Scottish Country Dance technique - Figures
This file provides brief descriptions of the figures used in Scottish Country
Dancing. As with all the pages in this section, it is intended as an aide-memoire
or a quick reference for someone needing to get instruction in a hurry. It is not
intended to replace personal tuition in a class, and nor should it be taken as
authoritative. I am just speaking from personal experience, and do not (and cannot)
speak for the RSCDS.
The figures fall into the following categories:
You will encounter these figures with these names all around the world - the
names in this section are those used by the RSCDS.
For a more authoritative/detailed description, please consult the RSCDS manual, or
ask your class teacher.
Er, well I will get round to this at some point... Here's a quick list, in no
particular order (and no guarantee of completeness):
- Right and Lefts
- Reels of 3/4/other on the sides/across/diagonally/interlocking/curved.
- Ladies/Mens Chain
- Grand Chain
- Hands round (circle)
- Hands across
- Figure of 8
- Lead down and back
- Cross/Change places
- Step up/down
- Advance and retire
- Double triangles
- Set and turn corners
- Turn corners and partner (corner-partner)
- Back to back (do-si-do)
- Poussette/All round poussette
Other figures you may hear used
These figure names are not standard, and have not been blessed the RSCDS. They
are collated from names I hear used all the time, and from a discussion on the
list (hence from suggestions of dancers around the world).
Or, as Ron Macnaughton put it in his original mail:
I've been to classes where a teacher gave a particular figure a
colourful name like "corner, partner, corner, partner" or "teapots",
but then said he wasn't supposed to use that term because it was not
Pity. Terms like that drastically simplify the learning process.
I think many common figures should get special names.
I find Ian McHaffie one of the best briefers and explainers because
he breaks the dance into 8 bar phrases which can be chunked, so for
any given dance I only have to remember 4 things. This is easier
than remembering 16 two bar phrases.
I wonder how many give up Scottish Dancing because they have trouble
remembering dances. Would memorable terms for more figures
simplify the learning process, and perhaps keep more people dancing?
I have tried to stick to figures which are in general circulation but
not RSCDS-sanctified (as codified by the manual); many of these have
come from the postings in the discussion. Please comment and suggest
additions, and I'll add it to Grand Chain in due course.
Note that quite often I describe a figure using a particular example of
people. While this is representative, the figure will still be the same
if the people actually in the positions specified are not the people
given in the figure. For instance, I may assume second couple in first
place, first couple in the middle in second place facing their first
corners, and third couple in third place. If instead it turns out that
third couple are in first place, second couple in second place facing
first corners and first couple in third place, that doesn't change the
figure. Just substitute the actual couple for those I use in the description
(so in the example, where I say 1C, read 2C, when I say 3C read 1C, etc).
There are various short-hand names for describing different types of reels of
there, often named after the first (or an early) dance in which they appeared.
- hands round. (I can't understand why the RSCDS dislike
this term - it can't get confused with hands across).
- 1C in 2nd place; 1L with 2C and 1M with 3C RH across,
then 1L with 3C and 1M with 2C, LH across. Also used
when dancing couple split and dance 3 hands across with
any opposing pairs.
- T-pots (5cpl) also known as T-pots and Samovar:
- 1s in 2nd place, 3s in 4th place. As T-pots, but 4
hands across in the middle. Often just LH across, then
dancing couples turn and cast.
- Well, if 3 hands across is T-pots, is 4 HA and back
coffee-pots? (Note I have never heard this used in earnest.)
- Banana reel:
- Interlocking reels around the perimeter of the set. Eg
The Wind on Loch Fyne, 1314.
- Star, Wheel:
- Hands across. Note "wheel" is very difficult to
distinguish from "reel", and star is a noun (so we don't
"star right", we "[dance a] right hand star").
- Corner, Partner:
- Turn corners and partner, ie turn 1st corner RH, partner LH,
2nd corner RH, partner LH.
- Cross, cast, half figure of eight:
- This turns up so often it is a single chunk for me (if
- Hello-Goodbye setting/Cauld Kail setting:
- Set to corners and partner. Appears in Cauld Kail.
- Half figure of eight, lady up, man down (or vice versa).
Very regional - I have never heard either of these used.
- Snowball/wakeup chain:
- Progressive Grand Chain, eg in MacDonald of the Isles.
Can also be double[-ended] - starting at both ends.
Some useful, but non-standard directions in which dancers can head.
- On the side, all three couples are heading in the same
direction as their partners. Eg in order 1,2,3, 1st
couple give RS to 2nd couple to start.
- On the side, couples go into the middle of the dance
at the same time as their partners. Eg, in order 1,2,3,
1L gives LS to 2L amd 1M gives RS to 2M to start.
- "Gates of Edinburgh" or "Crossover":
- 1C cross down through 2nd place to start mirror reels on
their partner's side of the dance. As in "Gates of
- Like Gates of Edinburgh, but they also cross back to
their own side on bar 5 of the reel. As in "Mrs
MacPherson of Inveran".
- "Lairds" or "Horseshoe":
- Like Gates of Edinburgh, but all couples cross over as they dance
through 1st place. As in "Last of the Lairds".
Note neither of these names are very common (at least I've never
heard them used, just referred to on
Strathspey mailing list.
- Parallel reels of three, 1C crossing over to start
(1L crossing down through 2M's place, and 1M posting
round end, round 1L's place, to start). As in "Cadgers
in the Canongate".
- A reel of three where one of the dancers is closely followed
by a fourth person.
- Dolphin or Falcon:
- 1C dance tandem reels of 3 with their corners. Each time the
dancing couple reach the end of the reel, they swap positions
so that the other person is leading. As in "Flight of the
Falcon" or "Pelorus Jack" (from the Dolphin book).
Other useful terms:
- Out the sides:
- Useful for saying how reels of three start.
- Out the ends:
- As above.
- Down at the top of the set, up and the bottom. Useful
in double-ended dances such as Diamond Jubilee.
- The opposite of in.
- First/Second corner couple:
- 1st/2nd corner and their partner.
- 3rd/4th corner:
- Partner's 1st/2nd corner.
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