Some terms used by dance callers

This is a list of terms that dance callers use to be able to quickly communicate their instructions. An ideal way to learn the movements described below is to dance them!

Back to back
When facing another person, each moves forward passing right shoulders and  walks backwards to place passing left shoulders (unless otherwise directed). [Also known as a Do-si-do]
Cast off
The active couple turn away from each other and go behind their line of dancers and move one or more positions down the set as directed. Often others in their lines follow them.
Cross over/pass Change places with another dancer by moving forward and passing by the right shoulder, unless otherwise directed. In some dances it’s a way of progressing to a new couple to dance with.
Do-si-do An Anglicised version of the French dos–à-dos. – see Back to back.
Grand chain In a circle formation, partners face each other. They take right hands and walk past each other to take the left hand of the next dancer, the right hand of the next and so on for a certain number of times as directed.
Ladies chain With couples facing each other, the two women join their right hands, pull past each other and give their left hands to the opposite man. As they do that the women put their right hands on their hips, so that the men can put their right hands there, and turn as a couple to face the other couple again. ‘Half a ladies chain’ takes a woman to the opposite side. A ‘full ladies chain’ means she chains a second time to return to where she started.
Star Dancers (usually four) join right or left hands in the middle of their circle and walk in the direction they face. A handshake hold with your opposite is preferable to grasping the wrist of the person in front of you.
Swing ** A turn with two hands, but moving faster and making more than one revolution.
Turn Give both hands to someone and make a complete circular clockwise turn to place.
Turn by right / left


Dancers join right or left hands and make a complete circular turn to place.

** There are many types of swings. A common one is a pivot swing using a cross-hand hold, with partners’ right feet placed alongside each other and the left feet used to push off (as when riding a scooter). In Irish dances a ceili / ceilidh hold may be used for a pivot swing, with partners taking left hands in a handshake hold and slipping their right arms inside the left arms to put their hands on their partner’s hip.

Source: The above list is condensed and adapted from one accessed in September 2019 at