What is English Country Dancing?
English Country Dancing is believed to be one of the oldest forms of recorded folk dancing still being danced around the world, with origins that can be traced back to at least 1480 - before Columbus sailed to America! Dances at court had become so difficult - and boring - that people began learning the simple dances the country folk were doing, and dance masters took those dances and made them more complex. The earliest published source is John Playford's The English Dancing Masters of 1650-1, which was a compilation of over 100 "country dances;" that were largely re-instated by dance masters whose origins were the very simple dances of the country folk.English Country Dance spread rapidly throughout Europe and the European colonies around the world, and was one of the most popular forms of social recreation in colonial America because it was accessible to everyone from the gentry to slaves. In the winter, many houses with larger rooms danced almost every evening, because the heat of dancers warms a house better than any fireplace. It was a terrific way for men and women to meet in a socially acceptable and proper setting. Many find the graceful, flirtatious yet restrained interactions between couples to be far more attractive than the modern dances of today.
Throughout most of the 19th century, English Country Dancing continued in most ballrooms in one form of another, be it through a longways set, a reel, or a quadrille. After the American Civil War, couples dancing became the most popular form of dance, and English Country Dancing was largely forgotten until the year 1909 when, in the interest of preserving the English Folk dance tradition, English folklorist Cecil Sharpe published The Country Dance Book, which was a set of country dances he had collected in his travels around the country. Today, there are numerous English Country Dance societies all over the United States and around the world and this medium of dancing seems to be here to stay!
Below are You Tube videos that illustrate a folksy, 17thc style of ECD, a more stately court-style of ECD, and a very nice Regency Era quadrille.