RSCDS Falkirk

Scottish Country Dancing Summarised



Historical Origins

People have been living, loving and dancing in Scotland for about 6000 years! The social history is richly endowed with much tradition that is rewarding to experience. Society has changed much over the centuries, with changes in governments, instrument technology, living arrangements and international trading partners. Many migrating influences from in and outside the nation have made Scottish Country Dancing what it is currently, typically deriving from the 1700's until modern times.

The term country dancing comes from the regal court term Contredanse; to describe a formation in which dance partners stand opposite, or 'contra' to each other. Thus SCD is mainly a couples dance, with couples arranged in sets, typically 4 couples in a long line, men facing women. Tradition dictates the men have their left shoulder to the band, so the lines are down the length of the hall. There are unusual variations, such as circular, square and triangular, even hexagonal sets, with 3 — 6 couples.

Patterned Sequence Social Dancing

Many other forms of dance are freestyle where couples roam at random around the room. Scottish people are intelligent and love the disciplined beauty of precisely patterned sequences. Due to so many people being included in each dancing set, formations are carefully choreographed into a cohesive team, moving rhythmically amongst each other, and interacting with all in the set, not just our own partner.

This makes the dance very social and flirty, especially as strong eye contact and bright similes are considered part of the culture. It is normal for people to dance with a different partner for each dance — even for married couples. Mixing and mingling with the crowd enhances the evening, with much meeting of and conversing with newly found friends.

Each of the well over 7000 catalogued dances is comprised of a series of common figures in a unique sequence. There are about a dozen main individual figures, which are in themselves memorable. The peculiar organised combination of these formations (and quirky variations!), make dances a thrill to successfully execute. There is a considerable differential in complexity, therefore we all encourage and assist each other within our set as an interdependent unit.

Weeks before each dance, the programme will be published, giving dancers the opportunity to familiarise themselves and print out notes. Classes leading up to dances will often include teaching of those scheduled for the big night on the town! At the dance itself, there may also be addition instruction and practice walks.

Driven by Music

Each dance also has a distinctive tune tied to it, keeping skilled musicians challenged as much as the dancers! Talent is extraordinary, with bands in high demand (travelling globally) and consist of various combinations of fiddle, accordion, flute, piano, drums, etc. These are the people on whom we depend to inspire us, and keep us in unison with each other. The energy in the room can become almost electric as the night goes on.

First Footing & Progression

Ceilidh dancing can use some rudimentary steps, whereas Country additionally involves precise footwork, with steps verging towards a reduced hybrid of ballet & Highland dancing. Many new and less physically able dancers do a lilting walk around the floor, while the experienced echelons master the elegance to film production standards.

Those who have been to a few Ceilidhs will probably have danced several simpler Country dances, most likely without any fancy footwork. Each couple in the various positions in a set may do different things at different times, yet all will dance the same pattern. Often the 1st couple start and complete the dance, usually involving the 2nd and 3rd couple, then repeat it. Likewise for the 2nd couple, and so on, meaning each dance will frequently be danced 8 times through. There maybe rest periods for people as this progresses through all partners. Some dances may begin in slow time and then need to be entirely repeated in quick time, whilst others are a seemingly incredible test of memory, timing, graceful movement and/or physical endurance. There is something for everyone of all levels to enjoy.

Further Outlines

Excellent summaries are published by the RSCDS, New Scotland Country Dance Society, and the Strathspey Server.

See Some Videos

Hopscotch Films in conjunction with the BBC and the RSCDS has produced some excellent online videos of Scottish Country Dancing. Three of our members appear in the documentary.

Some popular dances are: