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Saturday Evenings — Ashford

Sides All - Siding - The Side
Into Line Siding - Swirly Siding

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John Sweeney's Dances Dances from English Dance & Song The Lovelace Manuscript

Sides All - Siding - The Side - Into Line Siding - Swirly Siding

Since at least the 17th century there has been a very common move in country dancing known as Sides or Siding. The earliest references give no indication of how it should be performed. As a result there are a number of variants. The most common forms in England and America are Into Line Siding and Swirly (or Banana) Siding.

Two of the key players in the recreation of the move were Cecil Sharp and Pat Shaw. It is common these days to refer to Into Line Siding as Shaw Siding, and Swirly Siding as Sharp Siding.

A study of the historical facts, however, leads me to believe that those terms are the wrong way around!

1650: The English Dancing Master. First dance: "Sides all" with no explanation!

1706: Feuillet publishes diagrams for dances such as La Jalousie showing Into Line Siding clearly.

c. 1790 William Jones writes a letter which describes Siding as "To go forward to one another & fall back 2 or 3 steps always facing but veering to your left or right". This is a close match to what we call Into Line Siding.

1911: Cecil Sharp published The Country Dance Book Part 2. Re "the Side" he says, "Although I have consulted all the sources of inspiration at my disposal, I have been unable to find any authoritative definition of this figure…. Some solution had, therefore to be made."

Then he defines it:

THE SIDE This is performed by two dancers, usually partners, but not necessarily so. They face each other, and move forward a double obliquely to the right, i.e., passing by the left. On the third step they make a half-turn counter-clockwise, completing the turn on the fourth step as they face one another (two bars). This completes the first half of the movement, and it is called side to the right. In the second half of the movement, side to the left, the dancers retrace their steps along the same tracks, moving obliquely to the left (passing by the right), turn clockwise, and face each other on the fourth step. The whole movement occupies four bars of the music.

The dancers must remember to face each other at the beginning and close of each movement, to pass close to each other, shoulder to shoulder, and always to face in the direction in which they are moving.

1912: You can see Cecil Sharp himself dancing The Side at 3:46 in this video:

There is no eye contact, the dancers face straight ahead all the time. Definitely not Swirly Siding!

1922: Cecil Sharp published The Country Dance Book Part 6. He states, "Further evidence which has come to light with respect to this troublesome figure seems to throw doubt upon the accuracy of the half-turn in each portion of the figure, in the form in which I reconstructed it. Now if, instead of turning, the dancers were to "fall back to places" along their own tracks, the Side would then be identical with the Morris figure of Half-hands, or Half-gip. And this, I suspect, may prove to be the correct interpretation".

1923: In a lecture to teachers in Aldeburgh in 1923 Sharp made it clear that he was convinced that Into Line Siding was the correct interpretation, but that the English Folk Dance Society was unwilling to have the interpretation changed.

c. 1930: Dancers in America are shown dancing The Side at 4:10 in this video:

Their Siding is just like Cecil Sharp's original version!

1932: Hugh Mellor writes in the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society about William Jones' letter (see below) and thinks "it would be interesting to try this method", presumably not realising that Sharp had already advocated this. He also compared it to the Morris Half Gyp.

1941: Pat Shaw, wrote in the English Dance & Song, February 1941 magazine, Volume V. No. 3:

Shaw on Siding

1959: Pat Shaw started his "Another Look at Playford" workshops and started to use Into Line Siding in his interpretations and, later, in his own dances.


So, Sharp's original siding was NOT Swirly. As far as we know Sharp never, ever danced a Swirly Siding. However, he did believe that Into Line Siding was the correct interpretation. Therefore, Into Line Siding is actually Sharp Siding.

Shaw was the one, in 1941, who advocated that Sharp's original siding should be danced in a Swirly style with eye-contact. So Swirly Siding is actually Shaw Siding!

That is why I never say Sharp/Shaw Siding, but always Into Line or Swirly.

See Colin Hume's page on Siding for more background on some of this.


Here is a list of ways to Side. Does anyone have any more to add to the list?

