Sequence dancing is a form of dance in which a preset pattern of movements is followed, usually to music which is also predetermined. Sequence dancing may include dances of many different styles. The term may include ballroom dances which move round the floor as well as line, square and circle dances.
Sequence dancing in general is much older than modern ballroom dances. With the exception of the waltz, invented around 1800, all dances in ballrooms were sequence dances until the early 20th century. After modern ballroom dancing developed, in England, sequence dancing continued. It included so-called 'Old Time' dances and also adapted versions of the new ballroom dances, and then versions of Latin dances. Sequence dancing is a competitive sport as well as a social pastime.
The British Sequence Championships is the most famous annual sequence dance competition and is part of the Blackpool Sequence Dance Festival. This is held in the Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens, Blackpool, England, since 1949.
Sequence dancing today
Modern sequence dancing has a repeat of the steps at every sixteenth bar, typically going on for five or six sequences in all. Specially performed sequence dance music in strict tempo is usually needed, although some 'ordinary' music may suffice provided it is played in 16 bar sections or sequences throughout. Ideally, sequence music will have a four bar introduction at the correct tempo and in the correct rhythm, followed by 5 or 6 sixteen bar sequences allowing all dancers to progress around the room and ending when the music finishes.
There are many different tempo types for sequence dancing, based on the classification of each dance. Each has an accepted speed of playing so that a typical programme of sequence dancing has a wide variety of activity. Sequence dances are split into 3 different sections; 'Old Time' – also occasionally seen as 'Old Tyme' – (now referred to as 'Classical'), 'Modern' or 'Latin' with the dividing line being somewhere in the early 20th century. New sequences are being devised all the time and the number which have been published as scripts is currently (in 2010) standing at over four thousand.
Regular competitions are held between dance teachers to decide which newly created sequence dances shall be 'officially' adopted and scripted for wider distribution. Most of these are tried for a short while and then disappear into the archives. Some, just a few, find great popularity and join the select group of dances which last for several years round the dance halls. Such popular dances are the basis of practically every 'Tea Dance'. Moreover, most now consider that the best dances are the older dances, and although a few clubs still teach them, interest in the new dances now seems to be rapidly diminishing.
Most people who attend these functions will recognise Saunter Together, Mayfair Quickstep, Waltz Cathrine, Rumba One and many others. An alternative to the tea dance is the 'Dance Club'. These are devoted to the teaching and learning of all the approved new sequence dances.
New Vogue is a set of sequence dances which use modern ballroom technique. It was developed in Australia in the 1930s and is a danced socially and competitively across Australia and New Zealand. There are fifteen competition dances which cover March, Foxtrot, Tango and Viennese Waltz rhythms.
Sequence dance scripts
These are written in a shorthand form similar to phone texting or knitting patterns. The jargon is easily learned and the shorthand can be understood. Ultra keen sequence dancers subscribe to script services that distribute the scripts immediately they are issued by the competition organisers. A short example of this dance scripting is as follows:
- 1. RF Fwd in CBMP (OP) comm to tn R * Side LF * Cls RF to LF to end bkng LOD. S Q Q.
- 2. LF bk dn LOD *RF Bk, R shldr ldg * Crs LF in front of RF S Q Q.
Go to any sequence dance yourself and you will find that most attendees are retired persons who find it a low-cost and pleasant social occasion. They like the older tuneful melodies on which the dance music is based, and the modest exercise is good for health.
Practically all sequence dancers have a good sense of humour, and this is shown in the many self-parody leaflets which go round the dance halls in the public domain. The following poem is an example
- It's the Sunday tea dance, and they'll all be here today,
- Aches and pains forgotten, dance the afternoon away.
- Foxtrots, quicksteps, waltzes, some are slow but some still nifty,
- With memories of how it was way back in 1950.
- Norman's in the toilet and he's struggling to pee,
- He's got trouble with his prostate, and he'll likely miss his tea.
- Eddy's got a new love that he met in Thornton Heath,
- She does a lovely tango, but she hasn't any teeth.
- His latest fancy footwork nearly broke his partner's neck,
- She mistook his outside swivel for a travelling contra check.
- Ida's had her hair done and she's ready for the saunter,
- She had a vindaloo last night and it's coming back to haunt her.
- Florry's mini-skirt's revealing when she's spinning in the jive,
- She really shouldn't wear a thong, approaching 85.
- They've had their tea and cake and chat and had a little laugh,
- And gamely rise with creaking knees to face the second half.
- Norman's made it back in time for rumba number one,
- His cucaracha's very neat, but he's left his flies undone.
- Vera's fallen over in a massive Crimplene heap,
- Bert's got indigestion and Mabel's fast asleep.
- It's last waltz time and up they get
- For Humperdinck's old tune,
- And then: 'Goodbye, good luck, take care,
- God willing see you soon.'
Derek Prothero, Surrey.
Note: Humperdinck's old tune refers to 'I Had the Last Waltz With You', a 1960s hit melody.
- Wood, Melusine 1952. Historical dances: 12th to 19th centuries. Dance Books, London.
- Blackpool Dance Festival
- Richardson P.J.S. 1960. The social dances of the nineteenth century in England. Jenkins, London.
- Clarke, Mary and Crisp, Clement 1981. Orbis, London. The history of dance. Chapter 5: Social dance. ISBN 0-85613-270-5
- T.A. Whitworth 1997. Learning the essential Sequence Dances. Hillman Printers, 1997. p9