What is English Country Dancing?

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English country dancing (ECD) is a traditional form of dance that incorporates as many dancers as are willing to join in. It is very similar to American square or contra dancing, but with greater variety in both the figures and the character of the music. There is no fancy footwork needed and the steps are extremely easy: it’s essentially walking through space in patterns or “figures.”

Every dance is taught and prompted by a caller, and no prior knowledge is necessary. The dances most frequently involve long lines of couples—a “couple” being any two people dancing together as partners—interacting with other couples on the dance floor. It is not necessary to come with a partner; experienced dancers partner with newcomers, and partners change throughout the program. Everybody dances with everyone else, and all contribute to the fun. For these reasons, it is excellent for building community and togetherness, and ECD groups around the world continue the social tradition by welcoming everyone, of all ages and all levels of dance experience. Everyone can join in and it’s easy to learn!

English country dancing, as the name implies, was the social dance of the country folk in England and the Colonies, popular from the mid-1500s up through the 1820s. Today’s programs include dances from the whole spectrum of English dancing, from earliest published dances of the English Renaissance, to wonderful new compositions written today in the traditional style. They run the gamut from elegant to rowdy, stately to silly, simple to complex, and have fun, varied tunes to accompany them.

In the past, dancing was more than just a popular pastime: it was a way to socialize; to meet new people and hear new gossip. Before television, before radio, and in towns that lacked theaters and racetracks, dancing was the primary form of entertainment. But country dancing wasn’t only for farmers and milkmaids. Henry VIII enjoyed country dances, as did George Washington more than 200 years later. Dancing was a favorite pastime of Jane Austen, as evidenced by her novels where dancing is an important part of the story.

In fact, if you’ve ever watched a Regency-era historical drama, such as any film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novels, then you’ve likely seen some English country dancing. Though there’s some discussion among dance historians about whether some of these dances were still done in Jane Austen’s time, or if they had gone out of fashion and been replaced with new turning dances like the polka, English country dancing is what most people think of for Austen’s time. Some of the film adaptations capture the dances really well, even doing them as they are written traditionally (at least to a point). Here’s one of our favorites: the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice, and the dance “Young Widow.” (And see more of our favorite dances from films on our English Country Dance in Films page.)

Culver City English Country Dance, our CDC affiliate, welcomes everyone to their dances! Come alone, with a friend, or with a partner. We meet every second and fourth Sundays from 3 to 6 p.m., at Lindberg Park Stone House, 5041 Rhoda Way (on the corner of Rhoda and Ocean Drive), in Culver City.

Culver City’s English country dances are always accompanied by live music, performed by respected traditional dance musicians. Instruments range from violins and cellos, to fifes and drums, to keyboard and accordion. Every dance is taught and prompted by some of the best dance leaders Southern California has to offer, allowing everyone from first-time movers to experienced dancers to enjoy themselves. (See who’s scheduled to call and play at our upcoming CCECD dances.)

No partner or experience is necessary to dance with us. Dress is casual (and the hall gets warm in summer), but please bring clean, low-heeled, soft-soled shoes to change into.

In addition to our regular social dances, there are many formal and fancy dress balls and special events held throughout the year, including our Playford-to-the-Present English Country Dance Ball. See our list of local balls here, or take a look at photos from previous years’ Playford-to-the-Present Balls.

Come join us in Culver City!

Culver City English Country Dance executes A Trip to Richmond, or The Lass of Richmond Hill, at our annual holiday celebration, December 2019. (The paper crowns are part of a Christmas tradition in England that we enjoy replicating here.) Frank Hoppe on violin, Laura Osborn on flute, and Jeff Spero on piano provide the music.

Want to see more dance videos? Visit our Videos page on the CCECD website, or subscribe to our YouTube channel. You can also see more of our favorite dances from films on our English Country Dance in Films page.