Contra Dance Figures
These are some of the figures used in contra dance:

Forward and back: two dancers or lines of dancers move
toward each other, then away, using 8 beats of the

Left hand around, or allemand left: two dancers make a
strong connection with left hands (usually at shoulder
height) and rotate counterclockwise around each other,
using 8 beats of the music for a complete rotation.

Right hand around, or allemand right: same as above
but using right hands and rotating clockwise.

Two hands around: two dancers join both hands with
each other, either right-to-right and left-to-left or
straight across. Rotate clockwise, using 8 beats of
the music for a complete rotation.

Dosido: passing right shoulders to start, two dancers
or couples follow a clockwise path around each other
without contact. Individual dancers may spin their
bodies counterclockwise as they travel around each
other, in any case using 8 beats of the music for a
complete rotation. Couples dosido-ing each other will
need 16 beats.

See-saw: same as above but passing left shoulders to
start and going counterclockwise.

Gypsy: same as a dosido but maintaining strong,
usually flirtatious, eye contact.

Right-hand star: 3 to 6 or more dancers walk clockwise
around their joined or touching right hands. Often
each person lightly grasps the wrist of the person
they follow.

Right hands across, similar to a right-hand star
except that the dancers take the hand of the person
directly across from them in a handshake grip.

Left-hand star and left hands across: same as above,
using left hands.

Balance: a dancer takes one more or less forceful step
forward or to the side, putting weight on it; lets the
other foot swing through or across without shifting
weight off the first foot (though the second foot may
touch); swinging or stepping the second foot back to
place, shifting the weight decisively onto it; and
bringing the first foot back to place. Takes only 4
beats and often leads into a swing. A New England
favorite, especially if you want to show off.

Swing: two dancers hold each other in any of a great
variety of positions (click HERE for more than a few
ideas) and spin clockwise as rapidly and smoothly as
they please. The classic footwork is the buzz step:
take a low, gliding step just past your partner's
right heel with your right foot, pivoting on it at the
same time, then bring your left foot up toward your
right heel as you continue to pivot. Keep your left
heel raised. Beginners often resort instead to smooth,
closely-spaced normal steps in time with the music.
For greatest safety and enjoyment, the two dancers let
each other support about a fourth of their body weight
(called "giving weight"). The swing tends to be the
most dramatic interaction between dancers, augmented
by sustained eye contact (which may also help
alleviate dizziness). Usually 8 to 16 beats of music.

Promenade: two or more dancers walk side-by-side, most
often counterclockwise, usually with hands joined
left-to-left and right-to-right.

Courtesy turn: most often, a stationary dancer
receives an approaching second dancer
left-hand-to-left-hand and guides that second dancer's
movement into a counter-clockwise change of direction
around the first dancer's position. In the classic
courtesy turn, the first dancer's right hand is placed
in the small of the second dancer's back and both
dancers face the same way during the change of
direction. A common modern trend is for both dancers'
left hands to be raised and loosely touching, allowing
the second dancer to freely pirouette clockwise while
following the counterclockwise path around the first
dancer's position. In this case the first dancer
simply turns to keep facing the second until the
figure is completed. It is the second dancer's option
whether or not to pirouette, easily signalled by
controlling the position of the joined left hands. All
this happens neatly in 4 beats.

Chain (across, over, or back): two dancers approach
each other, join right hands handshake-fashion, and
pull past each other to approach dancers waiting to do
a courtesy turn. The courtesy turn completes the
figure. 8 beats from start to finish.

Right and Left (over or back): a pair of dancers
standing side-by-side exchange places with a pair
facing them like this: Each dancer passes the opposite
person by the right shoulder. Then both members of the
pair, facing the same direction, turn
counter-clockwise as a unit to face back across. One
way to turn is for members of the pair to put their
near arms around each other's back. As they wheel
around, the dancer on the left backs up and the dancer
on the right steps forward, both giving weight as in
the swing. Also popular is for the person on the left
to give the person on the right a modified courtesy
turn. If this figure is done only once, it's sometimes
called "half right and left". Takes 8 beats.

(These descriptions are courtesy of a now-defunct and anonymous

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