I announced “Morpeth Rant” at a dance in Kendal in the Lake District — and the floor cleared! I was horrified. I know it's the North-West rather than the North-East — but England isn't very wide up there! I'd heard they did a lot of rant dances in the North of England, but maybe that's just one of those tales they tell the tourists.
Some people have a fixed idea that it has to be very energetic, and if you're doing North-West Morris it certainly is; they bash down on the front foot to make a lot of noise. But the normal rant step really isn't that violent; I can do a rant step while talking to a class of dancers. It's probably not a step you pick up the first few times you try it, but persevere: it can be done. Start by doing “Hop, hop, change (pause), hop, hop, change (pause)”. I would suggest two hops on the left foot, one on the right foot and hold it there, then do the same starting on the right foot. Make sure you can do that before moving on to stage two. When it seems to be coming naturally, between the two hops on the same foot you just tap the ground gently with your spare foot. So the rhythm becomes “Hop-tap, hop, change (pause), hop-tap, hop, change (pause)”, and that gives the familiar rhythm of “potato crisps” (or in The States, “potato chips”). If you fancy something different, why not try “banana soup”? Notice that when stepping on the spot you're not putting your weight on the front foot — it just happens to touch the ground. (Madeleine Smith disagrees with this — she's been taught that the weight should be evenly balanced at this point.) Some people make a big thing of crossing the front foot over, but really that's not important. You're bound to lose the step occasionally while you're learning it, but just drop back to the “hop, hop, change” until you've got the rhythm back and then try it again. Some people advocate practicing this while standing at the bus stop!
The first hop is on the up-beat before the bar-line, so the timing is:
The rant is not a step for covering large distances — for that you want a polka. The rant is a contained step, with the weight over the body. There are several longways dances where the ones lead down the middle with a walk step and come back with a rant step while the twos move in above them. It shouldn't be necessary for the twos to force the ones off — if they're doing a proper rant step they won't come back as far as they walked down anyway.
For a travelling rant step you do put your weight on the front foot rather than just tapping it, and I certainly don't recommend crossing the front foot over! I've seen people do it at ceilidhs — dancing a reel of four and no doubt thinking they were very clever — but it looked ludicrous to me. Madeleine Smith says she always teaches the travelling rant step before the stationary one, possibly to get round this oddity.
As soon as many people take hold of their partner to dance around another couple they switch to a polka. Now I don't have any justification for my view, but it seems to me that if it's a rant dance you should rant around the other couple rather than polka. It means you have to get in closer to them, since a rant isn't a distance-covering step, but it certainly can be done. And see the notes on Feet for the business of changing foot before the dance around.