This article explores in more detail the figure ‘hey’.

If all participants are moving at the same time then it is a hey in the sense understood today in country dancing. However occasionally not all the participants are moving, which I’ll come on to in a moment.

Starting the hey

A three person hey must be started by two people, and conventionally the top two start passing right shoulders (although more on that in a bit).

Couples facing

A single hey often begins from two couples facing. In Parson’s Farewell it fairly clearly needs to begin with men passing left shoulders to start (coming out of a right hand turn). Note that Sharp tended to interpret a single hey in this formation to be a circular hey, which makes for some considerable differences in interpretation!

Argeers (couple face couple), second figure: We. meet and back, men go the S. Hey, and to your places.  I know of no way to do a hey for two people, so this seems to be directing the men to start a hey for four.

Dull Sir John (square set) is even more explicit: Then the first and 3. Cu. the S. Hey twice to your places, the We. who stand before their men leading it.

What you Please gives, following a lead up a double and back in a line of 4 with first couple in the middle: The 2. Cu go in the Hay, the 1. following the Hay down into the 2. Cu. place, and Arms with your own..  This is a more explicit rendition of a couple starting a hey across in the longways set.  If we assume a "bend the line" on the fall back, here the second couple pass naturally and the first couple follow them.  In fact a double figure of eight works quite nicely from here!

Ginnie Pug gives a hey in a duple minor set explicitly starting with first corners (couples are progressed at this point): the 1. Wo. and 2. man go in the Hay with the 1. man and 2. Wo. to a line of four.

The Milk-Maid's Bob, a four-couple longways set, starts (after leading up and back) with First foure the S. Hey, while the last foure do the like.  That's not heys on the side, and it's not clear how you turn this into a hey in a line – the first couple could pass in the middle to begin with, but that's unusual and and a little awkward, although following a lead up it would be fairly achievable for the first couple to cross in the middle while second couple move to the ends of the line.  Or we could use the Ginnie Pug solution of (from this position) first man and second woman starting it.

Lines of four

A four person hey in a line today conventionally starts with the top two and bottom two people passing right shoulders. It could conceivably start from the top down, progressively, but that would make it quite tight and has little justification.  Alternatively, it could start with the two people in the middle passing, and indeed this is what Pemberton shows in the diagram above (where he shows a left shoulder start).  Starting in the middle takes no more time than starting at each end – both take eight changes (if you start with a change at each end you finish with a change in the middle and vice versa).  

Pemberton (1711) describes some figure dances using country dance figures in Feuillet notation, including a hey for four. It’s worth showing the diagram (incorporating two lines of 4 simultaneously) – it’s very pretty but virtually incomprehensible!

This diagram shows the hey starting with the people in the middle starting by passing left shoulders.

There's not hard evidence on this, but I'm actually quite attracted to starting the hey in the middle: it flows well, only requires two people to be alert to get it going, is consistent with Pemberton, is consistent with heys starting with couples facing where it's again started by two people in the middle passing left shoulders, and is forgiving if the two people in the middle start it with the other shoulder.

Starting shoulder

Regarding starting shoulder, Parson's Farewell's hey starts left shoulder from flow, and Hit and Misse (also couple face couple) works very well if the hey is started with the men passing left shoulder, but a right shoulder start doesn't flow well into the following siding or arming with your partner.  For Hit and Misse, Sharp not only interpreted this as a circular hey, but also substituted a tune with a shorted 6-bar C-section (Daphne) so it would fit better with a circular hey!

In If All the World Were Paper, The two men against each other change places, you. We. as much, the S. Hey, back to your places, it's even possible (but disputable) that the direction for men and then women to change places is the start of a full hey – although I'm uneasy about why, if so, "change places" was used instead of "cross".  (The same formula exists almost word for word in Oaken Leaves.) Regardless, this again needs to flow into siding and a left shoulder start for the hey is crucial to making that work.  So for couple facing couple starts, I'd start with a left shoulder.

Occasionally a hey for three begins the same way, in Rose is White and Rose is Red, as one couple faces a person: here, I'd start with the the active man passing the singleton person by the left shoulder.

For heys in a line the starting shoulder doesn't seem to matter that much choreographically unless it flows into a siding or arming, which is uncommon as the hey tends to be the final figure. Pemberton starts the heys left shoulder, and this would be natural if couple-face-couple heys start left shoulder, but modern dancers are used to starting right shoulder, so it's caller's discretion here I think. As I've said before, there might not be a consistent convention anyway.

