Playford terminology

This article describes common terminology found in Playford, for those wanting to decipher it.


These are given at the front of each edition.

D. Double
S. Single
Wo. Women
We. Women
Cu. Couple
Co. Contrary
2., 3., 4. Second, third, fourth
 · ,  : ,  ·:  Strain played once, twice, thrice

Contrary just means "other", so your contrary person is “the one that isn’t your partner”: your corner in a longways duple minor, your opposite in a two couple dance.  Contrary can also be used in other contexts, e.g. Newcastle refers to the "the Co. place" meaning the opposite place from where you started.


The presence is at one end of the room, and is traditionally where the person(s) of highest status would be sitting.

The top of the set is closest to the presence, and the bottom of the set is furthest from it. Up is toward the top and down is toward the bottom.  The ends are the top and bottom of the room.

The walls are the side walls (men’s side and women’s side for a longways set), not the top or bottom of the room.  Cross the room is towards one wall or the other.

Inside / outside of the set are hopefully self-explanatory.

In a square set or round for eight, the couples “against each other” are opposites.

And then we get to “the left/right hand”, which is a bit more complicated...

The left/right hand

The left hand normally means to the left of the person as they stand. The right hand is likewise to the right. E.g. Parson’s Farewell: Meet all, lead each others Wo. a D. to the left hand: you’ve got to do that in opposite directions from each other!  Likewise, Drive the Cold Winter Away involves the men’s line going through a gap in the women’s line twice, first time “goe toward the left hand” and second time “turne towards the right hand”: these are from the point of view of the dancers, i.e. up the first time and down the second.

However, sometimes the "left hand" means to the left side of the room when facing the presence, i.e. the men's wall. Take Lady Spellor: Go all to the left hand, crosse the roome, faces all set and turn single. If everyone had gone to their respective left then they wouldn’t be able to face to set and turn single, and the rest of the figure would make no sense either. Instead if this is interpreted as to left from the position of facing the presence (i.e. the men’s wall) then it all works perfectly.

In Adsons Saraband: Men go all down while the Wemen go up, men slip to the right hand and We to the left, fall even on the Co. side, set and turn S. If the dancers are to end on the other side as directed, both need to go to their respective left, so again the left hand / right hand reference are from the point of view of the set.  Later in Adsons Saraband, Goe all to the left hand crosse the Roome finishes with you close to your partner, and the remainder of the figure only really works if you've gone towards the left hand (men's) wall.

There doesn't seem to be a hard rule about this so we need to make educated guesses based upon context. There is real ambiguity in some dances. For example, in Stingo: All a D. to the left hand, back again, set and turne single  ·  As much to the right hand  : . There are multiple options here I can think of (if I ignore the question of the directions of the set and turn singles):

  1. The men’s line dance up a double and back while the women dance down a double a back; all set and turn single. Then a double the other way and set and turn single.
  2. The men’s line turns around to face the wall, all dance a double forward and back, the men turn to face their partners again; set and turn single, finishing with the women facing away from their partners. Then a double that way and back, finishing with the women turning to face their partners; set and turn single.
  3. Everyone keep facing their partners: men go back a double and forward while the women forward a double and back; set and turn single. Then women go back a double and forwards while men go forwards and back; set and turn single.
  4. Facing partners, dance a double to the left in a curve, and a double back; set and turn single.  Then the same to the right.

The first alternative is probably the most common interpretation outside of the folk dance world. The second is Sharp’s. The third is my invention; it’s possible but I don’t like it as much because:

  • If that’s what was meant, “men go back a double while the women go forwards” is likely what would have been said.
  • In Stingo, I think that option one feels better: all go to the left and back, set and turn single left; go to the right and back, set and turn single right. The momentum just feels as if it flows better. Also in Maiden Lane I find it the most satisfying interpretation of the (normally omitted) first part of the figure, going into the hey.

The fourth was suggested to me in a workshop at Chippenham in 2017 (apologies I forget who suggested it, please say if it was you).  As it turns out, Graies Inn Maske also includes this figure, and is also in Lovelace, where the corresponding section of the dance is described: The men shall take each his woeman, by both hands, and set them all in a straight line, the man standing all above the woeman, and then back into their places againe, like as they stood at first.  This is effectively a quarter turn one way and then a quarter turn the other way.  It doesn't say to go the other way but unless we're going to take two doubles to turn a quarter and two to go back then it makes sense to do so.  And this is really quite close to option 4 above, just with hands!

I can’t really argue which is right, only which I prefer – and I’m not even sure about that to be honest! I most commonly use option one, although I’ll admit it’s slightly arbitrary.

Set numbering

In longways sets, the couples are numbered downwards from the top of the set.

In square sets (there are only a handful actually described as squares), the first couple is at the top of the set, with the other couples numbered going left, not right as is modern practice.  There's an explicit diagram of the numbering of these, which helps.

Rounds might have any number of couples, and many dances are a “Round for eight”, i.e. square set, but not described as a square. The first couple is assumed to be at the top still.

In first edition dances, where there is a progression around the set and its direction is explicitly given, it’s to the right: Mill-field, Rose is White and Rose is Red, and Chirping of the Nightingale.

Other progressive rounds don’t say which direction the second couple should be found: Peppers Black (for as many as will), Up Tailes All (for as many as will), Mundesse (for six), Jenny Pluck Pears (for six).

  • Jenny Pluck Pears works equally well either way.
  • In Up Tailes All, the second figure and third figure end with a star and circle respectively before moving onto the next couple. If we assume stars and circles in the normal direction (star right and circle left) then these flow nicely if the second couple is to the right of the first, and are truly awkward if not.
  • In Peppers Black the first two figures are unaffected by the direction. The third figure requires the first man to go forward and back with his partner, picking up the second man in his left hand, then Bring your Wo. under your left arms, holding both fast, turne your body halfe round to the left hand  ·  Bring your man under your right arm, turne halfe about to your right hand  : . If you do this as described then the second man finishes coming in front on the first couple. If numbering right, the second man is already on the corner for the forward and back, and he can naturally be deposited back in his place. If numbering left then this is more awkward.
  • Mundesse involves pairs working together in sequence: 1M with 1W, then 1W with 2M, then 2M with 2W, etc. Unless the men and women have suddenly changed places, this is numbering right.

So I believe that when a dance is described as a square, it’s numbered to the left; when described as a round, it’s numbered to the right.

Suns and moons

In first and second edition, Playford says that moons are for men, suns for women. From third edition onwards, this is reversed.

It has been commonly held by Sharp, Dean-Smith etc that first edition got it wrong and it was subsequently corrected. I'm not convinced.

In first edition there are three square set dances where the top of the set is unambiguously marked: first couple is on the left. In these, Faine I would shows moons on the right, but this dance only works as described if the couples are improper. The others put the moons on the left.  In 4th edition the moons are still on the left and suns on the right of all the square sets (Chelsey Reach, Faine I Would, Hunsdon House, Dull Sir John, Oranges and Lemons).  Even 10th edition has the moons on the left for the remaining squares (Hunsdon House, Dull Sir John).  

The longways sets consistently show a line of moons below a line of suns. If top is on the left then this shows the moons to be men.  The square set diagrams in 1st, 4th and 10th editions always have 1st couple on the left, except Hunsdon House in 4th edition which inexplicably has it at the bottom.  I think we can be sure that top isn't meant to be at the right though!

The round dances and squares show the moons facing towards the centre. If the same convention is applied elsewhere, the moons are facing right for the first set of longways dances in first edition, switching to facing left about a third of the way through. In second edition they face left. It's possible that they started printing them the wrong way round, then partway through the printing process Playford intervened and corrected three printing of subsequent pages - but this is conjecture. If we conclude that top is on the left, then once again the men are moons.

The 4 couple rounds are not consistently aligned to any axis, although the 3 couple rounds have a moon at the left, consistent with 1st man being at the top.

Sadly when it gets interesting with 2 couple sets there are all sorts of inconsistencies and errors – e.g. Hit and Misse is shown as a 2-couple longways set in 1st edition rather than couple facing couple, and by 4th edition it becomes a 4-couple longways set!

In third edition, when the meaning of the symbols is reversed in the introduction, the diagrams are generally not changed (although Faine I Would – incorrectly – gets its symbols swapped, but that might simply have been to make it look like the other squares, now they were arranged together by formation). The trend was for new dances to be longways anyway, where the set diagram isn't particularly important.

