Teacup chains and beermug chains in folk dances - a few new square set dances for 2014/2015.

First published October 2014.

This webpage outlines a few new square set folk dances including one using teacup and beermug chains. They were developed (by me!) and first danced at Gittisham Folk Dance Club and at a neighbouring club in October 2014.

Other dance clubs are encouraged to try these new dances and to provide feedback and improvements.

Basic instructions for teacup chains are given here and those for a double teacup chain here. It is advised you read about simple teacup chains before attempting to understand the third dance that is described below.

A beermug chain is simply the mirror image of the corresponding teacup chain. In a mirror two things happen - right becomes left (and vice-versa) and clockwise becomes anticlockwise (and vice-versa). Thus, a 3/4 right hand turn becomes a 3/4 left hand turn and the progression 'always diagonal right' for girls in a single teacup chain becomes 'always diagonal left' for men in a single beermug chain.

The single square dances described below take 'strip the willow in a square' as their basis and use 48 bar jigs or polkas. There are two versions of each dance - these differ only in the final balance and swing. In the easy versions, you always balance and swing your partner and there are no partner changes. In the more difficult versions, either girls balance to their corner and swing their corner (and stay with them) or men do likewise with their corner (and stay with them). This is more fully described below.

A further difficulty in the teacup and beermug version of these dances is that if the progression is used, dancers have to dance their chains from both head and side positions. This can be disconcerting unless they have learnt teacup and beermug chains via my preferred method (learning middle and cut moves). In this case dancers can generally start and finish at any position and feel quite confident. I prefer teaching teacup and beermug chains in this way because it forces the 'active' dancers to do all the thinking - which is more essential in the more complex versions of dances that use these moves.

Six dances loosely based on strip the willow in a square: all variations are square dances for 4 couples.

The basic dance is 48 bars and is often danced either 4 or 6 times through. All the variations described here are danced only 4 times through.

Gallops, 8 bars

Gallops, 8 bars

Strip the willow in a square (can be head men, side men, all girls, etc), 16 bars (this part is replaced)

Circle left and right, 8 bars

Balance and swing partner, 8 bars  (as an option, this can be modified)

total 48 bars

In all the dances described here the simple strip willow move (16 bars) is replaced by a different move. In all cases there are mirror images for men and women. The dances are done four times through - with girls and men being 'active' twice: girls, men, girls, men. When the girls have been active the circles are L then R, when the men have been active R then L. It makes little difference if this refinement is omitted. Likewise, when it is the men's turn to do the figure, it is the sides who gallop before the heads, again this is not essential if teaching beginners.

In the simple versions all the balance and swing moves are with your existing partner - there is no progression. These simple versions are suitable for teaching novice dancers teacup and beermug chains because each sex get to do these moves twice and from the same positions on the floor: you get two identical chances to get it right! In the more difficult versions, there is a progression.

Three different 16 bar figures are described below, in increasing order of difficulty. Any one can be 'slotted into' the basic dance giving 6 different dances, depending on whether the progression is also utilised. Doing the simplest of the dances is a useful way of preparing dancers for the teacup/beermug variant as it introduces the concept of 'always diagonal right' for girls and 'always diagonal left' for men - provided that the sequence is taught as 4 separate 'middle' moves.

Gittisham Square Dance Number 1: Mirror image strip willow moves. (Easy) Here the 16 bar figure for all the girls is a conventional 'strip willow' move with right arms in the centre for a 3/4 right hand star then a left turn with the man on the right of your starting position and repeated 3 more times. It is best taught as 'middle' 4 times through, and the left turns with each man should be elbow arm turns, as in strip the willow.

In the second and last turn of the dance the men do the mirror image figure - 3/4 left star in the middle and always going to the woman on the diagonal left of their starting position for a right arm turn - she will always be their present corner. Again it is best taught as 'middle' four times through to prepare dances for teacup and (for the men) beermug chains. Once this dance is mastered, the 'cut' moves are easily taught, getting dancers back home in only 4 arm turns - girls RLRL, for men LRLR. If you dance these, you'd go around the set twice in 16 bars - so just walk it once!

Gittisham Square Dance Number 2: Mirror image sequence pinched from the Templebeg set. (Intermediate) Here the 16 bar strip-willow figure is replaced by a neat 16 bar figure that is part of the second figure of the Templebeg set - an Irish Set dance that I first danced at the Basingstoke 'Setsmad' weekend in September 2014. In the original 144 bar figure this sequence is 16 bars but danced in only around 12 seconds. Using typical music for English folk dancing you get a little longer to get it right! The Templebeg figures can be viewed on youtube.

