in high promenade hold facing another couple (offset a little to left). Start l.f.. Prepare for schottische steps and step-hops. Finish sequence back in high promenade with partner after having greeted two other couples. Dance the 16-bar schottische sequence as many times as will.

Sun gleams bright, hearts are light,


Take 2 schottische steps forward to draw level (r.shs near) with opposite couple, W in front of her partner.

Merry, merry Christmas.


Retaining partner's l.h. but releasing partner's r.h. greet opposites (same sex opposite then their partner) with r.hs (with each 1 beat to take hs, 1 beat to shake)

Bells ring out, children shout


Release these opposites, resume high promenade with partner, and take 2 schottishe steps on in original direction to greet new opposites in same fashion.

Merry, merry, merry Christmas.


Again release partner's r.h. and shake hs with opposites.

Sheep in fold, shine like gold,


Retain l.hs with partner r.hs with new opposite (M with W) in a squashed circular chain (W back-to-back in centre) and with M leaning out and with 2 schottische steps, wheel cw as close as possible to once around.

As the day is dawning.


Release l.hs, and r.h. turn opposite once around.

Riding by, stockmen cry


Retaining opposite's r.h. resume l.h. hold with partner and wheel the line-of-4 again.

'Welcome, Christmas morning.'


Again release l.hs, and r.h.turn opposite once around, finishing releasing opposite and resuming high promenade hold with partner facing original direction.


Here is another Australian carol by writer John Wheeler and composer William James. Though not as well-known as 'Carol of the Birds', and though focussing more on people than landscape, this tune is equally evocative. To match the carol's interest in the social side to Christmas, here is a dance which has couples greeting other couples and with every exclamation of 'Merry, merry Christmas' couples shake hands - first men with men women with women, then men with women and vice-versa.

The dance features in its B part a figure used in the German folk dance 'Kreuzkönig'. Though this German dance is in a triple-time ländler rhythm (waltz-like step), this dance is done with a schottische step. To get the most of the wheeling in line it is recommended that M lean out and raise their l.elbow to make a straight line with their l.forearm and partners' l.arm (their joined l.hs just below his chin) and the W lean back a little against the joined r.arms behind them. To avoid colliding with the other pair when two-hand turning opposite, pull a little away from the others, and to make sure you get completely around with just 4 steps take each other's l.elbow in your l.h.or twist vertical r.forearms around the opposites vertical r.forearm - or both.

Variant: A simple alternate figure for the B part is a 4 hand chain, 4 steps for each hand, always giving hand to person of opposite sex, r.h. to opposite, l.h. to partner, r.h. to opposite then l.h. to partner and into high promenade hold ready to travel on to new opposites.


Veinticinco di Diciembre


Form a Sicilian circle of as many couples-facing-couples as will. Start either foot. Prepare for walking and clapping. Finish sequence having progressed 4 places in original direction along or against the l.o.d.. Dance the bouncy 16-bar jig sequence as many times as will.


Veinticinco de diciembre,

Fum, fum, fum!


Giving inside hs to opposite, lead out with 4 steps then, with 3 steps accompanied by 3 claps, turn in and about and change to other inside hs.

Veinticinco de diciembre,

Fum, fum, fum!


Lead back towards partner with 4 steps then clap with partner r.h., l.h., both hs, finishing clasping M's r.h. W's l.h. and turning to face opposite (so joined hs become inside hs).

Nacidoha por nuestro amor,

El Niño Dios, el Niño Dios;

Hoy de la Virgen María

En esta noche tan fría


1s (facing along the l.o.d., acw around double circle) go under an arch made by 2s (facing other way) to start a dip and dive past 4 couples, 4 steps for each arch - whether under or over.

Fum, fum, fum!


Facing 5 th couple clap r, l, both with opposite and clasping inside hs with opposite (M's r.h. W's l.h.) open out to side ready to lead out.


This is one of the few Spanish carols to be popular in the English-speaking world. The recurring 'Fum, fum, fum!' may be an imitation of an instrument - perhaps the strumming of a guitar. Here, to add to the dramatic Spanish flavour, we have complimented the refrain with clapping. As the dance sequence could happily be enjoyed through many repeats, we recommend following the original Spanish verses with English versions of the same verses, such as those offered here.

This fun dances combines something of the floor patterning of the such early English Country dances as 'Lull me beyond thee' and 'Hit and miss', with some of the clapping and waves you might expect in an Australian bushdance.

 Rough Seas  

(for full instructions, music etc. see Odd Delights)

Form duple minor proper longways set.

Start r.f. 

Dance as duple minor

Play any 32 bar jig set, intro. then AABB x n.



1M and 2W (1st corners) set (r. & l.) and ½ r.h. turn into each other’s place, then 1M and 2M ½ l.h. turn (into each other’s place) and set, possibly with a rigadoon step, across set at bottom


1W and 2W (at top of set) set and ½ l.h. turn, then 1W and 2W (on 1st corner axis) ½ r.h. turn into each others place then set, possibly with a rigadoon step,  to each other


Circle left then using 2s (who let go of their partner) as a pivot 1s lead up through their neighbours, release their own partner’s hand and enjoy a mirror assisted cast ¼ of the way around till neighbours too can release hands and all four dancers are in a line, 2s facing out back-to-back with partner in middle, 1s on opposite ends facing in. If the assisted cast is brisk, there will be time once in a line for all to ‘foot it’ to the one they are facing.