In fourth edition, there’s an erratum at the front for Confesse, with the men as suns, but I don’t think that’s enough evidence to fundamentally change things.

So my conclusion is that it is more likely that Playford meant what was printed in first edition, and that third edition, far from correcting things, actually introduced a quite significant error, which went uncorrected thereafter.  He generally wasn't correcting the dance descriptions, copying them word for word (whereas the music was edited between editions) – he probably didn't really understand them anyway.

Alignment with music

Where there are multiple phrases of music, the dance descriptions are generally arranged in columns.  Most music is in two phrases; the instructions on the left are for the first phrase of the tune, and the instructions on the right for the second.

The descriptions are interspersed with underlined dots ( · ,  : ,  ·:  etc.), signifying the number of repeats of the phrase of music which have passed up to that point, usually since the beginning of that paragraph of the dance description.  They're not always accurate.

The music doesn't have repeat marks.  Depending on the edition, between phrases is a weird half-height double bar line with dots either side that looks like a repeat mark, but it's just a divider.  Normally both phrases are repeated, but you need to check the context with the dance.  Sometimes the underlined dots in the instructions help.  For example, the very first dance in first edition, Upon a Summer's Day, requires the B phrase to be played three times.  The Night Piece does too, but the B phrase is written out three times as a single phrase, so only a  ·  is present underneath.

Target of instructions


The instructions are talking to the men, with the assumption that the women will do what’s required to fit in. E.g. in Rufty Tufty, a couple-face-couple dance, the main figure of the dance is described as Lead your own with the left hand to each wall, change hands, meet again…. Clearly this means to lead out with the man’s left and women’s right hand (the closest ones at that time) and return with the other hands, rather than leading out left hand in left, and for some reason switching to right in right to return – the latter would be very unnatural!

In the New Vagary: the first man honors the second wo.; in Feuillet, La Nouvelle Figure, this is shown as them both equally honouring each other.

Active couple(s)

Likewise, the instructions are often given to only the active couple, with the inactive couple expected to join in as required. In The Merry Merry Milke Maids First and third Cu. meet your own, slip between the other, take hands a crosse and go round each four  ·  The other four as much  : . Here the couple not slipping down need to move up the outside, presumably also with a slip, otherwise the set will end up moving down the room, but this is taken as obvious.

Sometime the instructions are more explicit. Picking of Sticks, second figure: The first Cu. slip down between the 2. they slipping up, then the 2. slip downe, and the first up.

In other cases it’s less obvious. Each turn of the first figure of Nonesuch finishes turn your own in the 2. place – should this be just the first couple, who are otherwise the target of the instructions, or should the second couple join in too? In Bobbing Joe, third figure, First Cu. change with the 2. on the same side  ·  Then change with your owne  : : does the second couple change places with each other in the second move, or just the first figure? (I’ve assumed yes in the latter).

But in Skellemefago, First Cu. armes once and a halfe between the 2. into the second, place, set each to the 2. Cu. and change places with your owne: the instruction to change places is clearly just to first couple. Later, First Cu. slip down betweene the 2. turne each your owne, “each” is used to indicate that both couples should turn.

In Jog On My Honey (duple minor progressive), The first man take his wo. by both hands, put her back on the outside, the 2. wo. into the 2. place, and there turn her. – this is basically a half pousette, and is going to need the second couple to at least move up to stop the set moving down the room, and preferably to join in with the move to make it easier for the first couple to get around.

There’s no strict rules, and I wouldn't want to tell people off for dancing when there's space to do so, but it seems that if it’s “obvious” that the other couple(s) need to join in, then it is frequently not stated that they need to, otherwise you would normally assume they don't.

Figure names


This is normally assumed to be as in the introductions, but see the discussion under “Turn”.

Barham down, 11th edition has an outlier term: Arms round with both Arms. That's got to be a two-hand turn, surely? Maybe a cross-hand turn, to distinguish it from a regular turn?

Back to back

See “Turn back to back” and “Go about not turning your faces”.


Today we would interpret a cast, starting facing across the set, as turning/looping three quarters up, out and down, and then going down the outside of the set. This is based largely on later descriptions of country dances.