For 3-couple single heys, the starting shoulder could even be symmetric.  I'm slightly uneasy about starting with the first couple coming down the middle, because that’s what we know as a Grimstock hey and it seems likely that the first figure of Grimstock would have simply been described as “hey” – although the third figure does involve heys, and interpretations which don't make these symmetrical are really clunky. A hey could be symmetric with the first couple going outside the second couple to start, and indeed this flows particularly well for Greenwood, where we have heys on the sides, followed by a hey at each end, where the second couple need to be moving towards the middle of the set rather than away from it. It also matches the most common form of hey in Morris dancing (Adderbury being the most notable outlier), and casting into it as the Morris dancers do is quite rewarding.  Due to timing, options are more limited in Maiden Lane's first figure if you attempt to fit in double to the left and back (normally dropped and assumed to be a mistake) before they hey.  More experimentation required.

In later triple minor dances, heys on the same or opposite side of the set are quite common, and here a mirror image is required, with the first couple starting by coming down the middle. Also this is the form required for the Llangadfan dances. Edit 20 Jun 2019: A common interpretation of the Llangadfan dances is actually the morris hey, with the 1st couple casting to start, and indeed it looks on paper that this should work at least as well, although I have yet to try it.

Overall I'm more inclined toward the first couple coming down the middle to start heys on the sides, rather than both passing the same shoulder at the top, but there's no hard evidence. And it's not even clear that a right answer exists!

Added 19 Mar 2019: Arguably the figure in Grimstock is slightly different to a regular hey if you assume (as most do) that the instructions are for couples to hold closest hands when they meet, although conversely that does feel a bit like optional styling. However, if you go for the common solution for the third figure as being a crossover hey, and treat that as (other than the crossover) a normal way of doing a single hey, then you could consider Grimstock as being further weight toward the conclusion that a single hey would normally start with first couple down the middle, rather than an argument against it.

Added 7 Jul 2024: My preference now is towards starting heys for three with the first couple casting down the outside, in keeping with Morris dancing, and the directions in the Llangadfan dances. And as a bonus it means that people don't need to know their left from their right! I'm still working out my preference for four couple dances with a hey on the side but there aren't very many of those.

Half heys

Sometimes we do half a hey. If it was a three-person hey, how does the second half start? If we start with the first couple going down the middle, then the continuation of the hey, from where we left off, is the first couple coming up the middle – it's nicely symmetric that way. Whereas if we start passing right shoulders then a natural continuation would require a left shoulder start for the second half. Either way the shoulder changes but by coming up/down the middle this happens automatically when you start from the other end.

Double heys

A hey is usually described as a single hey or a double hey.

  • A single hey is a hey in a line. This is clear from e.g. Black Nag where the men dance the hey, followed by the women dancing it.
  • A double hey is not explained.

Dances containing double heys

In the first edition of the Dancing Master, the double hey is found in:

  • The Old Mole (3 couple longways). Towards the end of the dance.
  • Woodicock (3 couple longways). Also a finishing figure, this time firmly in the same time taken to do a single hey (8 bars).
  • Goddesses (for as many as will, although in practice more than 4 makes it pretty hard). The finishing figure, again in 8 bars.

In all three dances, the double hey occurs after the men and women have individually done a single hey. It’s clearly something involving both lines at once.

Lovelace gives a version of Goddesses too, for 10 (which would be tight!), but this makes no mention of a double hey.

Ward describes Goddesses, and does include a “double hey”, but again gives no indication as to what it might be.


Pemberton (1711), describes figure dances rather than country dances, but does give a small explanation before giving those dances in Feuillet notation:

Mr. Caverly’s Fig IVth Part, Fig. 1. the Hey single, Fig. 3. the Hey double.

Mr. Prince’s Fig. Part 1. Fig. 2. The Hey double for Four.

The accompanying diagrams show the “Hey single” to be a half hey, and the “Hey double” to be a whole hey. And once you've seen the diagram of a whole hey (above) you can see why he chose to explain what it meant in words!

The New Academy of Complements (1716) includes the dance ‘Excuse Me’, which describes the second couple go the double figure to indicate that a full figure of eight rather than a half figure of eight is intended. Different figure (probably – see below on the definition of figure of eight from 7th edition of the Dancing Master) but still the general principle is that ‘double’ means ‘for twice as long as single’, where ‘single’ might mean half of what we mean it today.

Just because that’s the terminology being used in the early 18th century however does not mean it was the terminology being used by Playford in 1651, and there is plenty of evidence against this.

  • There really would be far too much time to do a half hey in the time allotted in e.g. the Black Nag – and it would also leave the set in the wrong order!
  • It would make the first figure of Maiden Lane fit in timing more easily, but would then break the progression for the rest of the dance, resulting in the top two couples changing places and the third couple not progressing after once through the dance.
  • The Beggar Boy: half the S. hey. A single hey means a whole hey, not half of one.

So I really don't believe that this is what’s meant by Playford.

Two at the same time?

Maybe it just means both lines hey at the same time?  That would fit all three dances well, but there are dances where both lines do a “single hey” at the same time: Dissembling Love, Maiden Lane and Cheerily and Merrily all describe both lines doing a single hey at the same time, while Chestnut describes men the Hey, and We. at the same time without specifying it as single or double.  I haven't thoroughly searched all the subsequent editions but The Phoenix is another example.  So it’s not an altogether satisfactory explanation.

