Stepping & Footwork for Country Dance & English Ceilidh


In the 17th century the English were known as the "dancing English", renowned and envied for the variety of their footwork. Many country dances in England include a wide variety of stepping. "Foot It" was a common figure in centuries past, generally meaning, "Impress your partner with your footwork". People used to take pride in doing different footwork each time through a Longways dance.

These are some of the steps that I have learnt over the last fifty years.

It is important to note that the names and styles of the various steps vary by genre, by country and by century, and also by personal preference. This video shows how I learnt them, how I dance them at English country dances and at English ceilidhs, and how I teach them. Please let me know of any other footwork or variants that I can add to this page.

You can see some great examples of footwork in this video:

Single Step, Skip Step, Skipping-Step, Hop Step, Step-Hop

Some of the earliest records we have are of the 16th century
Dances from the Inns of Court, known as the Old Measures. Whereas some were described as “grave, simple, chaste, and sober measures” other records say, “revellers flaunted through galliards, corantoes, French and country dances”. One dictionary entry seems to compare the Alman to a lively dance called Chiarintána: “a kinde of Caroll or song full of leapings like a Scotish gigge, some take it for the Almaine-leape”. Another implies that the alman step ended with a “saut”, i.e. jump, of some sort. The earliest source includes six dance with hopping steps: "a duble forward hoppe iiij tymes". There was a wide variety of styles and the hop step was already a standard part of English country dancing.

The hop step, or Single Step, is basically just skipping, and is the easiest way to cover lots of ground.

I sometimes find that when I teach this to beginners they focus on getting high into the air and lifting their knees; I have to remind them that the objective is to cover lots of ground and they should focus on travelling rather than height!

Hornpipe Step, Hop Step, Step-Hop (Slow)

Most dances are done these days to music at 100 to 120 beats per minute. Dances like Nottingham Swing are done at a much slower speed, usually between 80 and 90 bpm. The stepping in these dances is called a Hornpipe Step and is just a slow Single Step with more time to add extra styling. Listen to the beats of the music and count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. Make sure that you put your foot down on the beat, and hop on the "and".

Double Step, Polka Step, Skip Change Step, Change-Hop Step

A Double Step is 1-2-3-hop: right, left, right, hop on the right, left, right, left, hop on the left. It has many names and is commonly known as a Polka Step as it is the footwork that you use when dancing the Polka. It is really good for travlling long distances. If you are finding it dificult to complete a figure in the time allowed by the music it may well be that you are walking when the dance was choreographed with the intention of the dancer using Double Steps. When teaching beginners how to do a dance like Witch's Reel, where one line has to dance around the other, I demonstrate by dancing up and down the middle of the sets: "If I walk on my heels I will go very slowly. If I walk on my toes I will go faster. If I skip then I will go much faster. And if I do 1-2-3-hop I will go even faster!"

Here is an example of Scottish styling:

Chassé, Jeté, Assemblé

In Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Fanny is told to get out of the dancing as she is no longer doing the proper steps:
"Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely."

Here is Susan de Guardiola's excellent article about
What Did Jane Austen Dance?

Thomas Wilson's The Complete System of English Country Dancing, from 1816, gives Chassé, Jeté, Assemblé as the standard stepping for most figures:

Hands Round

This is what it might have looked like in those days:

There is more information on this here.

Basically it is three Double Steps, spring off one foot and land on both. Of course all the steps were done with very different styling in earlier centuries, with bent knees, pointed toes and different arm positions than the ones we use these days. This is how I would do these steps today:

Chassée, Sashay, Slip-Step, Slipping-Step

These days "Chassée" is used to mean a side-together movement. You step to the side with one foot then bring the other foot to join it. If you do it quickly then it is called a Slip-Step.

Gallop, Sashay

If you do the same move while holding both hands straight across with a partner then we call it a "Gallop". Strangely the Americans call it a "Sashay". Sashay is normally defined as:
"Walk in an ostentatious yet casual manner, typically with exaggerated movements of the hips and shoulders."

I have always suspected that some American had mispronounced the word, and it had stuck, eventually even changing the spelling to match the new pronunciation. This belief was reinforced by this quotation from the 1957
History of Square Dancing (page 18):
"chassee" (always pronounced "sashay" today; it is actually spelled "sasha" in John Burbank's New Collection of Country dances, Brookfield, 1799)".

In the early 17th century, pre-Playford "Lovelace Manuscript", for the dance The Old Man with a Bed full of bones it says:
"the first man shall take his woeman by both hands and shall leade her down side long, allmost to ye bottome, very quickly"

Sounds like Galloping to me! We have been Galloping for a long time!