At this time did they mean simply go down the outside of the set the easy way? I doubt it:

  • In Jog On, final part: The first Cu. cast off and goe on the outside – why say “cast off and goe on the outside” if this simply meant “goe down the outside”?
  • In Lord of Carnarvans Jegg, the cast is described from a position where the dancers are already facing in the opposite direction (down before a cast up, and up before a cast down), such that a cast as we know it is the only natural move.
  • In Cuckolds all a Row (couple facing couple), the men (next to and improper with partners at this point) are directed to cast off to the right hand, your We. following, come to the same place again. I.e. turn right first, rather than going straight to the left, which allows the dance to flow far better for the women too.

Sometimes the timing can be a little tight, and I recommend that where a couple casts down, the couple being cast around move into new places at the same time to minimise the distance needed to be travelled by the casting couple.

In Whirligig can be found the direction Cast off all, doe thus or Cast off, all doe thus depending on which edition you’re looking at. The jury is out over what exactly that means.

Change places

Change places with the other person, finishing where they were and facing where they were.  If you keep on going somewhere else then the term "cross" is more normally used.

Often the change places takes two doubles.  I've written an article going into more detail on that. I suggest one double to meet and one to either move across and turn round, or to fall back away into the other place.

Cross (over)

Cross over with someone without turning around, usually followed by a cast. Sometimes this is said explicitly (e.g. “and fall into the 2. place”), but sometimes it’s taken as read, especially if describing a figure of 8 (a name which had not yet been adopted) – e.g. in The Whish: The 2. Cu. crosse over betweene the first Cu. crosse over againe betweene them, fall to your places.

Simply changing places without a cast is more commonly referred to as “change places”.

In Daphne however, First Cu cross, fall into the 2. place is used as the first of three similar moves with a double for each – there's only time to cross down between the second couple, not cross and cast around them.

Cross the room

Go not up or down, but across the room, towards one of the side walls. E.g. Lady Spellor: Go all to the left hand, crosse the roome (see the discussion under Orientation above).

Draw hands

This is a later term.  E.g. Orleans Baffled: The first Couple cast off and draw Hands below the third Couple. Pousette. In Mad Moll, The 1. cu. take hands and draw into the 2. place could be interpreted as what’s referred to in modern ECD as a “draw pousette”, but in Orleans Baffled that would leave the 2C and 3C improper. It’s more likely a regular pousette.


Probably just what it says – a friendly embrace, much as a greeting, to the person you’re dancing with.


Indicates where a move should finish. e.g. Newcastle Armes all with your owne by the right, men all fall with your left hands into the middle.

The move itself can also be a slip – All a Mode de France First Cu. meet, take both hands, and fall in betweene the 2. Cu. – note that “fall” indicates here is where you finish, not how you get there.

Etymologically “fall” here is probably the same sense as “fall in line”.

Fall back

This might sometimes be shorthand for “forward and back" in early Playford.

Jamaica: Then fall back from your own is shown in Feuillet (La Bonne Amitié) as going forwards and back, and indeed this fits the music better.

The Merry Merry Milke Maids: Men back and go the S. hey has 12 bars. A hey normally takes 8 bars, leaving 4 bars for the fall back, which would be too many. Backwards and forwards arguably leaves you too close to your partner to do a hey, but forwards and back fits well. Slight conjecture but arguably confirmed by Jamaica.

Figure (of eight)

This became a very popular figure, sufficiently prevalent that it was abbreviated to simply “the figure”.  It does turn up in early editions of the Dancing Master but spelled out, e.g. in first edition Whirligig then cross over between them like the figure of 8, and similarly in Have at thy Coat Old Woman.

From 7th edition, the table of terms states: The Figure half round, is the Hay half round. The whole Figure is the Hay all four round.  Which is approximately zero help!

Go about not turning your faces

There are two ready possibilities here: what we would now call a gypsy (not turning your faces from each other) or a modern back-to-back/do-si-so (not turning your faces relative to the room). Sharp thought the former but I believe the latter is far more likely.

