2022, Finding our Footing: a discussion of the evidence for a social dance step vernacular to these islands

The instruction to ‘foot it’ and the term ‘footing’ are found in social dances for England, Scotland and Ireland. What do they refer to? Are they simply a way of saying ‘dance in place’ or did they reference specific steps? Were certain steps vernacular to these islands, in contrast to fashionable French steps, and, if so, did they originate in England and Lowland Scotland, or the Gaelic world of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands?

The paper will consider the available evidence for footing from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. A key document will be Francis Peacock Sketches Relative to the Theory and Practice of Dancing, published in Aberdeen in 1806, in which ‘footing’ for the strathspey and reel is presented as a Highland vernacular form. Peacock’s footing steps will be compared with similar steps by C. C. Lang and T. F. Petersen, German dancing masters writing 1765 – 1791, described as English footing. The discussion will then widen to sample the use of the term in country dances and cotillons across the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, including examples of ‘Irish footing’ in 9/8 jigs. Based on experience of reconstructing dances from the period, this paper will argue for the existence of vernacular steps in social dancing, intrinsic to dances in jig and hornpipe metres, alongside the duple and compound duple metres familiar across all Europe.


Anne Daye is a researcher and teacher in historical dance, with a special focus on dancing in the British Isles. Anne’s doctoral thesis of 2008 presented new thinking on the Jacobean court dance theatre extending understanding beyond the texts. Post-doctoral research and publication includes further investigation of dancing at the Elizabethan and Stuart courts and in the public theatres.

Anne reconstructs and teaches country dances (17th to 19th century), cotillons and reels deepening understanding of our dance culture. Dance and music books are published by the Historical Dance Society, for which Anne is Director of Education and Research.