Follow your partner?

The Llangadfan dances manuscript gives an actual definition to the double hey:

Double Hey, proper (or by the Man) Men turn their Backs to their Partners, the woman following them all going the Hey in couples.

Double Heys improper: the Men following the women as before.

This is interesting and is probably achievable with a set of 3 couples, but it's not achievable with a set of 4 couples as for Goddesses – the single hey is tight enough already! This source is much later and while it does appear to be describing old-form 3-couple country dances, we shouldn't be too quick to assume that the language is identical.

Circular hey?

The most common solution in reconstructions is to interpret the double hey as a circular hey. It's an obvious figure to want to exist, even though there's no explicit evidence for it.

If we assume that, having done a single hey already, a double hey is all around the set, the next question is whether in double heys everyone starts moving, or, much like the snowball effect of progressive dances (and technically even 3-person heys!) the first couple only start crossing and everyone joins in as they reach them.

There’s not really time for the double hey in Goddesses to be snowball in style – it’s tight enough with everyone starting at the same time. Typically this is done today starting with the end couples crossing and the middles crossing with each other; you could imagine it starting with just the ends or middles crossing but even that’s really too tight for comfort as it requires 9 changes in the time.  If we start the single hey in the middle, then maybe the double hey also starts with the ends crossing at the same time – the "double" refers to multiple starting points?  That's pure conjecture but it does conveniently map onto the common interpretation of double heys. Everyone would need to start with the same starting shoulder.

For three couple sets however, there is time for the first couple to start the hey on their own, starting a snowball. I'd probably start right shoulder but that's moderately arbitrary.

The more common explanation is a hey in a circle, involving the whole set together.  I'm inclined to stick with that in the absence of stronger evidence to the contrary. You never know, it might turn up one day.

A hey as a weave

A hey doesn’t necessarily involve everyone moving at the same time.

  • Picking of Sticks: The We stand still, men going the Hey betweene them… – the line of men weave around the women, but not in the pattern that we would normally call a “hey” today.
  • Grimstock’s third figure has First Cu. change place, and goe downe the S. Hey… – it's possible that this is directing just the first couple to move, with the other couples to stand still (although it's not how I normally call it). Compare to e.g. “men the single hey” in other dances, explicitly directed at all the dancers simultaneously.
  • Green-Goose Fair, third figure: First Cu. go down the S. hey on their own sides, and come up again, the rest standing still – here this is definitely a weave, with the others not moving at the same time.

Another hint for the different meaning of hey is in the explanation of symbols at the beginning of 7th edition, where it states: The Figure half round, is the Hay half round. The whole Figure is the Hay all four round. Not a particularly good explanation, but it does corroborate using the word “hey” much more generally than it would be today. And before you start concluding that this instead implies that “figure” actually means “hey” in the modern sense, the diagrams in Feuillet and Dezais show a great many figures of 8, and no heys (although maybe that's partly because they're so hard to draw in Feuillet notation, as Pemberton discovered!)

Giving hands

I've heard it suggested that heys might always have given hands.  Dargason: "the single Hey all handing as you passe". Nonesuch: "Then the single hey, all handing downe". All a Mode de France (mostly the same dance as Nonesuch) describes a hey with hands without using the word hey.  

If a hey was normally with hands I'd expect All a Mode de France to use the term, as it was very common.  The fact that Dargason feels the need to say that hands are given is hinting at an exception that proves the rule.  

Also, Lovelace, Murry (round for 8): They all standing in their places, they shall goe round apac a kind of hay only of giving of hands, as they goe unto every one, both men and woemen, and when they shall meete with their own again, they shall turne quite round both of them together, and meting any other but their owne, they shall turne but halfe round, and soe after this  manner, they shall goe round as often as they please, the tune is played akording :4: or 5: goings round.  This seems to be a grand chain, with extra partner turns thrown in for good measure, and gives us an insight into a more exuberant form of dancing.  However, the key phrase is "a kind of hay only of giving of hands" – in modern English "it's like a hey, but you give hands".  So this strongly implies that heys were danced without hands.


Some suggestions for things to try with heys, that might not be what you're used to:

  • Heys for three: I suggest you start with the first person or couple coming down the middle.
  • Heys for two couples facing: start with the men passing left shoulder to start a hey in a line.
  • Heys for four in a line: I suggest you start with the two people passing in the middle. I'm minded to start passing right shoulder to avoid confusing people but left might be more proper.
  • Double hey for three couples: Circular hey, snowball style, starting first couple passing (right shoulder to minimise confusion?)
  • Double hey for four couples: Circular hey, starting middles and ends passing, again nominally right shoulder to minimise confusion.