The Spanish Gypsys describes: Turn all back to back, faces again, go all about your We. not turning your faces.  Lovelace describes for the same part of the dance: then they all turne theire backs, both men, and woemen, towards one another, and then turne themselves as they were before, all their faces together, then every man goeth round his woman, then back agayne, not turning of her, but only goeing round her.  Let's break this down:

Playford Lovelace Described move
Turn all back to back, faces again they all turne theire backs, both men, and woemen, towards one another, and then turne themselves as they were before, all their faces together Turn on the spot to face away, then turn back to face towards each other again.
go all about your We. not turning your faces every man goeth round his woman, then back agayne, not turning of her, but only goeing round her Back-to-back.

The wording isn't totally definitive on the latter being a back-to-back, but:

  • A gypsy is a turn without hands – but if you’re going to take the path of a turn, why not take hands? Yes, it lets you get closer and flirt more but while that’s fun in modern contra dancing it’s not fitting for the time. It also means you can’t go round each other as quickly.
  • We know the back-to-back as we know it is a common move in later Playford, and in Feuillet’s 32 dances (which has very clear diagrams) at least one back-to-back is shown in 7 of them and a gypsy in none. There’s no other set of words that adequately describe a back-to-back in early Playford (other than “turn back to back”, which isn't that) so this leaves this as the most likely.

There are two main possibilities here:

  • The gypsy was a reasonably well known move and the back-to-back was unknown, and the gypsy almost entirely fell out of use at the same time as the back-to-back became popular, or
  • The back-to-back was there all along and didn't have a proper name until later.

In later dances I believe this becomes called “back to back” but in early Playford that term hasn’t been adopted yet.

John Sweeney has written a long essay on Gypsies, including a list of Sharp interpretations affected by this – which is longer than I thought it was going to be!

Also see "Turn back to back" below.

Go down(/up) on the outside

For individuals going around one person this is obvious, but for a line it's less so.  E.g. "men go down on the outside of the women" means the first man goes above 1st woman and down the outside of the women's line, and everyone else follows him.

E.g. in Goddesses, Men goe downe on the outsides of the We means first man leads the men’s line around the top of the women’s line and down the back of them. In this case they return but later they go all the way around.  Lovelace has a version of this dance which confirms this.

Hands and go round

Take hands in a circle and go round in that circle.

If in doubt, go around to the left – that was the direction already taken by bransles and would be the default direction of movement. If the circles come in pairs though, separated by e.g. a set and turn single, then the second one is probably led with the right foot to the right, but as two separate parts of a figure they would just as likely both be to the left.

Round dances very often start with with “Hands and 2. D. round”, or variations thereof. So should we take hands in a ring facing the centre and slip sideways, or take two clear double steps facing in the direction of travel? Those words imply the latter, but not necessarily – it’s possible that two doubles here refers to the amount of music – but that’s a bit of a leap of faith. Also these are almost always followed by siding, which is definitely two doubles.

But we have many circles outside of the introductions – are these to be done in doubles too? Take Gathering Peascods, one of said round dances (for as many as will, shown for four couples) which starts with “Go all 2. doubles round”. The middle part is Men hands, and go round in the inside, and come to your places in the time of three doubles. It would just about be possible to go around in three doubles if only four couples, but not very satisfying. Presented with this dance, I would expect evolution to take its course and for people to simply skip round.

Some statistics: In fourth edition, there are 15 round dances starting with a circle left and right, (with various combinations of sets and turn singles interspersed). Of these:

  • 11 say to go round two doubles
  • 2 say to go round twice (Sellenger’s Round, Pepper’s Black)
  • 1 says to go round a double (Millfield – almost certainly a mistake as there’s clearly time for two)
  • 1 simply says to go round (Sage Leaf)

That’s quite explicit – 11 out of 15 saying two doubles. I’ve yet to find any dances containing a circle in the main body of the dance (not in the introductions) where the circle is described as going round any number of doubles – and there are very many dances involving circles. I reckon this points to a potential difference in the style of these two types of circle:

  • A circle in the introduction is an extension of the formula of the Old Measures, composed of singles and doubles.
  • A circle in the body of the dance is not constrained by doubles and is simply skipped or slipped if needed.

It’s not always appropriate to skip or slip the circle though: e.g. Bobbing Joe, which has a circle all the way in 4 bars, as well as a circle halfway in 4 bars. A skip/slip works best for the former, whereas a double to go round and a double to fall back on the other side works better for the latter.

