Teaching – Research

The Art of English Country Dancing

English country dances have been practiced, as collective dances with figures, since the 16th century.   They are a social dance form where each couple dances with the others in line, in a circle or in square sets. They are very numerous, some of them extremely difficult. They range from serious to amusing forms but their style remains sober and elegant throughout.

In 1651 John Playford (A word about Playford), a London music publisher, brought out a collection of 104 country dances. This book and many later ones are the research basis for specialists of old dances.

Country dances seem to have been devised to free dancers from the restraints implied by court behaviour. They are meant for fun and range from quite simple to very elaborate constructions. They have been danced through four centuries, not as a historical reconstruction but as a present, live form of folk dance. The earliest ones we know about may date back to 1651 but new country dances have been created ever since, by highly talented choreographers and music writers in the 20th century in particular.

Cécile LAYE has worked on many country dances and teaches them in workshops but also tries to have them danced in France as they are in present days across the Channel.

Eighteen research projects received support in 2016 for research and heritage in dance from the Centre National de la Danse, Paris, including Cécile Laye’s entitled:

Analysing the contents of The English Dancing Master, first edition, published by John Playford in 1651 ; elaborating a typology based on the 105 dances in the book.

A project summary in English is available here.

The public presentation of this research took place on January 18, 2018 at CN D.

This research resource can be found in the CN D Media Library : CN D Media Library.


Other articles :

The Playfords

Longways for as many as will Playford first edition

Cecil Sharp and dance collecting

A few notes on progression

Dancing in the Inns of Court

Mime dances

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