English country dances have been practiced, as collective dances with figures, since the 16th century. They are a social dance form where each couple dances with the others in line, in a circle or in square sets. They are very numerous, some of them extremely difficult. They range from serious to amusing forms but their style remains sober and elegant throughout.
In 1651 John Playford (A word about Playford), a London music publisher, brought out a collection of 104 country dances. This book and many later ones are the research basis for specialists of old dances.
Country dances seem to have been devised to free dancers from the restraints implied by court behaviour. They are meant for fun and range from quite simple to very elaborate constructions. They have been danced through four centuries, not as a historical reconstruction but as a present, live form of folk dance. The earliest ones we know about may date back to 1651 but new country dances have been created ever since, by highly talented choreographers and music writers in the 20th century in particular.
Cécile LAYE has worked on many country dances and teaches them in workshops but also tries to have them danced in France as they are in present days across the Channel.