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The Cotswold Dances


Getting Started

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Green Trousers

The Cotswold and Midlands Morris dances often follow the pattern of Common Figures (specific to that village or "Tradition") interspersed with a Distinctive Figure particular to that dance. They are generally considered to be "down" dances; the dancer landing on the beat of the music. Because a "Side" of dancers may not all have the same athleticism, the music must co-ordinate with the dance so that the "average" dancer is supported, meaning that the music may not always follow a strict pace. Time must be allowed during a leap in the air so that the dancers land on the next beat together. The dance and music are closely linked and musicians and dancers must pay great attention to each other to make sure that the music fits the moves. Match the dance steps with the ringing of the bells and the tune and you are on the right track.

Each Morris Dance has its own music. Some tunes started as songs and others were composed and then they moved through the folk process, being handed down through the generations, with the result that tunes with the same name but from different villages may not sound quite the same.

We will learn the Cotswolds dances by asking the following questions:

  1. What is the usual formation of the dance, what are the steps and the Common Figures?
  2. For each village or Tradition, what are its special Characteristics in style and how are the Common Figures danced?

We will then look at some specific dances from each village and their Distinctive Figures. I recommend starting with Adderbury and Headington dances.

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Formation >>

FormationThe normal formation for a Morris Dance is 6 dancers in two columns of 3 with numbering as shown right. If the dance is a processional, pairs of dancers join the ends of the columns and the dance moves in the "up" direction. The Number 1 dancer leads the dance and "calls" the next Chorus Figure as the preceding figure is coming to an end.

Steps >>

Single Step; This is a step-hop from one foot to the other - rather like a skip but bringing the free leg slightly forward on the hop so that the bell-pads ring in time with the music.

Double Step; Moving forwards, the dancer steps on the right-left-right foot and then hops on the right foot, then left-right-left-(hop on the left foot). This completes 2 double steps. Part of the secret of morris dancing is the anacrusis, where you prepare yourself in anticipation of the next move. So, in a double step, just before the step begins, your arms have already moved into position and you have launched yourself forward so that you take your first step on the beat.

Side Step; In the same rhythm as the double step, the dancer moves to their right; right-left-right-(hop on the right) or to their left; left-right-left-(hop on the left). Often, as you move right, you can wave your right handkerchief up and then make a slight flourish as you hop, doing the same with the left handkerchief as you move left.

Caper (often caller Plain Caper); This is simply a leap in the air from one foot to the other. Often, the leap off the ground is on the first strong beat of the bar, thrusting both hands upwards to add propulsion, and landing is on the second beat where you move your hands down to emphasise the landing.

A dance sequence generally takes 4 bars of music and often finishes with a feet-together-and-jump, landing on the last main beat of the phrase of music. If it is a stick dance, this often coincides with a stick strike (1 with 2, 3 with 4, 5 with 6) with the sticks moving from right to left. If it is a handkerchief dance, try to put a flourish on the last beat.

Common Figures >>

Foot Up and Foot Down; The 3 pairs of dancers face up and dance up-and-back in 4 bars of music. This is often repeated or followed by a Foot Down where the 3 pairs of dancers dance down-and-back in 4 bars of music.

Half Gyp; The 2 columns of 3 dancers face each other and, in 4 bars, dance forwards so that they form a single line of 6 with right shoulders nearest to their opposite, and then backwards to place. Then they repeat with left shoulders nearest.

Whole GypWhole Gyp; The 2 columns of 3 dancers face each other and, in 4 bars, dance around their opposite by the right shoulder and, all the time moving forwards, return to place (see right). Then they repeat by the left shoulders.

Cross Over; The 2 columns of 3 dancers change places with their opposites by, in 4 bars, passing right shoulders and immediately turning right to face each other and then backing into their place. Then they repeat, again passing right shoulders to return to their original place.

Back to BackBack to Back; The 2 columns of 3 dancers face each other and, in 4 bars, dance forwards past their opposite (right shoulders) and then move to their right and back into place, passing their opposite back to back (or do-si-do), always facing in the same direction (see right). Then they repeat passing left shoulders.

