For all dancers: Ladies’ Chain

Our tutor Rod Downey gives us some tips on the Ladies’ Chain

Key things are:

  • The ladies face on the diagonal, change right hand on the first bar and then curve to their right in a boomerang shape
  • Remember to look out for the man who should by this time be in the place the other lady started from
  • You must attack the first and fifth beat of the formation so phrasing is the key.

You can find more information in:

Dancing the Ladies’ Chain in Mrs Stewart’s Jig at the Tribute to Peter Elmes in 2018

Historical note

In the beginning of the 20th century, Ladies Chain was done as a completely symmetric figure. Thus, assuming that first couple are in 2nd place on opposite sides, at the end of bar 2, 2nd lady would be in 1st man’s original place and 1st lady would be in 2nd ladies original place. This meant that the ladies had a very long track, passing on bar 1 and having to dance all the way to the opposite sidelines on bar 2.

Sometime about 30 or so years ago, the RSCDS decided this would all happen on the diagonal between 1st lady and 2nd lady’s places. So at the end of bar 2 there would be a diagonal line from 1st lady’s original place of 1st man, 1st lady, 2nd lady, 2nd man. The problem with this formulation is keeping the ‘chain’ character.

In the most recent edition of the RSCDS manual (May 2013), the compromise is somewhere between the two. You may find that some teachers will stick to one of the earlier formulations.

There are some very old dances such as Loch Leven Castle with video, which was clearly written for the original formulation and are infinitely easier done using the old formulation. Even very good dancers like those in the demonstration video have to maul the figure to make it fit using the modern formulation.

Another example where the original formulation is better is in Skara Brae from The Orkney Connection, which has a ‘mixed chain’.

Rod Downey
30 July 2020

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