English Country dancing is the direct ancestor of contra dance and is still very much alive today, with newly composed dances entering the repertoire almost weekly.
Compared to contra, ECD offers much greater variety in musical styles, dance formations, and dance styling. It can also be more challenging than contra, and dancers who dance both ECD and contra find that their contra dance skills improve thanks to the skills practiced in ECD.
The music for English Country dance is as varied as the dances. For many of us who love ECD, the music is an important reason why. You'll hear some of the same jigs, reels, and waltzes that you hear at a contra dance plus many more, ranging from classical compositions of Purcell and Handel to bawdy pub tunes.
There are many videos of modern English Country dance on the web. You might start with the Introduction to ECD video made by a station in Vancouver. Paul Ross's Childgrove channel on YouTube has many excellent videos, and the Lambertville Country Dancers maintain a long page with links to hundreds of videos.
Experienced English dancers might enjoy this bit of ECD humor: A Reading from the Books of Barnes, a skit performed at Pinewoods English Week in 2002. (The Barnes books are collections of ECD tunes.) How many dance names can you recognize?
Keith Wood of Sydney, Australia has created animations of many English Country dances (and a few contras) at the Dance Kaleidoscope website. Use the dropdown menus to find a dance.
George Williams of Santa Barbara has animated over 1600 dances—old and new ECD, contra, and squares. The animations are on YouTube; see his site for an index: upadouble.info.
The Historical Tea and Dance Society of Pasadena, California presents 5 Things: An English Country Dance Web Talk, an occasional series of chats with ECD callers and musicians from the US and UK. Prior weeks are available to watch on their Facebook page (FB account not required). Facebook | Website
Meets at Serenity Movement Studio, 1314 FM 646 #5, Dickinson, TX 77539, usually every 1st and 3rd Saturday from 7:00 to 9:00 PM. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or see their Facebook page for details and to check their schedule.
I know of no better image for the ideal of a beautiful society than a well executed English dance, composed of many complicated figures and turns. A spectator located on the balcony observes an infinite variety of criss-crossing motions which keep decisively but arbitrarily changing directions without ever colliding with each other. Everything has been arranged in such a manner that each dancer has already vacated his position by the time the other arrives. Everything fits so skillfully, yet so spontaneously, that everyone seems to be following his own lead, without ever getting in anyone’s way. Such a dance is the perfect symbol of one’s own individually asserted freedom as well as of one’s respect for the freedom of the other.
~ Friedrich Schiller, from Kallias, or On the Beautiful.