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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Big Circle Mountain Square Dance
By Glenn and Evelyn Bannerman, 1972

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Evelyn and Glenn Bannerman Welcome to Big Circle Square Dancing! We have found Big Circle Square Dancing in many parts of the country. It is not necessary at this rime to trace its background – just to say that it has been danced for hundreds of years and is truly our own American dance.

The important thing to remember is that it has come to us by of folk who have enjoyed dancing and being together. The dance is simple enough for everyone to enjoy it, yet even in its simplicity, is beautiful to watch.

At the turn of the century, my father danced the Big Circle in the "flatlands" of North Carolina, around Ivanhoe and White Lake. In our youth, we danced the Big Circle in Hopewell, Virginia. Our most enjoyable times of dancing have been in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. You can stll find the dance at Maggie Valley, Hendersonville, Asheville, Lake Lure, Montreat, and other communities around the Great Smokey Mountains.

The Stoney Creek Boys and the Bannermans kept the dance alive in Montreat, North Carolina. Every Friday night during the summer you can hear the crisp tunes bing played as the caller calls out "It's Square Dance time at the Barn! Take your partner and make one big circle." The Shindig on the Green in Asheville, North Carolina takes place on Saturday evenings all summer in front of the County Courthouse. The Stoney Creek Boys and the Bannermans, along with many other musicians and dancers, keep the toes tapping, the hands clapping, and the feet flying around the Big Circle. Because of our love of the dance, we share the following hints to the caller and to the dancer.



Have Fun! Happy Dancing!

The Big Circle Dance consists of two basic formations – BIG CIRCLE FIGURES and SMALL CIRCLE FIGURES. A dance is usually put together in the following manner:

  1. OPENING – Big Circle Figures
  2. BODY – Small Circle Figures
  3. CLOSING – Big Circle Figures

For the Big Circle Figures or OPENING and CLOSING figures, eight or more couples form a single circle, hands joined, man with his partner on his right. The lady on the man's left is his corner lady. From this formation, any of the calls listed as Big Circle Figures may be danced.

Small Circle Figures, or the body of the dance, are figures done by two couples dancing together. These couples have been designated as ODD and EVEN couples before the dance begins by counting off beginning with the lead man counter-clockwise around the ring.

As you design your Big Circle Dance, keep in mind the following sample pattern:






  1. Circle Left – Dancers join hands, man with his partner on his right, and dance to the left.
  2. Circle Right – Dancers join hands, man with his partner on his right, and dance to the right.
  3. Single File, Lady in the Lead – Single circle with man's partner in front. Dance counter-clockwise around the circle.
  4. Grand Right and Left – Single circle of couples, partners facing each other, men counter-clockwise, ladies clockwise. Partners join right hands, pull by passing left shoulders. Continue right and left around the circle until you meet your original partner.
  5. Swing – Partners face each other. Assume ballroom dance position. Each take one step to the left. Walk forward around each other. This is known as a "Walk-around Swing."
  6. Promenade, Over the Shoulder – Couples, facing counter-clockwise, lady on man's right. Man extends right arm across the back of partner's shoulders to take her right hand in his right hand above her right shoulder. Left hands are joined in front of man's left shoulder. In this position, dance around the circle, counter-clockwise. This is known as "Courting Promenade."
  7. London Bridge – From a Promenade, the lead couple reverses direction, man holding partner's right hand with his left hand, to form an arch over the heads of the other dancers. Each couple in turn follows the couple in front. When lead couple reaches the end of the line, they turn and duck under the arches, followed by the other couples, until they are back to the head of the line and then Promenade.
  8. Queen's Highway – From a Promenade, the lead lady turns right, leaving her partner, and dances in the opposite direction around the circle followed by the other ladies in succession. When she meets her partner, she Promenades with him.
    King's Highway – From a Promenade, the lead man steps out behind his partner, turning right, to follow the lady immediately in front of him in the opposite direction around the circle. Each successive man follows him out, around and back to his partner for a Promenade. (Man steps in behind his partner from the Promenade.)
  9. Roll the Ladies In – From an Over-the-Shoulder Promenade position, keeping the hands joined, ladies do a left-face turn ending up on the inside of the ring (to her partner's left).
    Roll the Ladies Out – Ladies do a right-face turn back to place, men assisting in the same manner.
  10. Shoo Fly Swing
    Lead couple out to the middle of the ring,
    Turn your partner right – then left at the ring,
    Back to the middle with a right-hand swing,
    Back with a left at the outside right.
    The lead couple moves inside the circle and swing a partner with a Right Hand Around. The lead lady leaves her partner and tuns her corner with a Left Hand Around, returns to partner with a Right Hand Around and continues left to the next man and right to her partner. When the first couple begins the figure with the fourth couple, the number two man takes his partner and begins the Right and Left Reel. Each couple continues the figure until they are back at home. (NOTE: While in the middle of the circle, the man turns no other lady but his partner.)
  11. Basket
    Ladies to the center and circle left,
    Gents keep going, circle right,
    The other way back.
    Gents stop to the left of partner,
    Raise hands and make that basket,
    Ladies bow, gents know how,
    Circle left and away you go.
    Reverse the baket and away you go,
    Break and swing your partner.
    Ladies, drop hands with the men, move toward the center of the circle, join hands and circle to the left. Men join hands and circle right. Reverse circles, men going left and ladies right. Men stop to partner's left, raise joined hands over ladies heads and in front of ladies' wrists. Circle continues to move left. Men raise hands over ladies' heads and back to place while ladies raise joined hands over men's heads and behind their backs. Circle continues to move left. Break and swing your partner.


