A Barn Dance Repertoire

Thomas Green explains...

For those unacquainted with them, English barn dances are social occasions where, frequently, many of those present have little experience of this type of dancing.  Easy dances are therefore a must.

This site gives the notation for a basic repertoire for a beginning caller.  It was originally put together for my own purposes but other people found it useful.  No claims to be comprehensive.  It's just a list of some that I used to use myself as a beginning caller, mainly chestnuts plus a few that took my fancy.  There are lots more around, but there's more than enough here to make a basic repertoire.

Barn dances and ceilidhs   Top

There are barn dances and barn dances, ceilidhs and ceilidhs.  What I have in mind are occasions of simple dances in traditional English style, also often called ceilidhs.  (Scottish ceilidhs are rather different, and 'barn dance' seems to mean something a bit different in the US, too.  And then there are English Country Dances, which are Jane Austen-ish.)  Ceilidhs come in a wide spectrum of styles, from slow and elegant to fast, energetic, and sweaty.  If you are looking for a band or a caller, try to check out their style first to see whether it's what you like; and if you're setting out to become a caller, try to find bands to work with who can accommodate some variety of style, depending on the occasion.

The excellent webfeet site (a useful place to look for bands)  has this to say:

"A good Barn Dance caller has the ability to encourage reluctant dancers onto the floor, help them through the evening with matter-of-fact explanations and minimum of jargon.  It's his or her job to get everyone involved with the understanding that a good proportion of them might not know the dances or have a very vague recollection from years before."
But you can add to that that the caller should be able to choose appropriate dances for the occasion — choosing slightly challenging ones for some groups, or simple but energetic ones for other groups, or a mix, as needed.  Ideally, the caller and the band should be able to get a good match between dances and tunes, too.

What do the words mean?   Top

If you're stumped by terms like do-si-do or ladies' chain, go to the Resources page and follow the link to Hugh Stewart's very clear introduction to the Elements of English Country Dance.

What to do here   Top

You can browse all the dances that use a particular formation, such as circles, by going to the Formations page and clicking on Circles.  Similarly you can browse all the dances in a specific style, such as Scottish.  Or you can look up a dance by name, or you can look at dances listed by their difficulty.  (Estimating 'difficulty' is a bit subjective, but see that page for one approach.)  If you follow the link from the name, you can download it in text form to add to your own list.  Do you want to suggest another dance to add?  Use the Contact page.

Authors and Copyright   Top

Some of these dances are traditional, others were recently composed and published.  I've included authors and book titles where known.  Not many have come from any one source.  Dances taken from here should not be published for profit.

About the site   Top

Thomas says
I am Thomas Green, of York, UK.  I am not a professional caller and never have been but I have had some experience of both calling and playing for small dances.

The original version of this site was made in the 1990's, all stitched together, learning as I went, hosted on the free webspace that came with my ISP.  Now, many years older and no longer calling nor even dancing much, I had considered letting the site quietly die, but it seems people still make use of it; so here is an updated version, with its own website.

I am Colin Hume of Letchworth, Hertfordshire, England.  I am a caller and dance writer and have run hundreds of Barn Dances.  I now call mainly for experienced dancers, but I'm well aware that there are many more people who want to dance the dances on this site than those on my main site, ColinHume.com

In 2017 Thomas handed over the site to me.  I rewrote it in PHP, but I haven't made any major changes as far as you the users are concerned: most of the words are still Thomas's.  Where I've made big changes or added a chunk of text it will be prefaced by this "Colin says" arrow, so you'll know which of us to blame!  In 2020 I handed the site over to CDSS.

Credits   Top

Big thanks to all the many people who have contributed advice and help and mistake-spotting, among them Rhodri Davies, Tony Gibbons, Andrew Swaine, Dudley Laufman, David Millstone, and especially Jimmy Smith who patiently checked descriptions and sought video clips.

CDSSThis website is now sponsored by The Country Dance and Song Society.

"CDSS connects and supports people in building and sustaining vibrant communities through participatory dance, music, and song traditions that have roots in English and North American culture."