Appendix: Dance Formations

Although I expect that the majority of the people who use the database will be familiar with all these terms and formations, I will define them to ensure that it is exactly clear what I mean and to assist those of you whose local traditions use slightly different naming schemes than my local tradition. The complete list of valid formations is contained in the formation_map table.


One of the simplest formations, this consists of couples in a large circle round the room. Everyone faces the centre and the ladies should be on the men's right.

A variation on this formation is to have extra dancers in the middle of the ring who displace some of the people in the ring each time through the dance. Hence, circle with extra men in middle.

circle, duple

One of the more unusual formations, it is a normal circle formation of an even number of couples. These couples are alternately numbered 1 and 2 (2s on the right of the ones).

circular wave, …

Another of the more unusual formation. This is very similar to a normal circle, except that one of the partners faces out of the circle, whilst the other faces in, hence circular wave, M face out.

concentric circles, …

Two circles one inside the other. Partners are in separate circles, (thus we have concentric circles, M on inside and concentric circles, W on inside). Partners face each other.

There is one slight variation where the partners do not face each other, thus we get concentric circles, M on inside facing clockwise, W facing anticlockwise.

concentric circles, becket

Again a formation consisting of two concentric circles, but this time partners are in the same circle (the lady on the man's right), facing another couple in the other circle. You can think of it at a sicilian circle with the minor sets turned through 90 degrees.

couple dance

A dance for one couple. They dance with each other but have no interaction with any of the other couples.

couple facing couple

A dance for two couples, facing each other. These formations of four people may be spread around the room in a random fashion since, unlike a sicilian circle, these couples have no interaction with any of the other couples.

couples in circle

The set consists of couples in a circle. Each couple faces anti-clockwise round the circle, so that the men are towards the middle of the circle and the women towards the outside.

double longways, duple

This is similar in many ways to the longways, duple formation, except that instead of each minor set consisting of a first couple and a second couple, here each minor set consists of a first line and a second line. Each line consists of two couples (1s facing down, 2s facing up) with the women on the men's right. As with the other longways duple set the progression involves the 1s moving one place down the set each time, as the 2s move one place up. When you reach the ends wheel round as couples to face the other direction, stand out one turn and come back in with the other number. In this formation proper and improper have no meaning and so are dropped.

double longways, 1s in line, 2s facing across

An unusual formation, same basic formation and progression as double longways, duple. The difference is that the second couples face across the set rather than facing up. Thus each minor set is a sort of half oblong with 2 couples (the 1s) across the head and one couple on each side (the 2s).

double sicilian

A double longways, duple set bent round into a circle, in exactly the same way that a sicilian circle is a longways, duple, 1C improper bent into a circle.

double square

This is the double variation on a simple square set, with 8 couples arranged along each side of a square. On each side there is a line of 2 couples.


The set is in a horseshoe shape --- roughly speaking a circle with a gap in it. For example a three couple horseshoe would be like a square set with one of the couples missing. A five couple horseshoe would have one head couple and two couples along each side, and so on.


This has to be about the simplest formation, though there are an infinite number of variations on it depending on the number of couples and the number of 'extra' people. It is conventional for the lines to run across the room, all facing up, with the women on their partners right.


Each set consists of a line of men facing a line of women. Your partner is opposite you in the other line. It is conventional for the men to be in the left hand line as you face up (towards the caller). Longways dances tend to come in two varieties: those for a fixed number of couples, and those for "as many as will'' in which case the lines are as long as conveniently fit the room.

