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This page presents several news articles about San Diego English Country Dancers, all published in various newspapers in San Diego's North County in recent years. To read each article, just click on its title from the list below. The left- and right-pointing arrows at the bottom of each article will take you to the previous and next articles respectively; the upward-pointing arrow will return you to this list.

Librarian shares passion for English country dance

by Rina Szwarc  •  Poway News Chieftain, Thursday, July 26, 2001

Ellen Riley, the Poway children's librarian, has a not-so-secret passion for English folk dancing.

Just ask the students in the class she teaches every Sunday at the Academy of Dance in Poway.

"If you get into her realm, it's kind of like being sucked into a black hole," said Sue Davis, who works with Riley on library events.

Riley admitted to her penchant for reeling people into learning English country dance, which is a type of elaborate line dance originally started in 16th-century England. So far, she has succeeded in attracting people as far north as Carlsbad and as far south as Chula Vista.

"I proselytize everywhere I go," she said at a break in the class.

Dancers participate in Ellen Riley's English country dance class in Poway

Then she whirled away and started teaching the group of about 25 people eagerly waiting to learn how to leap across the line, to gambol in place and to swing with merry abandon.

Riley demonstrated a few steps, swinging hips and arms.

"That is the English in English country dance," she said. "We're not as rigid as the Irish in that respect."

The dance steps originally started in the English countryside, but were brought to the royal court in the 1600s where lords and ladies stepped to its measured paces. The tradition continued until the 18th century, where it was a staple at upper-middle class parties.

"Take a look at any movie based on work by William Shakespeare or Jane Austen. Chances are a few actors will demonstrate the dance on screen," said Riley.

Her passion is shared by a growing group of people around California. They host two annual balls, one emphasizing costumes from the English Renaissance and one featuring the costumes of Edwardian England.

The dance form, which is the granddaddy of American square dancing and Appalachian contra dancing, appeals to a broad range of people and on many different 1evels. Riley loves it for the music, which has violins, piano, recorder and flute with a classical theme.

"The music is elegant and flowing," she said. Davis loves it for the costumes, but her husband Mike likes it because it appeals to his engineer's sense of order.

"One person describes this as dancing for engineers because it is very logical," he said. "I found out I was good at it, and this is the most wonderful group of people I've ever met."

The dance also appeals to the young and old, with dancers ranging in age from 11 to 70.

"You see it's worth all of the effort because after it's done, you get the classical feeling," said Bob Fox, 70, of Rancho Bernardo.

Riley's class runs from 6 to 9pm on Sundays at the academy, 12227 Poway Road, just east of Sabre Springs.

Call (858) 486-9160 for more information.

Interested? Come dance with us on Sunday at our new, larger location in Rancho Bernardo!

Please refer to this section for up-to-date contact information.

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Having a ball

by Sylvia Mendoza  •  San Diego Union-Tribune >> North Inland, Thursday, October 18, 2001

POWAY — Delicate strains of music filled the Sunday night air, bringing to mind formal balls of centuries past. Men and women lined up in two rows facing each other. Stepping forward, they touched hands, turned and dipped with grace and flourish, seeming to float as they changed partners.

The weekly English Country Dance class was in session at the Jean Hart Academy of Dance, a private studio at Oak Knoll Plaza shopping center.

"The music itself takes you back to the age of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice," said Ellen Riley, who teaches the class. "It's so incredible. It transports me to that era and makes my heart beat with joy."

Riley sometimes teaches dance under contract with the City of Poway Community Services. She is a part-time dance teacher and works part-time as a librarian at the Poway Library. Her passion for English country dancing has led her to create the costumes her students wear when they go to elaborate English country balls.

"The dance is similar to square dancing and contra dancing — which started in the colonies as a breakaway 'rebel' version of English country dance," said Riley, 49. The elegance of English country dancing is Riley's favorite, perhaps because social mores and culture are brought to life with each step.

"I tell my students to have fun and 'don't forget to flirt,'" she said. "They flirted like crazy back then because it was perfectly acceptable on the dance floor, and not in many other places."

When Alex Tarzy, 15, joined the class a year ago at the urging of his girlfriend, Vanessa Porter, also 15, he picked up the steps naturally. He braced himself for the reaction from members of his junior varsity football team and the community service club he belonged to at Poway High School.

"I didn't want them to know I was doing this, but I've learned to deal with it," he said. "I like being away from our peers and doing something I never thought I could do."

Riley loves to see students get hooked. In January, a group of her 50 students will head for the Jane Austen formal ball in Pasadena — in full costume. Balls like this are presented by various country dance and song associations.

