The Hey is a dance figure done by a line of dancers, going each way along the line, roughly half the dancers going in each direction at any time, and alternating between passing by the right sides and by the left sides. Sometimes dancers will not be directly in line to begin with, and will go into line as they begin the hey. Heys are prominent in English Country Dance but also appear rarely in some Renaissance dance forms. Some dance groups will lightly touch hands in passing (left hand when passing by left sides, then right hand, left hand, etc), a method which is often easier for beginners to learn. Others find little evidence for any hand movement in the original manuscripts, and keep their hands by their sides.
This figure is not always described as a 'hey' in period dance choregraphies, but instead instructions on how to carry out this figure (which appear to presume some familiarity with the form) are given for the particular dance. Heys most typically proceed until every dancer has returned to their original place, facing in the same direction that they started in (imagine a full figure 8 rather than an "s" or "o"). Occasionally the figure will pause halfway through the hey, but will resume after another dance figure is performed. Both lines of a partnered longways dance may perform this move at once (e. g. Grimstock) or in turn (e. g. Godesses).
To do a basic single hey, participants in the figure begin in line, facing each other in pairs; one may be left out at the end, in which case that one faces in along the line. All pairs facing pass each other by the same side (e. g. all by the right side). Then they pass the next one they meet, all passing by the other side, and so on. Each dancer, when coming to the end of the line, turns around the end of the line, turning to the same side that they passed the last person on; they have nobody to pass as they go around the end, so they miss the side they would have passed by that time, and when they come in they pass by the same side as when they went out. The following figure shows the floor patterns of a hey for three dancers and a hey for four.
Sometimes dancers are told to go around a "pole" at the end, but this can create needless confusion, as an imaginary, invisible pole is unlikely to be found in the right place. Too often it results in dancers making an additional loop because they thought the pole was beyond the end of the line.
If imaginary posts are to be used, it works better to imagine one between every dancer and the next. When passing a dancer one also passes a post; at the end of the line one continues to go forward around the post until one faces the other way along the line, and finds another dancer to pass as one finishes going around the post. The figure below is an example of how dancers pass imaginary posts along a line, in this case a line of six dancers. This way of using the concept of posts, by the way, matches the sense of the word "hey" that the figure seems to be based upon: a fence with slats woven between posts.
Several variations on the floor pattern of the hey are done:
- the "circular hey" for four is done in the Bouffons, a dance for four dancers in a square (equilateral) formation. In this variation, dancers proceed in a single direction around the formation until they return to their places, their feet having approximately described a large circle. This hey is sometimes inserted into Playford dances, but that is not likely to be correct. When a Playford dance has a hey for four dancers who begin in a rectangular position, this tends to be an elongated rectangle (which favors a transition to a linear hey), and often the figures of the dance specifically elongate the rectangle before the hey. Sometimes the hey is begun by two dancers crossing the middle on the long axis of the rectangle, which effectively leaves the four in line, and in Dull Sir John a rectangle of four is explicitly lined up before the hey.
- The Double Hey, which appears in a few longways dances, is conjectured to be like a larger version of the "circular hey", in a long oval: dancers weave along the line on both sides of the formation, but instead of turning around the end to come the other way along the line on the same side, they cross to the other side of the formation, and continue in an oval pattern. The end dancers in the line may begin along the line or by facing across the line as requred by the individual dance.
- U shaped heys - a sort of mix between circular/oval and linear heys.
Variations in the practise of the hey also occur, the dance Grimstock giving 3 variations with very similar footprints.
tips for dancing heys:
- put the experienced couple at the top, and the inexperienced dancers will generally correct which side they are on according to which shoulder the expereinced dancers present.
- If you have learnt to dance with hand touching, and must suddenly dance without, imagine you are still touching hands - cup your hand or some similar movement to remind yourself which shoulder to present next
- Neither too fast nor too slow, and all dancers should tend to match each others' speed. For english country dances, a phrase of music is often played twice, in which case the end of the first phrase denotes when you should be at your halfway point and gives you a chance to speed up of slow down.