Within these sets the first couple (abbreviated here to 1C) are those nearest to the caller. Second couple (2C) are next to them, then 3C and so on. A progression in these sets typically consists of the first couple moving to the bottom of the set and the others moving up one place, then repeating the dance with appropriate new numbers. Reverse progressions are possible where the bottom couple moves up to the top each time through the dance. Although most of these dances have all the men on one side and all the women on the other, there are formations where one or more of the couples swap sides to become improper, thus we get:

  • longways, 1C improper
  • longways, 2C improper
  • longways, 3C improper
  • longways, 1C & 2C improper
  • longways, 1C & 3C improper
  • longways, 2C & 4C improper
  • longways, 3C & 4C improper
  • longways, couples 1, 3 & 5 improper
  • longways, couples 1-4 improper
  • longways, couples 4, 5 & 6 improper

longways, becket

Like other longways dances, this formation consists of one long line of dancers facing another long line of dancers. Unlike the other longways formations, however, in this form partners are in the same line, the lady on the man's right. This couple then faces across to another couple in the other line. The progression normally occurs in a caterpillar-track-like fashion, with couples swapping over from the left hand end of one line onto the right hand end of the other. The progression is often cleverly incorporated into the dance so that it happens automatically without the dancers really noticing it. A double progressions is often used so that no couples are left standing out. Variations involving single progressions and anti-clockwise progressions are in existence.

Although this formation was used by a few traditional dances, it has only really become popular with modern contras. It obtains its name from the Becket Reel by Herbie Goudreau, which was the first of the modern contras in this formation. In Britain where the Becket Reel is known as the Bucksaw Reel, this formation is often known as Bucksaw Reel formation.

longways, diagonal (1M at bottom)

This is an unusual formation, consisting of a normal n couple longways set, where the top man as moved down below the nth man. Everyone than faces diagonally left (2M to 1W, 3M to 2W, 1M to nW) to complete the formation.

longways, duple, proper

This is a 'long' longways set where you work in groups of four. When setting up this formation the caller will typically ask for ``hands four from the top of the set''. Within these groups of four, the couple nearest the caller are ones, the others are twos. The progression involves the ones moving one place down the set and the twos moving one place up the set each time through the dance, so that everyone meets a new couple each time through. When a couple gets to the end, they rest (stand out) for one turn and then start again with the opposite number, progressing in the opposite direction.

Double progressions are possible, in which case you do not get to stand out for a full time through. There are some dances in the database with triple progressions or even quadruple progressions, in which case the time you spend standing out is progressively shorter. The end conditions in multiple progression dances are often the hardest part, and if calling such a dance you must think about them carefully.

This formation is often referred to as a duple minor longways set, since there are minor sets of 4 operating within the major longways set. However, since there is no such thing as a duple major, the extra term seems redundant and is not used in the database. I believe this "minor" term was coined by Cecil Sharp in his series of Country Dance Books.

The term proper merely refers to the fact that there is a line of men and a line of women. It is not really needed here, but is retained to emphasise the contrast with the improper longways dances and with longways sets where the partner orientation is not significant.

longways, duple

This is basically the same formations as longways, duple, proper, but it is reserved for dances where partners are of the same sex, or where gender in not important, since in those cases the term proper has no meaning.

longways, duple, 1C improper

This formation is similar to the longways, duple, proper set described above, with the exception that the first couples swaps sides with their partners, so that the lines alternate man-woman-man-woman etc. This adds a slight complication to the progression, since it is now necessary to swap sides whilst standing out at the ends. The person next to you in the line is your neighbour (or contrary).

longways, duple, 2C improper

This is the same as the longways, duple, 1C improper set, except that it is the second couple that swap sides, rather than the first.

longways, quadruple, proper

The next stage up from longways, triple! Here the minor sets are 4 couple longways sets. The progression is a straightforward extension of the triple progression.

longways, radiating

This is another formation that is in many ways similar to a sicilian circle. Here, however, each minor set consists of an n couple longways set. These sets are arranged in a circle round the room so that they radiate out from the centre like the spokes of a wheel. The top end of the longways sets is normally considered to be at the centre of the circle. The progression is normally obtained by the men's and women's lines passing through so that they meet a new line. Thus dances in this formation are usually mixers.

longways, triple, proper

This is another variation on the long longways formation. It is the more traditional of the forms, but has lost favour and has been replaced by the longways, duple formations. Indeed many dances that were originally triples have been converted into duples or even simple three couple longways sets.

In this formation each longways set consists of minor sets consisting of three couples, hence the alternative name triple minor. Within these minor sets, the first couple progresses one place down the major set each time through the dance, while the second and third couples progress one place up. This has the effect that first couples remain first couples all the way down the set, while the others alternate between second and third couples as they move up the set.