Rounds; All 6 dancers turn to face clockwise around the set and, in 4 bars, dance around the ring.

Half HeyHalf Hey; Here, the 2 columns of 3 dancers act as if a mirror is placed between them, 1, 3 and 5 reflect the movements of 2, 4 and 6. 1 and 3 face up while 5 faces down. In 4 bars, 1 casts "off" (up and out) followed by 3 while 5 casts "off" (in this case, down and out). 1 finishes in what was 5's position and 3 returns to place but lets 5 between them on 5's way to what was 1's place. On the other side of the set, 2 has moved to 6's place and 6 to 2's place, allowing 6 to pass between 2 and 4 on the way (see right).

Whole Hey; This is made up of 2 half heys. Having completed the first half hey, the dancers return to their original places, 1 and 3 (and 2 and 4) cast down and 5 (6) cast up, returning to their original places but letting 5 (6) pass between them on the way.

Once-To-Yourself; This is not really a figure but just a normal way to start a dance. The dancers stand, facing forwards, for one phrase of the music (usually 4 or 8 bars).

Special Characteristics of the Various Traditions >>

Here is some general guidance on the style for each of the village traditions. I emphasise that this is general guidance as there are many exceptions and interpretations but following these rules will steer you in a safe direction.

Characteristics; 2 double steps with 4 singles. The hands start together and in front of the body at about waist height then rotate down and round to return to place with a slight jerk in position. 4 rotations fit the 2 doubles and 4 singles.
Figures; Rounds, usually all the way round and to place without stopping, sometimes with a stride, double steps or single steps, and sometimes singing a song. Half Hands using 2 doubles and 4 singles each side. Processional Down where numbers 1 and 2 dance 2 doubles down the centre of the set and 4 singles to place, whereupon numbers 1 and 2 follow 3 and 4 respectively down with 2 doubles, all returning to place with 4 singles. Processional Up where, as with Processional Down, 5 and 6 dance up and back and then follow 3 and 4 up and back. Hands Around starting taking right hands and going once round each other to place with 2 doubles and 4 singles, returning by the left hands with the spare hand making the circular movement or holding the stick. Adderbury Hey where 1 and 2 face down the set and the others up. 1 and 2 weave down the set passing right shoulder then left repeatedly, each dancer turning right at the end of the set to weave back to place.
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Characteristics; Generally 2 double steps and 4 single steps.
Figures; Foot Up, turn out and Foot Down, turning in to face opposites. Cross Over. Back to Back (but, at the halfway point, do not back up further than a straight line of all 6 dancers). Into Line, starting facing opposites, 2, 3 and 4 take a step forwards and 1, 3 and 5 go forwards and then turn left to form a line down the centre of the set in the order 2, 1, 4, 3, 6, 5. Single step backwards into place just before the 4 bars finishes and then repeat but 1, 3 and 5 move forwards and the others turn to face the other way in the order 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Return to place. Back To Back where opposites pass face to face using a left sidestep (left hand rotating anti-clockwise like a propeller and right hand not moving) and returning to place still using the same hand movements. Repeat the other way with a right sidestep and right hand making the rotations with the left not moving. Whole Hey. The dances often finish with all dancers dancing into the centre of the set with a handkerchief flourish and a shout on the last beat of the music.
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Characteristics; Relaxed gait. Usually 2 double steps with handkerchiefs flourished at the start of each step, starting first double step on the right foot, followed by 4 walking steps with handkerchiefs swung in walking fashion, finishing with a gentle step to end ready to set off on the right foot again. Alternately 4 single steps replace the 2 double steps. Side steps start right foot but with a right arm flourish if moving to the right and left arm flourish if moving to the left. The Bampton Caper is a special form of caper in the same rhythm as the double step with the dancer launching into the air (usually from the right foot) on the first beat of the bar, moving both hands upwards to add propulsion and landing on the left foot on the second beat, bringing the hands down emphatically, hopping on that foot, the process starting again with the leap starting again on the right foot on the first beat of the next bar.
Figures; Foot Up and Down (turn out if using double steps and turn in if using single steps). Half Gyp. Whole Gyp. Rounds half way and back, turning out.