"The spectacle is incredible," said Riley. "There are no callers at these events. Instead, dancers are truly immersed in a different time, dancing the night away in elegant style."

In the meantime, she hopes to start a beginners' class soon.

"It's so uplifting, especially now," she said, referring to the terrorist attacks. "No matter what's going on around us, for a short time you can escape into the past, into gentler times."

With a folk dancing background, Riley took up English country dancing when she moved to Poway from Philadelphia in 1982. When some of the local dance teachers retired, she taught herself the steps by picking up patterns off the Internet and in books and by going to balls held around the country. Her husband, Scott, didn't dance a step when they got married eight years ago, "but he was a good sport," Riley said.

She taught him and he studied patterns on the computer screen until he felt comfortable. When she felt ready to teach in public, he accompanied her. The group at the studio celebrated its first anniversary this month.

Helen McGuinness, who moved here from England nine years ago, said that class brought back memories from her childhood.

"Funny to come to Poway and find a class offered here," said McGuinness, 41. "I can remember learning these dance steps as child." McGuinness enrolled herself and both her daughters, who are 11 and 13.

"The girls like it because they see what I've talked about all these years," she said. "It's incredible to see traditions brought back to life and a great mix of young with old. It's your link to the past, knowing they've done it for centuries."

When Vanessa Porter's English teacher directed her to Riley, Vanessa became smitten by the intricate steps. She puts aside her studying, her work on the Associated Student Body and the cross country team for these classes once a week.

"This is my getaway," she said. "It's been the most rewarding of all."

For more information on English country dance lessons, call Riley at (858) 486-9160 or visit the Web sites or

Sylvia Mendoza is a free-lance writer based in Elfin Forest.

Interested? Come dance with us on Sunday at our new, larger location in Rancho Bernardo!

Please refer to this section for up-to-date contact information.

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English country dance alive in North County

by Suzi Camp  •  North County Times >> Community News, Sunday, August 31, 2003

POWAY — Have you heard the terms "poussette" or "hey on the left?" It's hard to believe that the word "maggot" has a place among beautiful ball gowns, tuxedos, nobility and violins. In fact, "maggot" means "favorite" when talking about English country dance.

English country dancing, or Renaissance dancing, began in the days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. By 1650, it had become the "swing dance" of medieval times. It has been featured in movies such as Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and The Man in the Iron Mask.

Partners are not necessary, and there are no actual steps to learn as much as there are patterns of weaving and turning with a light, springy walk. Movement is forward and backward, sometimes sideways, all the while turning your partner, bowing, swirling or nearly marching.

Ellen Riley, who is originally from Philadelphia, started a group in Poway when her frustrations over not having a regular practice partner became too much for her. Riley had been using towels placed on the floor for partners. Her husband, Scott, who was never a dancer, attended one ball with her and has not missed one since.

New York boasts the largest English country dance population in the United States, and the dancers' ages range from 9 to 90. English country dance groups hold one ball each year. This year's event will be held Oct. 4 in Pasadena.

Riley's classes are held from 6 to 9 p.m. Sundays at the Gene Hart Studio of Dance in the Oak Knoll Plaza off of Poway Road in Poway. In addition she is starting a six-week class in the fall through Palomar College. The classes will meet from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Sept. 16 through Oct. 21, at Palomar College's Escondido campus. Cost is $49.

To register, call Palomar College Community Services at (760) 744-1150 or Riley at (858) 486-9160.

Interested? Come dance with us on Sunday at our new, larger location in Rancho Bernardo!

Please refer to this section for up-to-date contact information.

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English country dancers watch their steps

by Pat Krumpan  •  Poway News Chieftain, Thursday, December 15, 2005

English Country Dance might be making a huge comeback — thanks to the newly-released Pride And Prejudice movie based on writer Jane Austen's book.

When you get down to it, this type of dance — which dates back to 16th-century England — is a sophisticated, elaborate line dance, but it's far from "stuffy," according to the locals who enjoy it.

If you watch closely you can identify elements of square and contra dancing, which came centuries later, but have some similarities such as using a square formation, twirling your partner arm-in-arm, or dancing in circles.

"Callers" keep the pace going by reminding dancers when to turn, especially during the trickier moves, according to Ellen Riley, organizer of the San Diego English Country Dancers in Poway.

Riley, now a part-time librarian at the Poway Library, started the group about five years ago.

"The music and the dance are so incredible," Riley said. "It tranports me right back to the Jane Austen era."

