A Barn Dance Repertoire

by Thomas Green

A Barn Dance Repertoire

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 enough here to make a basic repertoire.

Barn dances and ceilidhs

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 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?

If you're stumped any of the terms like do-si-do or ladies' chain, try going to the resources page and finding the link to Hugh Stewart's very clear introduction to The Elements of Country Dance (see the Resources page).

What to do here

You can browse all the dances that use a particular formation, such as circles, by going to the Formations page and clicking on Circles. 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 see whether there are any comments about a particular dance, and 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 & Copyright

Some of these dances are traditional, others were recently composed and published. I’ve included authors and book titles where known. (If you have further information, please add a comment to the dance.) Not many have been taken from any one source; if I have done anyone wrong I apologise and will be glad to change or delete the entry. Dances taken from here should not be published for profit.

About the site

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, which I can maybe hand over to a new keeper.


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.

About me

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.