Playford's words for the same move in An old Man, a Bed full of Bones are: “Lead her to the lower end”. Was Gallop generally accepted as a stylistic substitute for "Leading down"?

There are old dances called The Galop and The Galopede. That doesn't mean we should spell the word "Galop"!

Heel & Toe

There are lots of moves involving heels and toes. The simplest one is just to place the heel of one foot down, then the toe of the same foot. It is sometimes followed by a Gallop. In this case you should always do the Heel-Toe movement with the foot nearest to the direction in which you are going to Gallop. Examples are
Ping and Redwing Mixer. Here you can see the Heel-Toe movement being done without a hop when it is slow and associated with a Chassée, and with a hop when it is done quickly and associated with a Gallop:

Foot It - Lots of ways to impress your partner!

As you can see from Colin Hume's article on
Foot It, our understanding is that it meant that you could do any footwork you liked to fill the music. He gives an example there of some fancy footwork; another example is given here.

Northern Junket, Vol. 5, No. 1, from 1955, has an article called "50 Variations of the Balance" (pp. 13-18). How many can you do?

Here are lots of ways to impress your partner with your footwork:


Back Steps

Rigadoon, Rigaudon

The Rigaudon was a popular dance throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Here are some examples of what it might have looked like:

Dances sometimes specified a Rigadoon step. Here is
An Adventure at Margate from Skillern's Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1780:

An Adventure at Margate

There were many variations across the two centuries, with lots of fancy footwork, so we don't know exactly what instructions like that meant. Here is a simple piece of footwork that you can use for this dance and for any "Foot It" in a country dance:

Of course, the styling was very different in those days, here is a period interpretation of a Rigadoon Step by Ian Cutts.

"Fancy" Step

Colin Hume gives this example from Alan Winston of a
Fancy Step.

Here is an example of one that I teach:


Of course, if you don't want to do anything fancy, then you always just Set!

This a very simple move and people can put a lot of personal style into Setting. The Scottish use a Pas de Basque step and do it like this:

They have a variety of Setting Steps for different dances. The details are


As mentioned above,
Northern Junket, Vol. 5, No. 1, from 1955, has an article called "50 Variations of the Balance" (pp. 13-18).

This is how we normally do it at English Ceilidhs:

Rant Step

Dances such as the
Dorset Four-Hand Reel use the Rant Step and in North-East of England it is common to use a Rant Step for many traditional dances. As you can see in the article on the Dorset Four-Hand Reel, dances which alternate Heys and Stepping have been popular for over 500 years. Although the use of a Rant Step has been standardised in the Dorset Four Hand Reel, you can actually Foot It any way you like; you will see the dancers doing a variation in the demonstration at the top of this page.

As with all these steps, there are many variations of Rant Steps. Here is the basic one that I learnt fifty years ago:

Up a Double & Back

Playford's The English Dancing Master only provides this information:
"A Double is foure steps forward or back, closing both feet."

A common assumption is that "step" means walk one walking step forwards. But we know that they generally danced rather than walked, and "step" could mean any of the steps above! Anne Daye of the
Historical Dance Society has done significant research into English country dance footwork. Anne runs superb workshops on historical stepping. This is how I remember her teaching Up a Double & Back. Anne, did, of course, teach it with all the correct bent knees and pointed toes appropriate for the period. What I teach today's English Ceilidh dancers is a much simplified version, devised for easy access for energetic dancers:

Anne, please forgive me, if I have misrepresented you!

I love doing this type of stepping at ECD dances in America; usually some of the people, especially the younger ones, start copying me and having great fun!


This step is designed to help you do a smooth, fast Swing or Basket and is useless for anything else. It's great fun watching people trying to Swing down a set using a a Ballroom-Hold Buzz-Step Swing, which is not designed for travelling, when they should be doing a Polka Step or moving into an open hold and skipping or Polkaing! Only use it for Swinging!

There is lots more information about Buzz-Steps and Swinging on my
Swing Workshop page. I also have a page on Baskets.

Running Step

In Cecil Sharp's
The Country Dance Book's he makes much use of what he calls a Running Step. You can see him dancing it in this video:

This is very useful when the music is fast. Here is some at 150bpm as opposed to our usual 100-120bpm:

Dance Walk

Cecil Sharp also described a Walking Step; Douglas Kennedy, his successor as president of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, when teaching the Star, taught the Dance Walk like this:


I hope you have found this useful. Please do let me know of any comments, suggestions, errors or omissions. Have fun with your dancing!

Back to
Dance Articles Index.

Feedback is very welcome on any aspect of these notes or Web pages.

Please contact John Sweeney with your comments.