People practically glide across the wooden floor at the Jean Hart Academy of Dance in Poway, captivated by the music and the varied steps alike.

During Sunday's introduction of Dubin Bay, which isn't a standard and had some intricate moves, dancers met the challenge with lots of smiles and giggles.

Brittan Salisbury and John Forester

"You have to remember where you are in your four-partner group and where you're supposed to be," said John Forester, originally from England, now in his 70s.

"Steps can be complicated, but your rewards are grace and style," said Forester, who learned English dance from his mother in the 1940s.

One male dancer said that he was quite surprised that this style of dance isn't "frou-frou," or too formal, which is the main reason that he keeps returning to the Poway studio.

A core group — with almost equal parts men and women — arrives every Sunday from all over San Diego County, many from Carlsbad and Escondido.

Bev Amsbary of Escondido, a one-year member, enjoys the "open arms" attitude about teaching novices some of the basic steps, she said.

Male partners have shown patience, giving enough time for her to learn the steps at a pace that she can handle, she added.

"It really gets in your blood," Amsbary said, "and it's really good for your mind."

"Of course, it helps if you know your left foot from your right," she said.

Brittan Salisbury, a college student from Carlsbad, has been studying ballet for as long as she can remember and decided to give English dance a whirl, mostly because it's graceful and old-fashioned.

"I like the way it flows together," she said. "It's fun, graceful and great exercise."

Sunday was the second time that she joined the session in Poway.

Salisbury, who will be attending The Jane Austen Evening on Jan. 21 in Pasadena, has sewn a white ball gown to match the 1820s era of what women during Austen's time would have worn.

The Pasadena event will feature a tea, discussion group, dinner and dance from 3 to 11:30 p.m. at the Masonic Hall in Pasadena.

Anyone who wants to catch up with the English country dance-style in time for the ball, can drop in to learn the steps every Sunday at the Jean Hart Academy of Dance at 12227 Poway Road. Each session costs $6.

For more details about this dance group, call Riley at (858) 486-9160.

Interested? Come dance with us on Sunday at our new, larger location in Rancho Bernardo!

Please refer to this section for up-to-date contact information.

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English country dance is alive and well at Jeremy's Ranch English Riding School in Poway

Rancho Bernardo Sun, May 2007

What happens when you take an infectiously enthusiastic English horsewoman and introduce her to English Country Dance?

There can be only one answer, dancing horses.

It started out simply enough when Stephanie Kicinski, owner of Jeremy's Ranch English Riding School in Poway, began attending Sunday night dances at San Diego English Country Dancing, held weekly in Oak Knoll Plaza. The classes were so much fun that Stephanie and her husband, John Greenwood, became regulars.

Young English country dancers perform at Jeremy's Ranch in Poway

Not long thereafter, a spark ignited in Stephanie's imagination and she experienced visions of horses and riders performing English Country Dance moves. With only minor modifications in steps and music, All Around My Hat became the Jeremy's Ranch Equine English Country Dance.

All Around My Hat, an old English folk song, provides the perfect background for eight ground dancers and eight horse and rider teams to perform Equine English Country Dance. The ground dancers and equine teams dance side-by-side in a large arena so the audience can view the traditional as well as the equine interpretations of English Country Dance.

The result is both educational and entertaining. English Country Dance originated in olde England and is featured in the films based on Jane Austen's book, Pride and Prejudice. During this period in the early 1800s, the ladies were modest and these proper dances were one of the few opportunities for young men and women to interact socially and flirt.

All Around My Hat will be performed as a part of Jeremy's Ranch Horse Theatre on June 2 and 3. This is just one of the many clever and unusual activities in which Jeremy's Ranch students participate.

Jeremy's Ranch equine stars also dance around a Maypole and participate in synchronized jumping. Last year these talented horse and rider teams performed The Phantom of the Opera. Each of these activities is performed with live music accompaniment.

For more information about Jeremy's Ranch, you can visit If you are interested in seeing and participating in traditional English Country Dance (not on horseback), contact

San Diego English Country Dancing is a nonprofit organization founded by Ellen Riley in 2000. The group meets each Sunday evening from 6-9 p.m. at the Academy of Dance at 12227 Poway Road in Poway. Beginners are always welcome and experienced dancers are there to take your hand and guide you. Partners are not required.

You can contact David at (858) 831-9091 with questions regarding SDECD.

Interested? Come dance with us on Sunday at our new, larger location in Rancho Bernardo!

Please refer to this section for up-to-date contact information.

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