|Scottish country dancing (or SCD, for short)
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 (SCDS, later
"Royal" Scottish Country Dance Society or RSCDS) 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).
It is debatable whether this standardization was actually a good thing as
far as preserving the tradition of Scottish country dancing was concerned,
but it has certainly done a lot for making SCD into something that can be
enjoyed internationally. In fact, Scottish country dancing is probably more
alive today than it ever was in the past, and this is to a very large extent
due to the efforts of the RSCDS.
Today the RSCDS numbers about 25.000 members
and has »branches« in various countries all over the
world. Lots of SCD groups world-wide are affiliated with the RSCDS
even though they aren't actually branches of the Society, and
even more people enjoy SCD without being members of the RSCDS
(or any group) at all.
The RSCDS is at
12 Coates Crescent
telephone: 0131-225 3854
Edinburgh EH3 7AF
fax: 0131-225 7783