  1. Odd couple Out to the Even Couple
    Odd couple out to the even couple,
    Circle left, now the other way.
    Single circle of couples, numbered off or having been designated odd or even before the dance begins. Odd couples move out to the couple on the right, join hands, and circle to the left. Reverse circle, move back to position.
  2. Right Hands Across
    Right hands across and howdy do,
    Back with the left, and how are you?
    Men join right hands, ladies join right hands, and walk forward. Reverse direction, joining left hands.
  3. Duck for the Oyster
    Duck for the oyster, dive for the clam,
    Duck right through and roll it around,
    Circle left, once around,
    Swing your opposite lady,
    Swing your own.
    Hands joined with even couple, odd couple ducks under the arch formed by the even couple and back to place. Even couple ducks under the arch formed by the odd couple again, odd man drops right hand (this is the only handhold that is broken), odd man goes left, odd lady goes right pulling the even couple through under their own arms. Circle left once around, swing the opposite lady, then swing your partner.
  4. Take a Little Peek
    Circle to the left, circle to the right,
    'Round that couple and take a little peek,
    Back to the center and swing your sweet,
    'Round that couple and peek once more,
    Back to the center and swing all four.
    Circle left, circle right. Odd couple separate, peek at each other around the even couple. Return to place and swing your partner. Separate and peek once more, back to place and both couples swing their partners.
  5. Birdie in the Cage
    Circle to the left, and back to the right,
    Birdie in the cage, six hands around.
    Birdie hop out, crow hop in,
    Six hands up and you're gone again.
    Crow hops out and hops on a limb,
    Circle to the left, you're gone again.
    Circle left, circle right. Odd lady moves into the middle of the circle, six hands joined around her, circling left. Odd lady moves back into her position in the circle while odd man (the crow) moves to the center of the circle. Man moves out to position and all circle left.
  6. Four Leaf Clover
    Circle left and back to the right,
    Odd, duck right under for a four-leaf clover and turn on over.
    Odd arch and even go under.
    Circle left,
    Swing your opposite lady,
    Now swing your own.
    Circle left, circle right. Even couple makes an arch. Odd couple ducks under the arch and turns away from each other, passing their joined hands over their own heads, forming the clover leaf. Odd couple arch and even couple ducks under and all circle left. Swing the opposite lady, then swing your partner.
  7. Chase That Rabbit
    Circle to the left, now back to the right,
    Chase that rabbit, chase that squirrel,
    Chase that 'possum, chase that 'coon,
    Chase that big boy 'round the room.
    Circle to the left,
    Swing your opposite, then swing your own.
    Circle left, circle right. Odd lady leads out in between the even couple, around and behind the even lady, back between the even couple, around and behind the even man, odd man following all the way. Then the odd man leads out, following the same plattern with the odd lady chasing behind. Circle left, swing the opposite, swing your partner.
  8. Basket
    Circle to the left and back to the right,
    Eight hands across,
    Ladies bow, gents know how,
    Circle left.
    Break and swing your opposite,
    Now swing your own.
    Circle left, circle right. Men reach across joining hands. Ladies join hands under the men's. Men raise hands over the ladies heads and ladies raise hands over the men's heads, forming a basket with hands joined at waist level. Circle continues to move left throughout the figure. Break and swing your opposite, swing your partner.
  9. Ladies Chain
    Circle left and back to place,
    Two ladies chain,
    Chain them over and chain right back.
    Swing your opposite,
    Swing your own.
    Ladies move to the center, joining right hands and passing by. Lady joins left hands with the opposite man who places his right hand in the small of her back and, moving forward, turns her around to place. Ladies chain back, turning to place in the same manner with partner. Swing the opposite lady, swing your partner.
  10. Little Girl Step Through
    Circle to the left and back to the right,
    Little girl step through,
    Little boy too,
    Swing the lady on the right.
    Circle to the left and back to the right,
    Little girl step through,
    Little boy, too,
    Swing your partner.
    Circle left and back to the right. Drop hands. Men and opposite ladies join right hands, ladies step through the circle passing left shoulders. Continue to walk as men step through circle passing left shoulders. All join hands and circle clockwise. Man swings the lady on his right, puts her on his right and circle left, then circle right. Repeat the entire figure, ending up swinging with the original partner.


Each of the following books has an excellent section of Big Circle Dancing.

The following books deal specifically with Big Circle Dancing.


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