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Characteristics; Usually 2 double steps with 2 arm rotations at head height per double step (as if you are brushing your hair forwards) followed by a hook leg all in 4 bars. In the hook leg the arms are held slightly away from the body as if helping balance at about waist height. If the first double step starts right foot on beat 1 of the 4 bars, you will be turning to the right, balancing on your right leg with your left leg jerking backwards but then coming forwards on beat 6 to take your weight on beat 7 followed by a change of feet on beat 8. This leaves you ready to start the next set of double steps and hook leg on the other foot.
Figures; Foot Up starting on the outside foot, hook leg out and down and Foot Down, hook leg out and up. Half Gyp starting left foot, hook leg left to place, then continue starting right foot, hook leg right to place. Whole Gyp starting left foot and getting all the way round in 2 double steps then hook leg left, then complete the movement starting right foot and hook leg right. Rounds starting left foot half way round then hook leg left to return starting right foot with hook leg right.
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Characteristics; Either: 2 double steps with arms swinging down and up for each double step followed by a galley. In the galley the arms are held slightly away from the body as if helping balance at about waist height. If the first double step starts right foot on beat 1 of the 4 bars, you will be turning to the right, balancing on your right leg with your left foot performing 2 rotations at about knee level followed by feet together on beat 7 jumping to land feet together again on beat 8. This leaves you ready to start the next set of double steps and galley on the other foot. Or: 2 double steps as before followed by 4 single steps moving backwards with balancing arms slightly away from the body. The foot off the ground as you move backwards should wave towards the other side of your body. Side steps need a handkerchief flourish from the hand in the direction you are going.
Figures; Foot Up starting on the outside foot, galley out and Foot Down galley out. Half Gyp (aka Side by Side or Half Hands) each 2 double steps and 4 singles to place starting left foot. Back to Back, each 2 double steps and 4 singles to place starting left foot. Rounds starting left foot with 1 double moving round and second moving towards the centre of the set then 4 singles away from the centre, then turn left around to return to place with 1 double round, 1 towards the centre and 4 singles to place.
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Characteristics; Stiffer than normal legs and arms in double step. Usually 2 double steps with arms swinging down and up for each double step followed by 4 single steps, feet together and jump, landing on the last beat for 4 bars of music with arms together and up. Brisk pace. Arms move in a circle for each single step (as if you are brushing your hair back). Single steps benefit from a slight jerk of the forward free foot.
Figures; Half Rounds turn out and Half Rounds back to place. Foot Up turn out and Foot Down for corner dances otherwise Foot Up twice. Cross Over. Back to Back. Whole Hey.
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Characteristics; Relaxed gait. The double Step is right-hop-left-right or vice-versa, so the hop is in a different place in the step compared with most traditions. Generally, Sherborne is an outside-foot dance, e.g., in the Foot Up, 1, 3, and 5 (the odds) start left foot and then start right foot in the Foot Down. 2, 4 and 6 (the evens) do the opposite. This leaves you ready to galley out (see Fieldtown above) to change direction. In the Hey, those starting in positions 1, 4 and 6 start left foot and the others right foot. This puts you right for the galley. In the other figures, everyone starts left foot and repeats right foot. Hands are up and down as usual on the double steps and then held gently wide on the shuffles or galley. On the feet together and jump at the end of the shuffle or galley, most sides move their hand down on landing and then up (no flourish).
Figures; Shuffle In on the last 2 bars of the Once To Yourself (with both feet together, swing up and to the side, back and forth with hands held out for balance). Foot Up galley out and Foot Down, galley out to place. Set (the Sherborne term for Half Gyp), shuffle. Face To Face (opposites cross over passing right shoulders and tun to face each other, then they each turn left about to shuffle back to original places). Back to Back, shuffle. Whole Hey, galley. Sometimes, the Whole Hay is danced with one Sherborne double step and then feet together and jump into place, then galley. Some Sherborne dances have a Rounds figure; start left foot and galley, back starting rigt foot, galley.
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© R. Stradling 2016