Starting r.sh. to neighbour do a nearly a complete hey for 4, but when 1s face each other in the middle a second time (from improper side – on way back to own side), they l.h. turn each other 1 and ½ while moving down the set, and when the 2s shortly after this face each in the middle for the second time (having completed their penultimate end loop with a phantom opposite), they l.h. turn each other ½ way to propers side, with 1M swinging in towards new 2W ready to start sequence again.


Choreographies which have everyone swinging in the same line usually lead dancers into either cramped swings, lots of bumps with neighbours or withdrawal from the main line to avoid collisions, so although such choreographies are part of many bush and ceilidh dance traditions, they are usually avoided in modern contra and English country compositions. In this composition, however, I have been able to have dancers enjoy a satisfying l.h. turn with their partner all in the same line, by having the 1s turn out of phase with the 2s. Not only do the 1s start their turn earlier than the 2s, so have time for a 1½ turn moving down while the 2s have time only for the needed ½ turn, the dancer-end of the rotating axes should not need to bump into the dancer-end of any other couple’s axis.


Though I had originally envisaged the lead up and cast in B1 from the circle to a line of 4 to be expansive and fully use all 8 counts, I appreciate my friend Michael Poole’s observation that experienced dances may not need 8 counts to get into their new position—and if they can do it in 4 counts, they will have 4 count left over to set in the orientation before the 4 person hey in B2.


The Rewind Waltz

(for full instructions, music etc, see Odd Delights)


Form a Sicilian circle of couples facing couples, 1s starting facing acw, 2s cw.  

Prepare for travelling waltz and balance steps.

Start either foot.



Play any 32 bar waltz set, intro. then AABB x n.



With 4 waltz steps mirror 2 hand turn opposite (starting 1s between - 1M and 2W acw, 1W and 2M cw)


Releasing hands with opposite and taking inside hands with partner, do with 4 waltz steps arching waves on same route with same opposites – starting 1s going between as 2s arch over, then 1s retire arching as 2s retire under to finish all back in place.


Turning in to take 2 hands with partner and with men pushing then pulling their partners, poussette with 4 waltz steps acw around this couple so as to finish one place progressed and to open out facing original direction.


Taking hands with new opposite couple circle with 3 waltz steps cw 3/4 around to face in or out of set then release hands from circle, pull past opposite by r.sh., to momentarily take hands in a wave (r.h. with original opposite gender opposite, l.h. with same gender dancer) and balance forward with 1 waltz step.


With 1 waltz step push back from wave into former circle, and with 3 waltz steps circle 3/4 back to the right, then with 2 waltz steps circle back to the right (acw).


With 4 waltz steps poussette back on previous zig zag track (start M push again) around original opposites.


With original opposites and with next 4 waltz steps, do arching waves in exchanged roles, so 2 go between/under and arch back, while 1 arch over and retire under.


Releasing partner’s hand, with 4 waltz steps mirror 2h turn same opposites on same route (1M and 2W cw, 1W and 2M acw) - the opposite direction to in A1 and this time once and a half around to progress.


The above dance is the result of playing with different ideas over a long period. In earlier, now discarded versions of the dance (under working titles ‘Trompe d’Oeil’ and ‘Poussetting Palindrome’) I tried to create a palindrome in which there was never a moment you are not holding at least one of your partners hands, but that deprived you of the opportunity to fully engage opposites and neighbours so led me on to the more socially satisfying form the dance takes above. In this final version you are usually, but not always, holding one hand with your partner.


Along the way to this final form, I tried to shape the ideas into satisfying a challenge from US Dance historian Alison Thompson to write a dance which satisfied the fabulously profound mixed-metaphor: ‘The Sieve of Time will Winnow the Wheat from the Chaff and Press the Vintage of Emperors from the Vintage of Peasants’, but although this challenge took me away from earlier forms of the dance, I was seeming to be led more in the direction of an hour glass than sieve – and indeed, I might subtitle this dance ‘The Hour Glass Waltz’.


In A1 you have the flowing of grains through a narrow aperture. In the first part of A2 you have the zig-zag tracks the larger final grains might make as they rattle on their way and in the second part of A2 you have the circle action of picking the time-piece up to tip it over. B1 opens with the time-piece being activated in reverse direction and for the rest of B2 the grains run back on themselves.


An image for the modern day, and one reflected in the alternate title, is of film of people waltzing which reaches a certain point and is then rewound.