As for choosing between skipping or slipping, these dances were around for a long time, with considerable variation, and there’s no good evidence that a right answer exists – so I’d do whichever you prefer. Both are simple, natural steps that don’t need inventing or teaching. I’ve called many a beginner’s ceilidh at weddings etc. where most people have never danced before, and they rarely have any trouble “inventing” these for themselves!

Hands across



A weaving move.

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.

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.

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. It’s worth showing the diagram of the latter (incorporating two lines of 4 simultaneously) – it’s very pretty but virtually incomprehensible, no wonder the author chose to clarify what it meant!

Just because that’s the terminology being used by Pemberton in 1711 however does not mean it was the terminology being used by Playford in 1651, and 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. So I really don't believe that this is what’s meant by Playford.

In Playford first edition, 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. In Goddesses the men circle, then the women, then the whole set; it would be nice if, after the men hey and the women hey, the whole set heys together in a round rather than in two lines. But that’s really tight.

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

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. 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.

Starting the hey

A three person hey must be started by two people, and it makes sense for them to be the top two, passing right shoulders if that’s how we pass elsewhere. Sometimes a half hey is repeated – in this case if the couple now at the top start the second half passing right shoulders again then it naturally completes the hey.

A four person hey in a line is assumed to start 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.  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).  I'm actually quite attracted to starting the hey in the middle!

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.

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.

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.  Pemberton starts the heys left shoulder, and this would be natural if couple-face-couple heys start left shoulder.

For 3-couple single heys, the starting shoulder could even be symmetric.  I'm 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 the meantime, there's nothing wrong with the top two people starting passing right shoulders to start a hey for three, but be aware that that's only one of a number of ways that could have been meant.

A hey as a weave

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

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.


The English at this time were really quite fond of kissing apparently. Other cultures still use a quick sideways kiss as a greeting, which would seem appropriate.


Holding closest hands, with partner unless specified otherwise.


Forwards to meet; if with another person, holding closest hands.

Parson’s Farewell, 2nd introduction: Meet all, leade each others Wo. a D. to the left hand  ·  Change hands, meet againe, take your owne We. and to your places  : . This only makes sense if the "meets" involve holding hands.

The presence of the word “meet” usually implies a separate move, i.e. a double for those in question to come towards each other. E.g. in The Merry Merry Milke Maids, First and third Cu. meet your own, slip between the other, take hands a cross and go round each four must be done in 12 bars of music. Here I’ve already assumed something is missing (probably a star back in the other direction) to get the meet and slip down to take 4 bars, but still you need the meet as a separate move in order for the timings to add up.

Meet and turn single

This is more prevalent in later longways dances. Meet, then turn single; or meet, turning single as you do so? Especially if the latter, turn the same way as each other, towards, or away?

If the meet was intended to be followed by the turn single, would the word “and” have been used? No reason why not; “set and turn single” is sequential too.

Playford, Mr. Isaac’s Maggot (triple time): All four meet and turn S. is followed by a full figure of eight with very tight timing. In Dezais (Les Folies d’Isac), the phrase is structured as neighbours change places (2 bars), then fall back and meet turning single towards each other (2 bars), followed by figure of 8 (4 bars). Is Playford 2 bars for a fall back and advance turning single, followed by 6 bars for the figure of 8 (somewhat across the music); or 2 bars for a fall back and advance, 2 for the turn single, then 4 for the figure of 8 (tight)? Dezais has an extra move here so something has to be different. Inconclusive save for noting that Dezais combined the fall back and advance with a turn single towards your neighbour (whereas today we more commonly tend to turn away). Turning single towards your partner doesn’t flow very well if you’re holding hands with your partner, but Dezais doesn’t say to hold hands, and this does flow better into the figure of 8 that follows it. Also it seems to be a very small turn at the end of the advance, so maybe it is largely sequential but fitted into the same phrase of music!

Dezais, La Conti has a fall back, advance and turn single towards your neighbour in a single phrase, again without holding hands.

Dezais, La Jeunesse, shows a fall back and advance holding hands with your neighbour, then a turn single away in a separate phrase.