The pre-Playford Lovelace Manuscript has words such as "Arme or halfe turne" (e.g. in Moll Peatlye). It would appear from this that what we now consider the standard introductions were not quite so standard. So maybe next time you teach a dance with Sides All you could try a variant.

In each of the definitions below only the first half is described, moving to your left. The second half is a mirror image moving to your right, except for Crochet Hook and Swirly Siding, where originally only a version where you move to your right was defined, but modern choreographers sometimes also include a version where you start moving to your left.

Crochet Hook Siding
Sharp's original siding: dance straight forwards, looking straight ahead, passing by the Left Shoulder; then when you get to your partner's position you make a 180 degree turn to your left (counter-clockwise). You then dance straight forwards back to your place, again looking straight ahead, passing by the Right Shoulder; when you get home you turn 180 degrees to your right. I have not seen anyone dance this in the last 50 years.

Swirly Siding
Swirly Siding (or Banana Siding) is Half a Left Shoulder Gypsy then Half a Right Shoulder Gypsy, the smooth, eye-contact version of Crochet Hook Siding.

Into Line Siding
"All move forward into line right shoulder to right shoulder with partner and fall back."
This is Sharp's final 1923 version. It was used by Shaw in 1931 in his dance "Monica's Delight" with the wording above. Whether he called it Siding or just Into Line I don't know - he may have been trying to avoid controversy by not calling it Siding, since Crochet Hook Siding was the standard.

Side Across
This appears occasionally in Playford; for example in "Never Love Thee More" the instructions are "side over to one another's places". Some people interpret this as Into Line Siding, then continue to your partner's place, turning to the right. I prefer going into line with a half-turn to the right so that you are left shoulder to left shoulder, then fall back to your partner's place.

Netherwitton Siding
Crochet Hook Siding, but after passing left shoulders you turn right (away from your partner) to face back.

Nottamun Siding
I will leave interpretation of this complex variant to the experts. Just remember, when attempting this move, never put your weight on the foot that is in the air!

Chassis Siding
Chassis sideways two chassis steps to the left along your own line, then chassis back - there are videos on YouTube of European dancers using this interpretation of Siding.

Slip Siding
The same as Chassis Siding, but twice as fast with twice as many steps.

Into Line & Face Siding
Partners move forward into line right shoulder, but turning right to finish facing each other in a single line, fall back along the same path; Michael Barraclough taught this one at Sidmouth in 2017.

Half Gyp/Half Hands Siding
As Morris Dancers do it. It is the same as Into Line Siding, but you go past your partner before you start to fall back.

Two Cousins Siding
In Wil van den Ber's dance his Siding starts with partners passing left shoulders, doing swirly siding, but curving in to finish right shoulder to right shoulder with partner; he follows this with 3/4 of a right shoulder gypsy falling away as you finish in each other's places. Orly Karsner also used this in "Longevity".

Pat Shaw Variants

Pat Shaw had a lot of fun adding Siding variants to his three-part dances. Here are some, with the names of the dances that they come from. Arrival from Holland
Partners move forward side by side right shoulder (4); Cast left to other side of partner (i.e. end standing left shoulder to left shoulder with partner) (4); All fall back to place (4)

Partners move forward side by side right shoulder, turning right to face each other and three-quarters turn single right back to original places.

Down in the Nettles
All move forward to stand right shoulder to right shoulder with partner. All half turn single left, falling back into partner's place (i.e. crossing the set).

The Kindly Shepherd
Partners forward side by side right shoulder and without pausing all cast left back to place. This is also the way that Roy Dommett taught Ilmington Morris Into Line; men, it is a good idea to start on your left foot to avoid the Nutcracker Effect. In the Bledington Morris version you go past your partner before you turn left back to place - you need to be dancing vigorously to cover the extra ground.

The Rose of Tankerton
All move forward into line with partner, right to right shoulder and turn a quarter right to face partner, (all are in one line, Men facing down, Women up) (4). All set right and left (4), all fall back to places (4) and turn single to the left (4).

And since I have mentioned a few Morris variants, here is another one:

Brackley Side-by-Side
All move forward to the left into line, the men turning 180 degrees right so that everyone is facing the same way, step in line, fall back to place along the same path.


Many thanks to all those who provided, often via the ECD List, to the information on this page.

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