This dance attempts to rise to all the main challenges posed by a palindrome (and there are conceivably several different sorts when it comes to dances). In a dance palindrome your have to make sure all the transitions work well (as the same limited figures need to come into and out of different figures in the first and second half of the dance), to make sure you are consistent in your palindromic imagery (so that if you decide to reverse not just figure order, but also direction with respect partner and direction with respect the set, then you do so throughout), to make sure the dance still works as a social dance (a mixture of partner and neighbour interactions, couple and group interactions etc) and to make sure it has a nice half-way moment of ‘reverse’ and to make sure its end flows neatly into a new beginning without repeating itself exactly.  This dance would score well. It is a ‘rewind’ sort of palindrome where at the end of A2, if you were to press rewind on the video, you would get the tracks traced in B1&B2 – without dancers needing to feel in the second part that they are going backwards (as all the figures are legitimate forward figures), and the fudge that is necessary to give the dance a development and the dancing couple new opposites is very discrete – you just do your final 2 hand turn a little quicker to go around a bit more than once so that 1s can ‘funnel through’ and meet a new couple.


Although it is easy now and again to forgot the appropriate up-coming figure, as you are nearly always holding at least one of your partner’s hands, so long as you don’t both have a mental block at the same time, all should be well. Indeed, it may prove a relatively easy dance for an experienced dancer to lead an inexperienced dancer through.


 Tempest through a Looking Glass

(for full instructions, music etc, see Odd Delights)


Form 4 couples in horseshoe. 2 top (no.1) couples facing down, between aisle of 2s in becket formation on side.

Start r.f.

Prepare for walking 

Dance as duple minor

Play any set of 32 bar walking tunes, intro. then AABB x n.



1s (tops) go down 4-in-line and bend line back (by mirror wheels as couples) to face neighbours / 1s with near side couple arch out over sides and reverese back.


Mirror circle on each side, starting with 1s going up (left side go acw, right side cw) / near hand star the other way (starting 1s down).


1s go 4 steps down single file holding neighour’s inside hand then twirl as couple while 2s on side go 8 steps single file up and turn inward ½ about / 1s return with neighbour 4 steps up the middle then with 4 steps rear couple arch forward over front couple as they reverse back under, then release neighbour and offer outside hand to new side, while 2s on side return with 8 steps single file down.


Give near hand to new opposites and mirror star new side neighbours, starting with 1s going up, then briskly slip circle in same group, starting with 1s going down and finishing releasing hands when just ¾ through the circle so 2s can slide a few steps up their own side of the set and 1s can cross as a couple with neighbouring couple while travelling down the set a little.


The allusions in the title of this dance are significant.


The ‘Tempest’ alludes to the family of dances which in the course of the 19th century were variously called ‘La Tempête’ or ‘The Tempest’. These were invariably ‘double’ contras, with pair of first couples progressing side-by-side down through or between pairs of second couples. In Jørgen Gad Lund’s 1823 version presented in Dances, Dancing and Dancing Masters, volume VII as La Tempête (1) and in most of the later versions which were called ‘The Tempest’ and which have been presented in Dances, Dancing and Dancing Masters, volume VIII as The Tempest (1), (2) and (3), the 2s lined up not in front of the downward facing 1s, but to the side, facing the other 2s across the set. So it is with this dance.  As in these versions of the dance, when the 1s reach the bottom of the set and have no one to face they can fall onto the near side line, ready, after once out, to start back up as 2s and conversely when the 2s reach the top of the set and have on one to face they can fall into facing down the middle, ready, after once out, to start travelling down as a 1.


This ‘Tempest’ is ‘through a looking glass’, because unlike all those historic versions, in this one all the action is mirror image. There is also an allusion in this expression to the title of one of Lewis Carroll’s best love nonsense stories. Lewis Carroll loved puzzles and this dance proposes a solution to the puzzle of how to have mirror action throughout a dance which has ‘Tempest’ like formation and figures, and still have it work on several different axes and be socially and physically satisfying.


The dance can be enjoyed by as many as will, but if you have more than about 16 couples wanting to dance, you will have to, as you do in any uneven duple-minor contra, either drop the expectation that everyone will get to be 1s for the same amount of time, or play a lot more 8 lots of 32 bars.

If you want to make sure everyone gets a turn at being 1s all the way down, start the dance with 4 minor sets – i.e. 4 couples on each side and 4 rows of 1s – 16 couples all together. You will all get back to place after 8 times through 32 bars.


If you want to make sure everyone gets to dance from every position, then start with just 3 minor sets – i.e. 3 couples on each side and 3 ranks of 2 couples in the middle, and make it that the 1s don’t chassée across the set after the last circle, they just walk down the set a little taking hands where they are with their neighours, ready to start the dance from a new side – and eventually a new top position. After 14 times 32 bars everyone will be home. With more music this will also work with 5 or 7 minor sets, but unless you introduce a switch at top, bottom or somewhere on route if you have an even number of minor sets starting, you will return to the same top position as before, and some of the people you dance with will be in the same position as before.


I’m debted, as so often is the case, to the Bordonian Heritage Dancers for helping me test out the timings and flow on this Looking Glass Tempest and for Jason Tankard for encouraging me to give the 2s a counterpart role to the 1s down and back action in B1- and thus resulted the 2 ‘whiles’ that are now in the instructions at that point. This addition not only gives the 2s a little more dancing than they would otherwise have, gives the dance greater ‘depth’ and reinforces the ‘through the looking glass’ effect, but it also helps the 2s be ready to present the appropriate ‘near hand’ for the subsequent star that opens B2.