Playford, Lilli Burlero: fall back and meet and turn S.. Colin Hume makes a good argument for this being a fall back, advance and turn single away from your neighbour, finishing facing your neighbour ready for a back-to-back, and indeed Feuillet's Lirbulaire corroborates this. Clearly the meet and turn single are combined here, and the flow really demands a turn away from your neighbour rather than any other direction.

All in all, I don’t think there’s a simple rule here!


Pass, normally by the right shoulder.

Put back

Holding two hands with someone, the person doing the putting back pushes while the other goes backwards. If done around another couple this is a pousette. E.g. the Spanyard.


This turns up in Parson’s Farewell. Sharp interpreted this as a nod, but the Sloane manuscript also describes a version of Parson’s Farewell, and in it uses “leap” instead. Indeed, if you’re dancing on the balls of your feet, rising further can only really mean into the air. So I recommend jumping at this point, and indeed that’s what’s always felt right to me as a dancer, since before I was aware of the Sloane manuscript.


The military salute hasn’t been invented yet, so it’s not that. “Salute” in older usage simply means to greet or acknowledge. A common interpretation of this is for the man to kiss the woman’s hand.


A single to each side. If facing someone, this is often coming forwards as you do, as it is followed by a fall back.

After a lead up and back, a set is usually done facing your partner. (See the Queen’s Almaine.)

In Sloane and Lovelace, “sett” is usually used to mean a set and turn single, with the turn single taken as read.


This is probably usually a sideways slip step, as in modern parlance.

E.g. Parson’s Farewell Meet all, foure slips to the left hand: note that “slips” is plural here, probably indicating a step rather than e.g. a direction.  There's not time for 4 of anything other than a slip at this point.

Adson’s Saraband is ambiguous: Men go all down while the Wemen go up, men slip to the right hand and We. to the left, fall even on the Co. side in 4 bars (2 doubles) of music. See the discussion under that dance; it’s not clear whether there’s an actual slip step sideways or if “slip” here simply means go sideways as you go forwards and back.

Given that the steps are not described in general, it may be the case that, provided you move in the right direction, whether you achieve it by slips or doubles is not central to the dance. Skips, skipped doubles, and slip steps are cousins of each other, travelling an equivalent difference, and I don't think it significantly changes the character of the dance to interchange them.

Slip down between [...]

This is “first couple slip down between the second couple” or variants.

In Skellemefago: First Cu. slip down betweene the 2. turne each your owne, meaning that after the slip you need to be past the other couple able to turn your partner in progressed places. It’s assumed that the second couple move/slip up the outside at the same time.

In Cast a Bell: First Cu. take both hands, slip downe betweene the 2. Cu. cross and turn each one of them with your right hands, this is really awkward unless the 1C stops between the 2C.

Nonesuch is more explicit: First Cu. slip just between the 2. Cu.. All a Mode de France uses the language First Cu… fall in betweene the 2. Cu..

Turn (between two people)

Does this mean a two-hand turn in the modern sense (left hand to right, right to left)? Or a cross-hand turn (left to left, right to right)? Or even of a single hand, whichever is most convenient?

Kemps Jegg at least only really works if “turn the third” is an uncrossed two-hand turn the conventional way, otherwise the man doesn’t finish in the right place next to his partner facing in.

Sometimes “turn” and “arm” are used interchangeably:

  • In the second part of Whirligig is written The 2. man armes with the first Wo. … while the 2. Wo. turns the last man – the moves taking place at each end of the set are probably the same.
  • In Mill-field, the significant figure is done three times with each person. First Cu. leade to the man on your right hand, he going under your armes, turne your owne  ·  That again  :  … The two men take hands and lead to your Wo. she going under your armes, the two men armes  ·  That againe  :  (my emphasis). It’s then done a third time without mentioning the turning/arming at all! This flows best with a two-hand turn rather than an arm, but terminology appears to be loose.

Crossed hands do occasionally happen, with dances such as Jamaica where the right and then left hands are taken sequentially, followed by a half turn.  Sloane's version of Parson's Farewell follows this with a full turn.

Feuillet shows many two-hand turns, but his notation system doesn't distinguish crossed or uncrossed hands.  Jamaica is shown as La Bonne Amitie, and while it explicitly shows taking first the right and then the left hands, if it wasn't for the hands being taken one at a time you'd not be able to tell that they were crossed.

