English Country Dancing is the direct ancestor of contra dance and is still very much alive today, with newly composed dances entering the repertoire all the time.
Compared to contra, ECD offers much greater variety in musical styles, dance formations, and dance styling. It can also be more challenging than contra, and dancers who dance both ECD and contra find that their contra dance skills improve, thanks to the skills practiced in ECD.
The music for English Country dance is as varied as the dances. For many of us who love ECD, the music is an important reason why. You'll hear some of the same jigs, reels, and waltzes that you hear at a contra dance plus many more, ranging from classical compositions of Purcell and Handel to bawdy pub tunes.
There are many videos of English Country dance on the web. You might start with the Introduction to ECD video made by a station in Vancouver. Paul Ross's Childgrove channel on YouTube has many excellent videos, and the Lambertville Country Dancers maintain a long page with links to hundreds of videos.
Keith Wood of Brisbane, Australia has created animations of many English Country dances (and a few contras) at the Dance Kaleidoscope website. Use the dropdown menus to find a dance.
There are three groups in the Houston area doing English Country dance. For each group
no group membership is required,
no prior dance experience is required,
no partner is required, and
all dances are taught and called.
Led by John Bloom, the HATDS-sponsored dance takes place on the first and third Thursdays of each month from 7:15 to 9:15 pm.
The dances are held at First Unitarian-Universalist Church, 5200 Fannin at Southmore. Enter the church from the door on Southmore, and do not park in the bank parking lot. The cost is $7.50 per person.
I know of no better image for the ideal of a beautiful society than a well executed English dance, composed of many complicated figures and turns. A spectator located on the balcony observes an infinite variety of criss-crossing motions which keep decisively but arbitrarily changing directions without ever colliding with each other. Everything has been arranged in such a manner that each dancer has already vacated his position by the time the other arrives. Everything fits so skillfully, yet so spontaneously, that everyone seems to be following his own lead, without ever getting in anyone’s way. Such a dance is the perfect symbol of one’s own individually asserted freedom as well as of one’s respect for the freedom of the other.
~ Friedrich Schiller, from Kallias, or On the Beautiful.