Dance Terms

Some simple Scottish Country Dancing terminology. For anything to do with movements or figures see dance moves. There is a useful longer list here.


Refers to a group of couples, as in 'four couple set'.

1, 2, 3, 4 or 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc.

In a set, couples are typically:

  • standing in parallel lines with men on the right when seen from the top (longways sets). The top couple is in this case number 1, and so on down the set.
  • standing in a square, with the man next to the woman. Then couple number 1 is nearest the top, with their backs to it. Couple number two are on that couple's left, and so on clockwise (as seen from above). Note this is the reverse order to that typically used in English ceilidh dancing.
  • standing in some other form of polygon, such as a triangle: this is basically the same numbering system as for a square.

Towards the business end of the room, where some combination of the band, caller, CD player, loudspeakers, stage etc. is located. In some forms of dance from south of the border this is known as 'towards the presence'.


The opposite direction to 'up'.

Top couple

The top couple is the one who is uppermost. It may refer to the topmost dancing couple, i.e. if only three couples out of four are dancing then the top couple is the uppermost of those.

Bottom couple

The bottom couple is at the other end of the set from the top couple.

Dancing couple

In many dances, one particular couple is doing most of the work at any one time. They are referred to as the 'dancing couple'. This does not imply the other couples are not dancing. In four or five couple dances, there may be two dancing couples. Typically, the dancing couple will change as the dance progresses so that everyone gets to do the same.


Corners are people of the opposite set at a particular position in the set. Suppose the dancing couple is standing between another pair of couples, then the corners are as follows:

      [Man's 2nd corner]   [Dancing lady]   [Man's 1st corner]
  Up                                                            Down
      [Lady's 1st corner]  [Dancing man]   [Lady's 2nd corner] 

The 'first corner diagonal' is the one with both first corners on it. In many dances, a figure starts by doing something with first corners, then something with second corners, so that the dancing couple is arrange on one of the two diagonals.

In a square set, the corner is the person next to you who is not your partner.