Scottish country danceScottish country dancing
, as distinct from Old Tyme dancing, is very loosely governed throughout the world by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society
(RSCDS). As the word "governed" implies, Scottish dancing (though a type of folk dancing
) is still continuing to evolve, and the majority of dances currently in favour have been written more recently than in most folk traditions. As a pursuit Scottish country dancing is no longer confined to Scotland,
but active communities can be found throughout the world - in the rest of Britain,
continental Europe, Canada and the US as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan,
with occasional groups in places as diverse as Russia, South Africa, Argentina,
Hong Kong and so on.
Scottish country dances are categorised as reels, jigs, hornpipes or strathspeys; generally consist of two partner couples (one man and one lady - frequently informally danced with two ladies instead, one of whom dances as the "man"), incorporating two or more couples in sets (usually restricted to six couples unless for demonstration purposes). The usual set shape is "longwise" - between three and five couples side by side with all the men in a line facing a similar line of ladies (each man being opposite their partner) with the top couple of the set being the left most man and his partner. Other set shapes include:
- Triangular : three couples on the sides of an equilateral triangle with the top couple being on the base of the triangle
- Square (basic) : four couples on the sides of a square with the top couple being that closest to the band
- Square (extended) : five (or six) couples with four couples positioned as with a basic square and one (or two couples) in the middle facing (and turn away from) the top couple
The dance itself is made up of figures of varying length, for the most part being some fraction or multiple of 8 bars as all Scottish country dance music uses 8 bar phrases - excepting those that have 10 bar phrases! These figures are strung together into 32/40/48 bar dances which are then repeated 4/8 times. You may have noticed my resignation in not using conditional statements any more, this is because there will always be a dance that contravenes what I say - probably even a popular dance. To give a few examples (and also provide a better idea of the structure of dances) here is a list of dances that are exceptional in one aspect or another:
- Nighean Donn (The Brunette): You do not dance with the same partner you started with all the way through the dance (in fact you change every time through)
- Bonnie Anne : Only danced one time through and 96 bars long
- MacDonald of Sleat : Danced through only once, also including a pause two bars from the end for a "traditional" ending you get to kiss your partner!
- Foursome Reel (and variations) : Danced once through, couples face each other across a double width set
- Glayva : a two couple longwise dance
- The Wee Cooper o' Fife : uses 10 bar phrases
- Eightsome Reel : has a beginning which is repeated to finish the dance after having repeated a middle section eight times (very unusual)
- Jubilee Quadrille : danced to a quadrille - a type of french country tune?
- Palindrome : danced once through, starts with a new figure (a circle round and back in reverse - a circle back and round I guess :) and introduced "twiddles" in strathspey "reels of four"
- The Bees of Maggieknockater : relatively regularly danced with dancers impersonating bees - normally Scottish country dancing is vaguely formal if not very formal
It is worth noting that the last two dances illustrate an important point about Scottish country dancing. All descriptions of the make up of dances here have been describing the composition of the dance as written
. The "twiddles" mentioned in the Palindrome (an extra spin - and possibly clap - in the middle of a three loop figure of eight (reel of four) - just to confuse the issue a "figure of eight" is a different figure entirely :) have been used for a long time by more light-hearted dancers but have only been specifically written into two dances. "Mairi's Wedding" (also a Scottish
song) is almost never danced as written in Scotland
and with some other dances where it is easier (though sloppier) to cut corners to enable you to arrive at the desired point in the dance on time.
With the constant writing of new dances new variations are appearing all the time and some of the old informal variations are adopted into new dances (examples being the afrementioned twiddles and also, I believe, "Flight of the Falcon" reels - named after the first widely known dance they were written into). The constant evolution has also given Scottish country dancing a lot of "life" and people feel much less guilt or hesitation about altering a dance for the purposes of demonstrations, and also borrowing ideas for their own dances.
The current SCD repertoire consists of dances from old sources, going back to
Playford's manuals from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, as well as
modern material. When country dancing was en vogue during the 18th century,
large numbers of dances were written, most of which fell into disuse during
the 19th century when more "modern" dances such as the quadrille, waltz, etc.
became popular. Only a few dances remained part of the active repertoire in
Scotland until the RSCDS was founded
in 1923. The RSCDS began to collect and publish these dances as well as reconstruct
(or reinterpret) dances from old sources that were no longer being danced. Soon
after the inception of the RSCDS people started inventing new dances in the spirit
of the older ones, but also introducing new figures not part of the
"traditional" canon. Today there are over 11.000 dances catalogued, of which
less than 1.000 can be considered "traditional". Basically anybody can come up
with a new dance, but many dances are of local importance only; the RSCDS does
publish collections of new dances every so often but does not try to control the
invention of new material. Neither does it dictate how dances are danced and who may teach them, but they do hold significant influence since they teach the majority of Scottish country dance teachers, and their canon of dances make up a very large
proportion of the "global" repertoire that one can expect to meet wherever
Scottish country dancing takes place.
English Country Dance
Take the Floor -- a radio programme devoted to Scottish country dance music