The direction is never given.  Feuillet shows two hand turns in both directions but only shows an anticlockwise turn after a clockwise turn has already happened; most notably there are alternating directions of two-hand turns in La Chasse, essentially a strip the willow dance.  Lovelace, Trenchmore includes Having soundly turned both ways.  Some dances don't really flow very well if you do a two-hand turn clockwise – e.g. Drive the Cold Winter Away, where the first man turns 3rd woman and then 4th woman; and the Boateman, where figure 1 is quite tight and the turn might work better the other way.

Moving onto much, much later material, The Fandango [Thompson's Compleat Collection 1780], start of the second half: Turn corners & turn your Part:  ·  the same at the other corners  :  Man whole figure at bottom & Wo. at top the same time  ·: .  The first couple are in the middle for the start here; the conventional interpretation has all two-hand turns in all the same direction, leading the first man to go up into the figures of eight, not down.  Replacing this by right hand turns with corners and left hand with partner fixes this and also improves the timing.  It's also what the Scots would do.  However, bear in mind this is a completely different period!

I, in common with most people, generally assume a “turn” to be an uncrossed two-hand turn to the left (clockwise), unless there's something explicit to the contrary. This might be a matter of individual preference though, and in particular it’s possible that “arm” and “turn” were synonymous, meaning any form of turn between two people. In modern ceilidh there are multiple swing holds going around – why shouldn't there be different ways to turn your partner?

Turn back to back (, faces again)

The Spanish Jeepsie describes: turn all back to back, faces again, go all about your We not turning your faces. Cuckolds All a Row uses almost identical words. Sharp interpreted this (in “Hey Boys, Up Go We”, his renamed interpretation of Cuckolds All a Row”) as a whole-gyp (or simply “gypsy” in modern country dance parlance) facing outwards, followed by a one facing inwards (as is the norm for a gypsy). I was taught it by the Round as gypsy right shoulders followed by gypsy left. In, it’s argued that this is a right shoulder spin, back-to-back right shoulders, left shoulder spin, back-to-back left shoulders. Clearly this has confused people.

It can often be revealing to give unclear instructions to people with no preconceptions or knowledge of modern dance language, and if I’m calling a dance for complete newcomers and tell them “back-to-back”, the most likely thing they’ll do is to turn around on the spot and stand back to back. I think they’re right, and this figure means turn your back to each other on the spot, turn back to face, then a back-to-back in the modern sense.

  • The word “turn” implies there’s turning going on, which is precisely the thing that doesn’t happen in a modern back-to-back!
  • The dancers are given two directions: turn back to back, and then faces again; a modern back-to-back is a single move.
  • It’s also followed by an actual back-to-back: the other alternative is that we’ve misunderstood the second move, which is a gypsy after all (see “Go about not turning your faces”), at which point you’ve got a back-to-back followed by a gypsy, which is pretty weird choreographically.
  • My suggestion fits two doubles followed by a longer skipped move, which is a common pattern for these dances and fits the music well.

In the entry "Go about not turning your faces" above I compare the wording for Playford's The Spanish Jeepsie and Lovelace's The Gipsys, and it translates turn back to back, faces again as then they all turne theire backes, both men, and woemen, towards one another, and then turne themselves as they were before, all their faces together.  This is pretty explicit.  It's unlikely to be two half turns in the same direction because that would be a turn single, albeit a slow one; also, having done a double with one foot, the natural foot to start the next double on is the other foot, taking you back in the other direction.

In Feuillet, l’Epiphanie also shows this move, although Feuillet credits this dance to having been written by Mr. Voisin in Versailles, so this is of limited relevance.

Another example, the Fine Companion (round for eight), third figure: Men meet, turne back to back, the We. go round about, the men to their places. Clearly there’s no do-si-do style move here, the men simply stand in the middle facing out.

This figure feels best if you’re dancing doubles, so as the steps changed this figure might have been dropped from the repertoire. “Go about not turning your faces” was a popular move which needed a shorter name, it involved passing your partner back to back, and so “back to back” was adopted as shorthand.

Turn single

One double to turn around on the spot. Doesn’t always leave you facing the way you started though!