The calling can be minimal - indeed if you try and call all the stars and turns dancers complain there is too much information. The figure is best taught and the dancers can then be left to get it right (pardon the pun)! The minimal instruction is 'Girls right!' when the girls dance the figure and 'Men left!' when it the turn of the men. Thereafter everything is simply right/left/right/left etc.

The only thing that needs to be memorised is 1/2, 1/4, 1/2 being the stars that are danced in the middle of the set. For men the stars are L, for girls they are R.

For girls, the simple instruction "Girls Right" should be interpreted as follows:

All girls move RIGHT (to corner man)

Turn him by the LEFT, ending neatly beside him

Half RIGHT star to opposite man

Turn him by the LEFT, ending neatly beside him

Quarter RIGHT star (go to the man on your left who will be opposite your original partner)

Turn him by the LEFT, ending neatly beside him. You will be opposite your current partner

Half RIGHT star to partner

Turn partner by the LEFT, ending neatly beside him, ready for the circles (next 8 bars)

Thus if you can cope with RLRLRLRL and remember 1/2, 1/4, 1/2, no extra calling is needed.

For men, all stars are with left hands.

Note that the initial move is NOT an 'allemande turn your corner'. If it was, the turn would occur midway between the dancers, each having moved forward towards each other. In this figure, only one sex moves, the other sex stays rooted to the spot and the turn occurs at their location.

Gittisham Square Dance Number 3: Mirror image teacup and beermug moves (More difficult, especially if progression is used) Here the 16 bar phrase is replaced by simple teacup chains (for girls) and beermug chains (for men). Again the dance is danced four times through. Heads are taught 'middle cut middle cut', sides are taught 'cut middle cut middle' as explained here. It is essential to understand this 'middle, cut' nomenclature before reading further.

The two groups (heads, sides) should be taught separately. Because teacup chains involve only 6 arm turns to get back home, there is too much music in 16 bars despite that one of the turns is 1.25 rather than 0.75. One way of utilising the excess music is to ask dancers to do an introductory arm turn with their partner before starting the actual teacup or beermug chain. Thus at the start of the 16 bar phrase, couples will do a full left turn with their partner to prepare the girls to use their right arms first in a teacup chain, and vice versa for men in a beermug chain. In practice I have found this works very well and that even fairly novice dancers can soon master a teacup or beermug chain, if they are first taught 'strip willow' (= 4 x 'middle' moves) and then four 'cut' moves. The only other necessary refinement is to ask that the sides are a little 'lazy' in doing their introductory turn, this gives the heads a slight 'head start' and this avoids the possible clash in the middle of the set with the sides coming in to do a left arm turn before the heads have finished their first right arm turn. The 'delay' that is necessary is slight.

Girls must remember three magic words 'always diagonal right' - this denotes their destination man for each move, men need to remember 'always diagonal left'. This dance is far more demanding if the progression is used because dancers start the second teacup or beermug from a different position (heads/sides) as well as with a different partner. Indeed - it is arguably more difficult than the Gittisham Display dance.


All three dances but particularly the teacups and beermugs version, can be made more difficult by a progression that occurs at the start of the final balance and swing move. When the girls have been 'active' they finish the circle right and then turn to face their corner - they will already be moving in this direction. Men just have to stop. Girls balance and swing their corner, moving slightly during the swing to stay with him. Thus girls move one place anticlockwise around the set during the swing, heads becoming sides, etc.

When men have been active, they end the circle left (circles are R then L in this case) and turn to balance and swing with their corner, moving during the swing to their corners position, and stay with her. Thus men move one place clockwise around the set. If repeated during the third and last turns of the dance (girls move again, men move again), the final swing will be with original partners, not in original positions but on the opposite side of the set.

Whilst girls find it easy to change positions, men are often reluctant - prompting the caller at the Basingstoke SetsMad weekend in Sept 2014 to say that men were like homing pigeons, always wanting the comfort of their own nestbox.

If this progression is used, the original head girls are first to gallop during the first two turns of the dance. The original side girls will gallop first during the third and last turn of the dance.

A related dance - the Gittisham Display dance that involves 16 dancers doing 32 stars within 2 double teacup chains and 2 double beermug chains is described here.

Basic moves for folk dancing

Grand square moves

Double teacup chains

Gittisham Folk Dance Club

Gittisham Display dance - not for novices!

Folk Dancing in Devon

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