Dances from English Dance & Song 1921 - 1989

A shorter version of this article appeared in EDS Decmber 2023.


A few years ago Chris Turner kindly gave me a big stack of old issues of English Dance & Song going back to 1921. As I read through these I realised that there were lots of wonderful dances published in the magazines, and I thought it would be great to make these articles available on the Web for everyone to see. Laura Smyth at the VWML gave me permission to publish the pre-1990 material. I contacted as many of the original authors as I could and started work. Thanks also to Bonny & Cynthia Sartin who found me some of the missing copies from duplicates at Halsway Manor and to Malcolm Barr-Hamilton at the VWML who scanned the final pages that I was missing. You can see the result at - over 200 dances!

There are some great dances, some new and some historical interpretations, of all genres and styles, both simple and complex, plus some that may never be danced again, either because of their quality or their obscure directions. Many of the historical and traditional dances have a rich history which I have presented as best as I could. Each dance is presented on its own page, with a scan of the original article plus an interpretation using modern terminology, and historical analysis where relevant. Some of the dances had interesting articles associated with them. These articles are all indexed at the top of the Web page.

Two Dancers

Let’s look at how the dance styles changed over the years. The dances in those days were almost exclusively those published in Cecil Sharp’s six volumes of “The Country Dance Book”. If you want to see how Cecil Sharp and his friends danced back in 1912 have a look at the list of articles at the top of the Web page and select “Films from the past”; yes, we do have actual video of Cecil Sharp dancing!

The English Folk Dance Society was founded in 1911 to preserve and promote English folk dances in their traditional forms, including Morris and sword dances, traditional social dances, and interpretations of the dances published by John Playford. In January 1921 the first issue of E.F.D.S. News was published. Festivals were already well established; issue number 2 was a Special Festival Number and reported 1,000 dancers at St Austell. In 1922 6,000 people watch 400 dancers in Hyde Park.

At this time people went to classes to learn the dances; Morris, Country and Sword dances were all taught together; and there were grades, tests and certificates.


For a long time, no dances were published since all “approved” dances were already available in Cecil Sharp’s books and new choreography was not within the province of the E.F.D.S. An article in 1923 showed that Cecil Sharp did encourage dance development, but this was aimed primarily at creating performances referred to as “English ballets”. There was a 1922 competition for a “new and original dance”; the winner was “A FANCY” BY “NANCY”, a dance for twelve in three parts. In the 1923 competition there was a dance called “Two’s Company” by K.S. (Miss K. Steuart?) and it was described as a social dance, albeit challenging. Sadly no information remains about any of these dances and we have no idea if any of them were ever danced outside of performances.

The first dance published in E.F.D.S. News was The College Hornpipe in 1926, although the article was actually about Thomas Hardy, and the inclusion of the dance was incidental.

After Cecil Sharp’s death in 1924, Douglas Kennedy became the new Director of the E.F.D.S and used his new position to start publishing articles on dance style. His words are still great guidance for modern dancers. Here is an excerpt from a 1927 article on Team Work:

“In all folk dancing, the carriage of the body as whole is of first-class importance. The shoulders should be loose and the dancer firmly elastic at the waist, knee and ankle. The body should be muscularly conscious of the action and the reaction to gravity from the point of contact with the ground right up to the head, but nowhere must there be rigidity or tenseness. On the other hand there must not be complete relaxation from the beginning of the dance to the end.

“So often dancers will only concentrate on their own particular part in the main movement and then relax completely until their turn comes again. Each dancer must feel what is going on in every place in the set for only in that way will he find himself in complete sympathy with the other members of the team.”

And in January 1931 Maud Karpeles referenced examination requirements such as “spring is necessary”, “there is a “lilt” in the step”, “continuity of movement is maintained”. Basically: don’t just walk or plod!


In the 1930s the attitude towards new dances slowly started changing. Other people were collecting traditional dances and interpreting historical dances. Some examples were: Then in 1932 Marjorie Heffer and William Porter dared to publish “Maggot Pie”, a book of newly composed dances! This was probably the first book of new English country dances for about eighty years!

It was at the same time, in 1932, that the Folk-Song Society (FSS) and the English Folk Dance Society (E.F.D.S.) amalgamated to form the English Folk Dance & Song Society, though the magazine was not retitled until September 1936 when English Dance & Song Volume 1 Number 1 was published.


1934 saw the next dance published; it was a traditional dance called Three Meet (The Swedish Dance), collected in Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire. A previous version from Devonshire had been published by Sharp. Maud Karpeles collected the next dance, Meg Merrilees (1936), in Vermont, but acknowledged that a version was known in Scotland, going back to around 1827. As more research was done it became apparent that a number of “traditional” dances had actually been published by Dancing Masters a hundred years earlier, and somehow survived in certain villages. More traditional dances were published in 1938, then in 1939 we see the first publication of American Square Dances and the first Square Dance evening at Cecil Sharp House, with “drop-in” events for complete beginners. This was part of the move away from having to attend country dance classes before being able to attend a dance.

