December 21, 2010

Civil War Dance: The Gothic Dance Instructions

The Gothic dance first appeared in the United States in the late 1850s. It appears to have first originated in Nova Scotia. The dance gets its name from the line of "Gothic" arches formed by the gentlemen's arms while dancing. It is considered a country dance because it is danced in two lines and is a relatively simple dance.

Before balls, the attendees would receive dance cards, which would allow the dancers to find partners ahead of time as well as learn dances that they might not be familiar with. Most balls only had only the most popular dances at the time so that the dancers would be familiar with the dances. Other dances could be performed at private parties and dances for variety. The Gothic dance is only included in two known period sources therefore appears to be more of a  regional dance.
I have tried to give the steps without using dance terminology. The Ladies are depicted as circles and the gentlemen as x's. The two rows should be about 4 feet apart and the space between dancers should be 1 1/2 feet.  

Step 1. Ladies and gentlemen form two lines facing each other. Ladies join hands and gentlemen join hands.
Step 2. Ladies take 4 steps toward the gentlemen .
Step 3. Ladies take 4 steps back while gentlemen take 4 steps forward.
Step 4. Men raise their arms and ladies, stop holding hands, and pass under the right arm of the gentleman directly in front of each lady in 4 steps. Keep in mind that the gentleman's right arm is on the left for the lady. Also the "foot lady", the lady at the end will not have an arm to go under and will have to only pass by her partner.
Step 5. Gentlemen drop hands and turn around while the ladies turn around. Gentlemen join hands while ladies join hands.
Step 6. Steps 1-6 are repeated until all are in their original spots.
Step 7. The two head couples (the two couples closest to the left on the diagram) join hands and turn clockwise until the two gentlemen are occupying the spot of the head lady and head gentleman.
Step 8. The two men at the head, join hands and the two ladies pass under the arms of the two gentlemen and pass around their partner and under and around their partner once more.
Step 9. The two gentlemen at the head join hands with their partners and the two couples pass through the two lines to the end. Make sure that the head couple rejoins the lines before the second couple to keep the couples in the same order.
Step 10. The gentleman's line takes 4 steps to the left while the ladies' like takes 4 steps to the right to bring the 3rd and 4th couples to the head of the lines. Repeat steps 1-10 until all dancers are in their original places.

 My sister drew that nice sketch at the top for me. I think it really helps people who have never seen the dance visualize it better. If you can think of anything else that would clarify the steps, please let me know. Hope you enjoy!


  1. This dance is usually done at cedar creek isn't it? i forgot about it. thanks!!!

  2. Hey Laura, sorry this is so late. I have no clue...I can never squeeze myself into that ball. I have to assuage myself with waiting outside only listening to the music. I do believe I did dance it at Cedar creek about 3 or 4 years ago.

  3. This dance looks fun! What I like about line dances is that if you can do one, you can do them all! I'm currently on the quest to learn the one in the Gwenyth Paltrow "Emma", at Mr. Weston's ball, where Mr. Knightly "saves" Harriet.

  4. I was wondering if you knew what song or timing this was danced to? Thanks!

  5. It's danced in steps of 4. So typically a 4/4 song.


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