Lancashire & Cheshire Federation of Scottish Societies

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Country Dancing


Scottish Country Dancing

What is Scottish Country Dancing?

Scottish Country Dancing is a modern form of the `country dancing' popular in England and Scotland in the 18th century. It involves groups of six to ten people (most of the time) of mixed sex (most of the time) -- a `set' -- dancing to the driving strains of reels, jigs and strathspeys played on the fiddle, accordion, flute, piano, drums, etc. (no bagpipes, mostly!). The dance often combines solo figures for the `first couple' in the set with movements for all the dancers, although there is considerable variation -- there are over 7000 different dances catalogued, of which maybe 1000 or so are of lasting and non-local importance. Many of these dances derive from traditional sources such as old manuscripts and printed dance collections, but a lot have been devised in the fairly recent past, say the last fifty years or so. This fusion of the traditional and the modern as well as its ongoing evolution are part of the attraction of Scottish Country Dancing.

Think of SCD as a cross between square or contra dance (although there is no caller) and ballet; there are about a dozen basic figures which will get you through quite a number of dances, although many dances have their own quirks and specialities which make them unique and fun to dance. There is also more emphasis on `steps' than in, say, Ceilidh dancing, but the basic technique can be learned at a week-end workshop or through a couple of months' worth of practice evenings once a week. Even though there are so many dances, you don't have to learn any of them by heart if you don't want to -- the programmes for balls and social evenings are usually published well before the event, so everybody can check their crib sheets. Also, at the event itself dances are often recapitulated or even sometimes walked through slowly before the music starts (although local custom may vary).

SCD is a very social form of dancing, not only because you get to dance with seven or so people at once instead of just with one partner (smiles and eye contact are almost mandatory, and if you want there is a lot of opportunity for relaxed `flirting') but also because there are workshops, balls and social dances being held in places all over the world. It is nice to be able to travel and join a SCD group for a night nearly everywhere you go.

When country dancing came to Scotland in the 18th century, it was at first popular among the townspeople in places like Edinburgh, but spread throughout Scotland (at varying pace) and thrived there even when, during the 19th and early 20th century, more modern dances like the Waltz, One-step etc. became fashionable in other places. Country dancing in Scotland was also influenced by other Scottish dances such as Highland Reels and so acquired a particular `Scottish' flavour.

In 1923, the Scottish Country Dance Society was founded in order to preserve traditional Scottish country dancing. Its patrons went out to watch people dance and collect the dances for publication. In the process, they also tried to reconstruct and publish dances from old manuscripts that were no longer actually danced, and standardized technical points like steps and footwork (which the common folk rarely bothered a lot about).

One of the first programmes was written for a dance at Castle Menzies 1749 and includes some dances still performed today.

The Menzies's Rant or Reel Don ne Marachan
O'er the Watter to Charly
General Stuart's Reel or the New Way of Gil Don
The Montgomerie's Rant a Strathspey Reele
Couteraller's Rant a Strathspey Reel
You'r Wellcome Charly Stuart
Saw You Charly Coming or Fye Father Fee Him
He'll Aye be Wellcome Back Again
Open the Door to Three
Cope's March
The Infare or Will Ye Marry Kitty
The Mighty Pretty Valley or Reel of Tulloch
The Priest & His Books
Lady Mary Menzies's Reel
Thirtieth of Aprile
Miss Clemy Stewart's Reel
Mr. Jack Stewart's Reel
The Bleu Ribbon

Dances are performed with a number of different set patterns and it is possible to obtain the pattern from a number of books and at least one computer program. To use the program go to the Dance Database on the Information Tab

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