From 1939, when Hull’s Victory was published in the magazine, American Contra Dances appeared regularly. However, only the basic instructions were ever published. There was no style information; so English dancers didn’t realise that, over the years, the Americans were adding Wrist-Lock Stars, spinning Dosidos, twirls in Ladies’ Chains, four-beat Balances with twelve-beat Swings, and countless other embellishments. As a result, even now, nearly a hundred years later, American Contra Dances are still danced in a Playford style at many Folk Dance Clubs in England.


More traditional English and American dances were published during the 1930s and 1940s. Also, throughout the 1930s Douglas Kennedy continued to write major articles on technique. Despite his language being so esoteric and flowery that the message is sometimes lost, he provides a lot of useful information. In 1937 he started a series called “To the Dancers” starting with defining “Dance Quality” as: He then proceeded to provide full articles on each of these subjects. You can read these and many other of his articles on the Web page.

During this period, we also saw a strong move towards using the traditional dances and the American Square Dances to get more people dancing, especially the men, leaving the more complex Playford dances for those who wished to progress beyond the basics. Some people were unhappy with this and worried about the loss of focus on Playford; multiple letters and articles in the early 1940s discussed this as the Society tried to reassure everyone that Playford would not be lost.


We also saw the formation of Folk Dance Clubs and in November 1939 “News from the Branches” was retitled as “News from Branches, Centres and Folk Dance Clubs”, though they were still affiliated to the EFDSS.

Of course, in many of the villages where the traditional dances were collected, they kept on dancing as they always had. You can see a description of a typical village dance on the 1939 Cumberland Square Eight page.

World War II had a major impact on the dance scene. Before the war the Society had a full-time teacher in nearly every county and big city. After the war there were far fewer official resources and there were lots of articles encouraging keen amateurs to learn to teach and to set up local clubs.

Here are some quotes from the period: Dancers

The EFDSS policy in this post-war period was to “establish a widespread practice of community dancing” with an emphasis on clubs rather than classes, and “popularise a small repertoire of simple dances suitable for community dancing”. One step towards this was the publication of the first volume of the Community Dances Manual. There were seven volumes of traditional and American dances, published from 1947 to 1967, providing easy access to the instructions and music for many simple dances so that anyone could learn to run and call a dance. (There was also an occasional new dance, such as Al Brundage’s “Barry’s Best”, and Peter Kennedy’s “Princess Margaret’s Fancy”.) From May 1948 the number of dances published in the magazine also increased dramatically in line with the new policy of “publishing the notations and airs of dances which are not otherwise readily available”. From 1954, starting with Cockleboat Jig, new dances appeared regularly, together with a call out (in 1956) for new dances.

If you want to see how we danced back in the 20th century, search YouTube for “London Folk Dance the Opening”; even though the video is from this century, they are still dancing the way that they used to dance years earlier.

So, with over 200 dances to choose from, which ones should you look at? These were all competition winners: Freda Burford's "Jubilee Roundabout", Geoff Todd's "Left Right and Centre", John Lester's "Luton Town", Ellen Taylor's "The Lincolnshire Poacher" and Norris W. Winstone's "Saint Giles' Gate".

La Russe is interesting as further research showed that this “traditional” North-East England dance was actually published in Glasgow in 1847! The page also includes an excellent video of it being dance in 1950 at an EFDSS festival.


Did you know that when you are dancing Circassian Circle these days you are only dancing Part 2?

Check out 1955’s “Princess Margaret’s Visit”. If you can make any sense out of the instructions, please do let me know! It was also fun researching Playford’s “Kettle Drum”; the original instructions have been interpreted in countless different ways; I provide as many as seven different versions of some of the figures! “Jack Pudding” was interesting as well. Playford shows three couples and the instructions don’t make a lot of sense. The earlier, handwritten Lovelace Manuscript shows that the three couples are in a triangle; this provides a much easier interpretation!

1956’s Northumbrian Jig is worth looking at just for the controversy that it caused, which may have been the reason that no new dances were published for a few years.

Faithless Nancy Dawson is also historically interesting. Although it was not published until 1964 in ED&S, there is reason to believe that it was written in 1936 and may well be the oldest new dance in the magazine!

You will find a wide range of dances of every style and level of complexity; have fun browsing through them, and please let me know anything that will help me to improve these pages. Many thanks to all those who have already contributed and to all those who wrote these wonderful dances.


All images copyright EFDSS.

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

Please contact John Sweeney with your comments.