The end conditions are also interesting. It is easiest at the top end of the set. When you arrive at the top of the set you wait until another two couples have arrived so that you can form one of the triple minor sets at which stage you come in as first couple and start progressing down the set. Things are more complicated when you reach the bottom end of the set as a first couple. Again you have to wait until there are enough couples to make one of the minor sets before joining in and working up the set, however, if you just wait at the bottom as new couples arrive they will stay above you, start as second couples and move off up the set, leaving you stuck at the bottom. To avoid this, as a couple arrives just above you, you push them down to the bottom, so that you start as second couples. They then become third couples, but use the same trick to become second couples the next time through.

Once again the proper simple refers to the fact that all the couples are on the normal side of the set. Variations are possible with one or more of the couples swapping sides. The important thing with these variations is to remember that at the ends you must form a minor set in the appropriate formation. Variations include:

  • longways, triple, 1C improper
  • longways, triple, 1C & 2C improper

longways, square

A unusual formation, derived from a square set, and thus consisting of four couples. It is formed by squashing a square set into a longways set. Thus the first couple is improper and the fourth couple is proper. The `side' couples are in the same line as their partner, facing across to the other side couple, with the ladies on the right of their partners.

M-W-W-M in line

Each set consists of two couples in a line, the women in the middle facing out towards their partners, the men facing in.


A stretched square! One couple across the head of the set, one couple across the bottom, and the remaining couples divided equally between the two sides.


A sicilian circle consists of a ring of smaller sets, where each small set consists of a couple facing another couple. These couples should be facing around the ring rather than into and out of it. The dance typically consists of a sequence of moves performed within these groups of four, followed by the couples passing each other and travelling round the ring in the directions they are facing to meet a new couple. This formation is basically a longways, duple, 1C improper set, bent into a ring. Many dances can be performed in either formation. The advantage of a sicilian circle is that it is not necessary to stand out at the ends, so the progression is simpler, however, since you never change numbers, it is important that both couples get a fair crack at the whip, which is not as important in a longways set.

solo dance

A dance for one person acting on their own


A square set consists of four couples, each couple along one side of a square. Within the couples the lady should be to the right of her partner. The person next to you who is not your partner is your corner. The first couple are those with their backs to the caller. The numbering then progresses anti-clockwise, unless it is a Scottish dance, in which case the numbering runs clockwise.

squares in circle

This is analogous to a sicilian formation, except that the minor sets are squares rather than couples facing each other. Within these square minor sets the first couple is the couple facing anticlockwise round the ring. The rest are numbered as normal for a square set. The progression is normally obtained by the heads moving on round the ring to a new pair of side couples.

square with extra person in middle

The name says it all. In general the progression is obtained by the extra person butting into the square at some stage and displacing one of the others. Along almost identical lines is the square with extra couples in the middle formation.

threesome …

A dance involving three people, rather than couples. For most of the dances it does not matter whether the sets involve two men and one woman, or two women and one man, provided that all the sets are consistent. The odd one stands in the middle of the line of three.

Threesome dances may occur in practically any of the formations used in couple dances, and the naming follows the couple formations. For example, a threesome dance involves a single threesome not interacting with any other dancers, whilst a threesome sicilian involves threesomes facing threesomes in a ring round the room. The valid formations are thus:

  • threesome dance like couple dance.
  • threesome circle like a circle formation, but threesomes rather than couples.
  • threesomes in circle facing anticlockwise like couples in circle.
  • threesomes in circle facing clockwise like the above except that the couples face in the other direction.
  • threesome facing threesome like couple facing couple.
  • threesome sicilian like sicilian.
  • threesome square like square.
  • threesome square with extra person in the middle self explanatory.

2 couples facing 2 couples

Each set consist of eight people in two lines of four facing each other. Each line consists of two couples, the ladies on their partners right. It is like one minor set of a double longways, with the exception that these 8 dancers work with each other and nobody else. These sets may thus be arranged randomly around the room.

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